In Their Own Words: Marcelo de Andrade & Hector Gomez Ang

Pro-Natura International Founder Marcelo de Andrade spoke with Hector Gomez Ang of IFC at the 2018 Sustainability Exchange about how they came to work together to protect the Amazon region through sustainable investing.


Hector Gomez Ang: We met in London. This was the first time we were fundraising for this Amazon fund and you where there and I didn’t have any background about you. You would tell me all these stories, the stuff you had done and it sounded so interesting but at the same time so fantastic that I thought maybe he’s sort of a clinical liar and I’m not getting it, or maybe this guy is really the guy we’ve been looking to partner with. So we run our due diligence, and everything checked out, all the fantastic stories are actually true.

Marcelo de Andrade: I was born in Belo Horizonte – it was a very big city but my family is all from the interior. So I would go back to my original small town and with my grandfather go into the woods, into nature. And he had an indigenous guide that was his friend to go hunting and fishing, and I learned everything about nature that I know from these two guys. Learning and really understanding nature, to the point you can track things, you can smell animals, you can see how cold it’s going to be at night from the sunset, and you understand nature’s movements better, so you start really loving it more.

Marcelo: I studied medicine and I studied really seriously in sports so I was in the Brazilian Olympic rowing crew. I could not go to nature for at least four years during the first Olympic period. I went crazy and I convinced the sponsors, private sponsors of the national team, to sponsor one expedition a year. And I climbed Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, and other mountains and I crossed the Sahara and the Amazonia, Patagonia and I did many different expeditions.

What I didn’t expect was to be surprised by nature issues – white sand in the Amazonia, trash on the highest mountains, the Sahara Desert expanding, and social conflicts. That really impressed me. And I wanted to do something about it, and I didn’t know exactly how to do it, and I asked for help from people that were way smarter than I was, and still am, but they were all business people.

They said to me, listen, the environmental problems you’re seeing they don’t come from evil human beings that want to destroy nature, the underlying reason basically for that is money. The big industry needs to make money, uses inappropriate technology, not because they want to, it’s because they don’t even know there’s going to be a consequence. If they had something better they would use it. So the solution for this entails dealing with how to make the money without the environmental and the social costs.

“Most of the simple problems have been solved, so now we only have the complex problems to solve. And it takes much more than one person or one institution to solve them.” – Hector Gomez Ang, Brazil Country Head, IFC

Hector: For me, a moment that I can relate to when this view started is when I was around 23; I did chemical engineering and went to work for an oil services company so I was in this remote location in southern Mexico. It was the first time I was in charge of a job, I was in charge of this several million dollar job, 40 person crew, I was very young and given a lot of responsibility. And we were there waiting for the oil well to be ready and we started seeing a point on the horizon that was coming in our direction. And it was a small boy, maybe seven years old, carrying a huge bag of oranges, so he’s coming to actually sell the oranges to the people in the well, right? So, he comes, and the bag of oranges is probably the same weight of this boy; because I’m the boss, I want to show that I’m in charge so I will buy oranges for everyone, so I said okay I’ll buy the whole bag of oranges, maybe like 100 oranges and it was around 50 cents of a dollar for the whole bag and the kid had been walking for at least maybe two hours to come to sell it to us. For me that was a moment, first of all, made me realize how privileged I had been, and sheltered from many things, but also how much needed to be done. I think we have a responsibility, because we have had this privilege and a lot of opportunities, to try to give access to these people. So this memory for me is when I can actually pinpoint that I started to actually caring about the stuff that we are doing. 

I was very lucky in 2010, 2011 that with IFC I was given the responsibility to work in the Amazon. And they essentially told me look, we want to do more business in the Amazon, we want to help, take your time and think what is it that we should do. So I can actually pinpoint those two moments as actually the ones that propelled us to meeting and completely checking your stories and making sure that you were legit. 

Hector: And I think the other piece that we have learned through this is that most of the simple problems have been solved, so now we only have the complex problems to solve. And it takes much more than one person or one institution to solve them, and you really need to collaborate and to do partnerships. So I sat down with a few indigenous people, the chiefs that I had never ever dealt with before. I was actually terrified of sitting down with them and talking about them because I didn’t want to be offensive or insensitive.

But then I would come back to you, and we would talk, and then most of the things that I was terrified about you told me ‘yeah as well when I was going up the river, whatever, in the Amazon, I actually met this chief,’ so it’s very reinforcing. I’ve got a lot of support from your experience.

Marcelo: Well, I could say the same, absolutely. The way you navigate the biggest financial institution in the world and the way everybody has the ultimate respect for you, that is one of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned.

Hector: We have a great opportunity of changing the way we go about these large projects in the Amazon, or in Peru or in Nepal or in Mozambique, we still find new partners. So I’m really looking forward to more adventures.

Marcelo: So do I, very much so.