March 2, 2010

blog moved to

Filed under: food, life..., projects, psyche..., social economy 101, social finance — benmetz @ 2:06 pm

I’ve moved my blog over to my own hosting.  You can find me at  Everything should be working as before.  If not then please let me know.

If you RSS this blog you’ll have to update your feed to this link.

Thanks to Amanda at Red Button Design for keeping me on the straight and narrow during this process.


December 2, 2009

Sea Cucumber Ranching and all things fish…

Filed under: life..., projects — benmetz @ 6:14 pm

So I’m back from Mexico and getting back up to speed with “normal” life, which seems to comprise short days, cycling around a damp, dark London and drinking fine real ale!  And with this my focus is turning to marine entrepreneurship (what else?!) and how to get support and new financing to fantastic marine conservation organisations such as Blue Ventures.

To this end I’m diving in, literally, and helping them raise finance and develop a number of their existing mariculture initiatives.  And I’m planning to head out there for much of the rest of the winter, coming back with a head, and a belly, full of fish and fishy ideas to finance and support marine conservation activities in developing countries…

The following gives an overview of what it is I’m hoping I can develop – essentially to create a new asset class: marine entrepreneurship!  Thanks and kudos to Al Harris, founder of Blue Ventures, who allowed me to blatantly plagiarise and adapt some of the words below.

Marine conservation – what’s the problem?

Over-exploitation, combined with the effects of climate change and sedimentation from deforestation, is degrading coastal ecosystems throughout the tropics. Reefs are no longer able to deliver the same ecosystem benefits per capita, forcing fishers into more and more intensive, destructive extraction in an effort to maintain the flow of benefits.

This increased fishing pressure degrades the ecosystem and a self-reinforcing negative feedback is created that pushes communities deeper into poverty. This further erodes the human and natural resources prerequisite to rational resource use. Throughout southwest Madagascar where Blue Ventures works, and indeed many other coastal regions of the world, indigenous coastal communities are caught in this downward spiral of destructive behaviour.

Until now the preservation of marine ecosystems has focussed on the prohibition of activity through the creation of ‘fortress conversation’ strategies.  These solutions imposed from on high on indigenous communities often involve the complete, or near complete, cessation of marine activity essential to the cultural identity, subsistence activity and income generation of many thousands of coastal communities.  These communities face an impossible choice: – comply with these dictats and lose their main source of subsistence livelihood, income and cultural identify or disregard them and continue to fish for individual gain while the marine ecosystem, often their sole resource, collapses.

So, what’s the solution?

Ashoka Fellow Al Harris established Blue Ventures to provide an alternative.  Started in 2004, to date Blue Ventures has used eco-tourists to gather marine data which is then “animated” into the local community so they understand the complexity and challenges of managing a marine environment, where previously they had no understanding.  In more than 75 villages so far this increased awareness of their immediate environment has caused the community to develop, design manage and then police Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which protect the environment at the same time as protecting and improving their subsistence and income generating activity.  Globally these are the very first community led MPA’s in existence.

The challenge now facing Blue Ventures is to develop a way that allows this approach to replicate across the estimated 250,000 coastal communities globally that are facing similar challenges to the communities in Madagascar.  Clearly, deriving project finance from eco-tourism will not provide the income required to develop this solution to the scale of the problem globally.  Working with Al we arrived at an initial estimation of the five-year Net Present Value of his current work (across 25 villages) at around €10 million. Should the economic case be proven for this community led approach to managing marine ecosystems a new paradigm in coastal management will have been borne, one that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of communities and contribute to the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems across the world.

It is with this new approach to the financing of marine conservation in mind that I am diving in to the world of marine entrepreneurship and to a potential winter trip to Madagascar…!

November 17, 2009

Climbing Volcano Iztaccíhuatl

Filed under: life... — benmetz @ 11:19 pm

I’ve not been blogging recently.  You might be aware that I’ve spent the month in Mexico, a combination of holiday, some pro bono work for a couple of social entrepreneurs, an unexpected foray into the country’s social finance arena and the climbing of Volcano Iztaccíhuatl with a group of blind and partially sighted folk from Mexico and the United States.  I’m coming to the end of the trip, am back in Mexico City and finally am finding time to document what was a profound and remarkable adventure!

Ojos Que Sienten (trans. Eyes That Feel) is an organisation founded and led by Ashoka Fellow Gina Badenoch.  OQS works equally to empower blind and partially sighted people and to sensitise sighted and able bodied people to the skills and potential of people society considers to be disabled.  For the last year or so Gina and her team have been working to bring a group of blind and sighted folk to the top of Iztaccíhuatl, a +5,000 metre high volcano about two hours outside of Mexico City.  The team made it to the summit on Wednesday 11th November after a four-day adventure.  The event proved to be a profoundly moving and life-changing experience for many of the participants.  Thrown into the mix was a dinner in the dark for 150 people, a series of fantastic workshops, a number of presentations to universities and corporate sponsors and a book launch….  All in a days work for the OQS team!

