Bringing together diverse thinkers to kickstart a nature economy

© AdobeStock / Styf
18 November 2020

How can we kickstart a nature economy tthat creates tangible, mutually transactional value to protect nature at scale? A nature economy which preserves and restores biodiversity in the long term while securing solutions for the short term.

On 27 October 2020, the Luc Hoffmann Institute and the MAVA Foundation convened a group of 33 individuals, ranging from economists, insurance professionals and impact investors to artists, writers and conservationists, to embrace new ways of thinking on this issue during a three-hour spirited and progressive discussion.

Participants covered important groundwork on thinking big for the long term, philosophically and economically, then began scaling back to look at how this might translate into shorter-term practical approaches. “We need to build practical pathways towards meaningful revenue streams. Such return on investment will create strong incentives for the private sector and those with an entrepreneurial spirit to engage”, explained Holger Schmid, Director of the Sustainable Economy Programme at the MAVA Foundation.

What will a nature economy look like in 2050?

Three different creative scenarios were presented by writer and visual artist Camille de Toledo, WCMC Beijing representative Han Meng, and Internet of Elephants founder Gautam Shah. Each imagined a world in 2050 in which the numerous ways that society values nature have been realised to achieve its protection. Either by giving non-humans legal rights through mass attitudinal change, or by considering the non-negotiables for a practical way forward, nature has been preserved and is thriving alongside people. This futures-thinking method was used to encourage different ways of thinking and spark themes that were explored throughout the meeting.

Emerging themes 

Several thematic areas were identified by participants during the event, including: 

  1. Increasing risk-taking and rewards for bolder conservation approaches: How can we reimagine funding mechanisms for nature conservation to better support entrepreneurs in the non-profit impact sector? Are there mechanisms that can mimic the private sector, such as share-purchasing or profit-sharing? Can philanthropic organisations play a bigger role in lowering the risk of early-stage ideas?
  2. Providing legal and political status to “non-human” living beings: a pathway to building a better equilibrium between humans and the elements of nature, in order to transfer more rights to those ecosystems which were deprived of rights for centuries.
  3. The re/insurance sector may offer an opportunity to assess concrete values of nature and biodiversity conservation - and, inversely, the risk of biodiversity loss - to pass on this cost and benefit to their customers through, for example, certified payment for ecosystem service (PES) schemes. This would have the potential to create new revenues for conservation organisations.

Where next? 

Doughnut Economics creator and economist Kate Raworth sparked a new direction in the conversation, asking: “Should we bring nature into the economic infrastructure which already exists or make economies more compatible with the living world? These are fundamentally different world views and have profoundly different consequences. Which paradigm do we believe will save humanity and nature in the long term? We need to fit nature into the economy in the short term, but in the long term it's of paramount importance that we fit the economy into nature.”

Paradigms and values do not need to be shared by all in order to find a shared way forward. By sharing ideas from diverse perspectives, using imagination and adding critical systems thinking, the stepping stones needed to pave the way ahead emerged. 

It’s vital that a strong civil society stands to hold governments to account when needed. There are examples in Africa where governments are already making these changes - when given a strong business case and the tools to bring together donors, advisers and investments, the right decisions are made.

As Dr Theodor Cojoianu, Assistant Professor in Finance, Queen's University Belfast & Member of the Platform on Sustainable Finance, EU Commission, highlighted: "Educating ourselves on conflicts of interest including on financial flows is crucial - we need to know where the money is coming from and where it is going. Great work has been done in unveiling such conflicts of interest in the area of fossil fuels and climate change. We definitely need something similar for biodiversity and other environmental aspects.”

The MAVA Foundation and the Luc Hoffmann Institute look forward to continuing this conversation towards developing a nature economy. If you would like to contribute ideas, case studies or learnings, please contact Adrian Dellecker at

Want to get in touch?

Email the project team at
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