Interview with Rovena Gjoni, DGB’s Manager of Institutional Investments

 ''It becomes an investment case once you treat it as an investment. Nature gives the returns of carbon credits, and biodiversity credits. It delivers revenues, and profits in its own right, and that’s how nature is an asset.''

An Interview with Rovena Gjoni, DGB’s Manager of Institutional Investments

What makes a company great isn’t just its products and services, but rather, its people. At DGB, we’re honoured to work alongside some very talented and impact-driven professionals. Today, we’ll share a little Q&A with Rovena Gjoni. As our manager of Institutional Investments, she is responsible for our sales in the UK.

Good morning Rovena, how are you? Let’s start with an introduction: can you tell our readers who you are?
‘’Certainly! My name is Rovena Gjoni, and I live in London with my husband and two children. I moved to the UK in 2000, and when I arrived here I became very interested in the capital markets and the stock exchange. ‘’

Why so?
‘’I’m originally from Albania. In 2004 I graduated in investment and financial risk management. My first job was with IDC, here in London, where I worked as an assistant on the OTC desk. Then I worked as a fixed income evaluator for the Investment Grade desk for almost eight years. We provided fair prices on fixed income such as government bonds or corporate bonds to the financial community, and then they used it for their own purpose.’’

And now you work at DGB.
‘’Yes, I work in investor relations, so my main role is to build strong relationships with investors, institutional, corporate, or retail investors. My goal is bringing in the capital to the company, which is very much needed to finance our projects and enable reforestation.’’

That must be a fascinating line of work. Can you teach me how to land a job like that?
‘’I joined DGB just over a year ago.. It was the middle of the pandemic, and I was reading a lot of newspapers. While reading a piece, I came across the name Dutch Green Business. I had never heard of it, but the name caught my eye. As I delved deeper, I became more and more excited about the business model. I had never heard of carbon credits being treated as a type of commodity, as an asset class. The idea of treating nature as an asset really stuck with me! Then I saw that there was a position available that really fit my profile. I didn’t hesitate and applied straightaway!’’

And that was that.
‘’Well, I first went through a few screening processes, but after a couple of interviews, I was hired. In the mids of the pandemic, over Zoom. Selwyn said: ‘’I’ve never hired anyone over Zoom, but you’re going to be the first.’’... And well, here I am!’’

And that was a good call because you just closed a new client. Can you tell us something about that transaction? 
‘’I met the buyer through an event on sustainability here in London. What followed was extensive correspondence. Many exchanges of emails and phone calls and really working on the relationship. From the start, this client was very interested in our Paraguay project, and in the end, they decided to purchase all the remaining credits. At some point, it became rather technical, and Thomas, our Director of Operations and Nicholas, our Lead Ecologist, got involved in answering a bunch of technical questions from our client’s CEO. They’re also interested in our African projects, and I believe we’ll be doing more business with them in the future.’’ 

Let’s hope so! Tell me; you’ve been doing this for about a year. What's the best part about your job?
‘’The best part? Quite a lot, actually! It’s exciting to be a part of the big changes currently happening. But in truth, the best part is being part of a talented team in this company. Though the nature of our business makes us work fully remotely, I feel that I’m quite close to the team because we have a lot of interactions. We learn from each other, and we accomplish good things together. The nature of these projects is very complex. There are a lot of boxes to be ticked. We need to complete all the puzzle pieces for the investments to happen, and you can only do all this with a strong team.’’

And the investor relations part?
‘’Getting up in the morning, opening my emails, and seeing a new investment proposal coming through is super exciting. Our goal is to have companies buy into our projects. For that, the most important thing is to make the investors feel comfortable’’.

How do you do that?
‘’First of all, you have to know their needs. What are their preferred geographical areas or partnership models? They all have their preferences, and there is a lot of research behind it before I approach investors. I like to look at a wide area. Not just institutional investors but corporates and retail investors too. Institutional investors are a big part of it, but they need data to be comfortable, which our market currently lacks.

Are there any solutions for that?
‘’Platforms like Habitat Market are designed to tackle these issues, and I know that the people from GreenTech are working hard to create a lot of other tools to help us gather and display more information. There’s a lot happening in the broader domain too. Switzerland has launched the Swiss Climate Force, which is based on a series of indicators focused on providing transparency, and really asking the asset managers to apply a kind of score to their client’s portfolios and their investment products, which will enable a better assessment, and also give those investors the comfort they need.