The climb was led by Erik Weihenmayer, a blind climber who summited Mount Everest in 2001 and who has climbed the highest peak on every continent.  Erik proved to be a source of great inspiration for the climbers, sighted and blind, for the organising team, for the tens of media teams who interviewed him and for the hundreds of people who attended the various events OQS organised and for whom I seemed to become production assistant for.  For me the inspiration provided by Erik wasn’t limited to climbing alongside him.  Erik can eat anything at any time of the day or night, has the ability to back to back interview from dawn until way into the night, manages to retain an optimism and humour regardless of inane questioning and has pioneered the concept of positive pessimism (more on this in later blog posts).

Volcano Iztaccíhuatl

Day one – Acclimatisation to the new altitude, meeting the team and the first sensitisation workshop.  Prior to Erik’s arrival climbers and support staff met in Amecameca, a nearby town at 2,800 metres to get to know each other, begin to get our lungs used to the altitude and learn a little about what it’s like to be blind and what unique abilities this makes for.  The ‘lightbulb’ moment for me on this trip was the moment I put on a blindfold and was led around to explore a small garden by Steve, a 24-year-old US army veteran who lost both his eyes 17 months ago in Iraq.  Steve led us off at a blinding pace (pun intended!), scaring the living daylights out of us.  His sense of place in the world, confidence in movement, understanding of sound-scapes and positive go-get-‘em attitude immediately placed him as capable and those of us blindfolded as incapable.  Disability and ability – in concept and practice – evaporated in seconds.  Profound and hugely important is the only way to describe this workshop.

Steve and me at some point of the climb…

Day two – Acclimatisation walk.  Sleeping at 2,800 metres we wake early and head, by van, to base camp at 4,000 metres.  A four-hour walk up to 4,500 metres has me spinning, nauseous, gasping for breath and with a headache of monumental proportions.  I wonder if I’ll actually make it to the summit!  Guiding our blind colleagues makes for interesting learning.  Bear bells are used on ski poles to gauge direction.  Poles are used to tap out the location of rocks.  Words snatched between gasps of air are used, minimally, to highlight features and dangers.  Consequences to your left… Death fall to your right…  Rock step up…  Run the gauntlet!

Day three – Waking on the stone floor of the Televisa television relay station before dawn.  4,000 metres.  Mustering the team ready for the days climb to 4,700 metres and our campsite for the night.  My lungs seem to find more air but my head is still exploding.  Ibuprofen and Tynadol all round.  Diamox for those suffering the worst.  This, and exaggerated stories, are what real climbers seem to run on.  Our Mexican participants seem to be faring much better than the US folk.  Or the single brit…  I spend my time working with Steve and Eric (little Eric or little E rather than ‘big’ Erik W) a 16-year-old participant from Arkansas in the US, who has been blind since the age of ten.  Eric is nervous on his size 15 feet but committed and we make our way, thankfully slowly, up to what’s been termed advanced base camp.  On the last leg of the day we devise a new strategy.  One hand wound into the webbing of my backpack and one hand using a walking pole as a guiding cane.  We make phenomenally fast progress and I feel as if I am being driven by Eric up the last sections of the days exertions…  Once again society’s capable are left wanting.  I think Eric’s lungs match the size of his feet.  Inspirational words from Erik W over an awful meal of freeze dried vegetables and pasta (that tastes amazing at altitude – pretty much anything does!).  A sleepless night at minus five Celsius ceaselessly gasping for oxygen.

Day four – Waking at three thirty to begin the ascent.  The first hour: a 60-degree scramble up scree and loose rock.  Both Little E and Steve have doubts.  I would too but thankfully they are displaced by my focus on role as guide.  Stirring words and professional advice from Jeff Evans, pro-climber, doctor and long time friend of Big E, gets everyone moving and ensures I have my work cut out for the day with Steve and Little E.  Dawn breaks a couple of hours in and we get our first sight of Volcano Popocatépetl, the male partner and neighbour of Iztaccíhuatl, our target for the day.

The sun reveals our next challenge: two hours of climbing and scrambling over real rock faces.  The guides have set up lines and we start climbing for real.  Steve is challenged.  He lost 70% use of his left arm when he lost his sight.  We pick our way carefully, scarily (more for me than him).  We make it to the next pitstop and eagerly refuel.  The last section flattens out a little (45 instead of 50 and 60-degrees).  An hour to go. We are some way behind and hear the cheers of those making the summit.  A long 45 minutes later we too, are cheering…  28 of the 30 participants make it.  Some laugh, some cry, all agree how beautiful it is and how captivating the adventure has been.  But we are only half-way.  Now begins the descent…..

