To kick off the celebration of our 15th anniversary, we’ve launched our 15 Voices blog series. The series is a collection of 15 interviews with some of Root Capital’s closest friends and allies who share our goal of growing rural prosperity and are helping us move toward our vision.
Diane Ives advises the Kendeda Fund, a charitable giving program whose generous donations have supported Root Capital’s growth over the last eight years, including, most recently, funding for the expansion of our Women in Agriculture Initiative. With extensive experience in conservation and international development and as a former Peace Corps volunteer, Diane has been a long time friend and adviser to Root Capital.
Root Capital: When did you first encounter Root Capital?
Diane: I remember visiting Ecologic Development Fund in 2005, and getting a tour of their offices. I was doing due diligence on behalf of the Kendeda Fund in relation to its conservation and sustainable development funding. The folks at Ecologic Development Fund showed me the tiny sublet space for Ecologic Finance, the organization that later became Root Capital, and while Willy wasn’t there, I did meet other members of the team. I remember thinking that Ecologic Finance seemed like a “small enterprise.”
It wasn’t until I met Willy that I understood the scope and potential for the organization that was to become Root Capital. When I did meet Willy, he wasted no time presenting some bold visions for the organization (e.g., earned revenue covering program costs) and big conundrums (e.g., are we trying to make it easier for banks to engage in more lending for small and growing businesses, or are we building an industry outside the banking structure?).
Root Capital: Why have you been involved with Root Capital?
Diane: In some of my earliest notes about the organization I wrote “[Root Capital] is a critical link in global markets, ensuring that the hard work of local communities gets rewarded in a timely manner and with dignity.”
Over the years, Root Capital has built more sophisticated lending strategies, stronger metrics, and more diverse programs. At its core, it has maintained the dignity of those it partners with and serves. In my work with non-profits over the years, I have come to appreciate that organizations need to be grounded in truths that even they might not know how to articulate in order to successfully grow and deepen impact. For Root Capital, one of those truths is living with dignity. The Kendeda Fund’s ongoing support for Root Capital over the past eight years revolves around the various ways that the organization has valued and expressed notions of dignity and respect for individuals and communities. Willy and Liam’s visit to the seamstresses in Liberia who are building communities of peace after war, the organization’s expansion to include a higher-risk food security portfolio that supports agricultural producers serving the needs of local communities, and its deep dive into gender-inclusive financing are all examples of Root Capital’s pursuit of dignity.
Root Capital: What is one word that summarizes Root Capital in your mind? Can you share a story from your relationship with Root Capital that reflects that word?
Diane: Storytelling. Root Capital has done battle with lingo and acronyms from its earliest days, trying to figure out how to translate financial jargon into meaningful descriptions of this work. As a rule, I don’t use acronyms when I write analyses for the Kendeda Fund, so the “SMEs” and “SGBs” and “SEGUEs” and “SIPs” have provided challenges, as well as opportunities to laugh (with Root Capital) at the absurdity of this obscure form of communication.
But Root Capital has succeeded in accessible communication in countless ways, including Willy’s blog posts on Forbes.com, the anecdotes that staff share about their time in the field, and the many videos posted on the Root Capital website. A touching example is a video interview with a Nicaraguan coffee farmer, Rolando Lazo, whose life has been improved from a loan that Root Capital provided to his coffee cooperative. Rolando, and others featured in Root Capital’s video stories, serve as signposts for the Kendeda Fund to understand how our support reaches and impacts farm families in Africa and Latin America.
Root Capital: What excites you most about what Root Capital can achieve in the next 15 years?
Diane: I am thrilled that Root Capital is exploring the world of gender-inclusive finance in its Women in Agriculture Initiative. Over the next fifteen years, I envision Root Capital becoming more attuned to the needs and opportunities of women agriculturalists as they build their own enterprises and leadership from within existing business structures. I anticipate hearing stories that are rich with challenges, obstacles overcome and new insights in how to build rural prosperity. Most important, I expect dignity to remain at the core of Root Capital’s work.