How does this help you?
‘’There's not a lot of data, and there's not a lot of liquidity in the market, so it's a task. A lot of research goes behind it: which areas they are looking to invest in, and what's happening in the market, what would be a good fit for their portfolios because most of them are building portfolios, and they come from the clients. That helps, initiatives like that help my job. It sends the right message out there, and creates the tools we need to make this market move forward.’’

Speaking of moving forward, what do you look for when it comes to investors? ‘’Mainly investors who really are aligned with our activities, our parameters, the way we select projects. We focus on high integrity, and transparent projects. I like working with investors when I feel close to them when they get the idea. If we are aligned, and we’re the best fit for their investment strategy then that just makes my job easier.’’ 


Got it! What's your take on the voluntary carbon market as a whole?
‘’A voluntary carbon market is a mechanism which is needed in order to help companies become net-zero, i.e. carbon neutral. But, we need to be careful not to make the mistake of treating trees as just another carbon sink. Funding these great projects that are happening on the ground has a lot of co-benefits! It's not just ticking the boxes, treating this as a liability that they need in order to be compliant. Investing in green is also an asset and asset class. It enables investors to augment credible net-zero transition strategies by directly financing new projects to offset what's unavoidable. I think voluntary carbon markets have a lot of benefits in helping the world on its path to net-zero’.’

Could you expand on these benefits?
‘’It's not just offsetting carbon emissions, but also making real changes for the communities. It has the potential to benefit the economies in the Global South, which is a significant source of high-quality carbon credits; that’s where the main carbon sequestration is due to happen. I think valuing conserving nature is critical, and we also, at the same time bringing that nature of biodiversity, also focusing on reversing the pervasive poverty, and inequality as well.’’

You just said we’re working with a new asset class. I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but why is nature an asset? It doesn't pay my bills. Can you explain why I should consider it an asset for my company?
‘’There's a lot of talk in terms of climate change, but really nature, and also the carbon offsets, biodiversity offsets, biodiversity credits are a new asset class. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: It becomes an investment case once you treat it as an investment. Nature gives the returns of carbon credits, and biodiversity credits. It delivers revenues, and profits in its own right, and that’s how nature is an asset. Some investors prefer investing in solar power, in wind power, or other clean tech, and that’s fine, that’s diversification. But, in the end, there will always be residuals. However, nature, and nature-based solutions, are now a clear investment opportunity with desirable rates of return. We’re allowing investors to become a part of it, to participate in our project, and help shape them. We’re giving them a chance to shape their investment strategy to become part of the solution.’’

 

‘’We have the right ingredients. We have very ambitious people, and very ambitious management too. That’s all we need to take it forward! We’ll continue creating great impact, high-quality projects with a lot of transparency and high integrity.’’



You sound like a staunch believer in what commodification nature can do for its protection. Is that observation correct?
‘’Yes, it is! A lot of projects in the past happened through NGOs and charities. While those are incredible organisations (and we work together with a few), they are very restricted in capital funding when the funding runs out. Our way of working incentivises every stakeholder, and that creates change. What’s great is that we also involve the communities through commerce and creating jobs; we’re really making them part of the solution!’’ 

It's a commodity class in its own right, but it's not the same as saying trading other commodities because there's this human emotional value to it as well. It's not a commodity but a bit more than a commodity.
‘’That's exactly right. I agree with the way you put it, and I have nothing more to add.’’

If we could look into the future, how will DGB look in 5 to 10 years? What do you expect, and what do you hope for?
‘’I've been in the company for a year now and can already see a rapid change. What I’d like to see in the future is to have the company grow. Not just in numbers: our team already consists of loads of talented people from different backgrounds, but rather growing in terms of the geographical areas where our projects take place. At the moment, we’re focused on Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda and Tanzania, but I believe it would be great to look into other geographical areas as well. In the end, that all comes down to the capital. If we’re able to attract the investments needed, then there’s no reason why we couldn’t expand geographically!’’

So, to sum it up?
‘’I think the company will grow because it has the right ingredients. We have very ambitious people, and very ambitious management too. That’s all we need to take it forward. We’ll continue creating great impact and high-quality projects with a lot of transparency, and with high integrity of the project, which is very important. That's going to be a differentiation for many project managers!’’ 

All right, let's wrap it up. Thank you so much, Rovena! It was a pleasure speaking with you, and we wish you good luck (and loads of fun) in pursuing these ambitious goals.
‘’Thank you very much! And thank you for a great interview. I certainly will!’’ 

Would you like to learn more about DGB and the nature-based projects we develop? Reach out to us through the button below to connect with Rovena and our other colleagues and learn more about our reforestation efforts and the projects we develop. 

Get in touch with our Investment Team


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