The team on the summit!

In retrospect and over a beer or two – the descent was slow and in some places dangerous for all.  I led Steve the whole way and saw how frustrated he became towards the end.  Aggravated by sheer exhaustion the mountain became an annoyance, no longer the friend it had been on the way up.  Despite this we agree to partner up for Mount Kilimanjaro in August 2010.  Steve’s on a mission and it’ll be an honour to be a small part of his next big adventure.

During this adventure I have been profoundly moved by each of the blind participants, commitment and capabilities.  I have found my own capabilities often turned on its head.  I have had my senses opened to a new level of experience.

My thanks to Gina and her team, to each of the participants and to those professional climbers and guides who kept watch while a bunch of crazy, inexperienced folk made it to the summit of Volcano Iztaccíhuatl!

And finally my thanks, on behalf of Ojos Que Sienten, to those of you who sponsored me.  At the time of writing my climb has raised almost £3,000 for OQS at a critical time as they begin expansion of activities across Mexico.

If you would like to donate to Ojos Que Sienten simply visit my JustGiving page.

September 18, 2009

SoCap recap

Filed under: life..., projects, social finance — benmetz @ 2:50 pm

Annapurna – the high point of SoCap!

The quote of SoCap09 for me was an amazing Indian social entrepreneur, Annapurna (I forget her last name) running a cloth weaving social enterprise and moving it to scale. When asked “how do you value your company” she simply replied “I value my company”. I’ll flesh out her full answer a little more… she said:

“I value my company.  The people who I work with value my company, their children and families value my company.

For me value is an emotional word, not a financial one.  For me equity is about equality.

I value my company.”

In my opinion Annapurna captured what was missing from SoCap and what the social capital markets should really be about – the redefining and recapturing of terms such as value, that have been perverted by commerce and finance, and their re-anchoring into real meaning….

Supply vs. demand?

Another observation from SoCap was the dominance of supply (of finance) side people and thinking.  While arguably this is what such events are about it is also clear that such an aggregation of folk without balancing representation from the demand side of the equation (for benefit organisations needing finance) can have negative consequences.  I think I just bore witness, once again, to the creation of a bunch of soon to be redundant architecture – this time a proliferation of systems for metrics, monitoring, evaluation, benchmarking etc…  Undoubtedly some will survive but the aggregate cost to the sector will be high and perhaps better spent doing deals, developing organisations?

Dont get me wrong, it’s great to have the supply side visionaries finally on side.  But those of us coming from the demand side have an obligation to keep these guys feet on the ground and their approaches in reality – with reality being a balance of immediate need (deals to be done) and aspiration (frameworks and global systems for the sector).

Connections and Vignettes…

At the end of the day the acid test for any conference or gathering of people is whether I’ve come away inspired and connected to my fellow attendees.  And in this respect SoCap wins out – in fine style.

I was inspired by people like David Green and his Solar World For All project, looking to radically reduce the costs of photovoltaics and revolutionise the PV supply chain.  I caught up with Ron Layton from Lightyears IP and found out he’s looking at up to a 17 fold increase in current activity levels over the next couple of years (astounding work – check out the website).  Over a conversation about China I met Wayne Silby, founding chair of Calvert, and exchanged crazy ideas…

Oh, and as a bonus I came away hugely better informed about the work I’m doing for the private equity firm I’ve mentioned before.

I met old friends and strengthened friendships.  I met new friends and began new friendships.  I laughed lots with inspiring people (jeffweee, awdweee!!!).  Oh and I ate a fair amount of fantastic food too!!!

Looking forward to SoCap10!


September 8, 2009

san francisco – i think i love you!

Filed under: food, life... — benmetz @ 4:08 pm

i can’t quite get over the incredible diversity and quality that pervades the food scene, or scenes, throughout san francisco.  so it seems appropriate to jot down a few words as i’m getting set to leave – in honour of a great city and in memory of some great food.

one of the highlights was a running meal, with each course in a different, and completely exceptional, restaurant.  made all the better by the company of audrey selian and jeff tuller from social markets we kicked off at la mar, the infamous peruvian cebicheria.  cebiche of the finest and freshest quality blew our minds and left us reeling as we headed from pier 1.5 to the ferry building and into the slanted door.  the selection of vietnamese fusion, made famous by a visit from bill clinton a while back, was world class (though they could learn a thing or two from the summer rolls in cay tre on old street in london!) and topped off with labor day fireworks over the water.  then on to epic for a caramel salted chocolate pudding that left us all on the floor, dribbling…  where else in the world will you find three world class places to eat, all within five minutes walk of each other?  it pains me to say it but san francisco knocks the spots off london as a city of food…

other phenomenal places to eat include flour and water.  way south and in an industrial backwater it’s on par with the best osterias you’ll find in italy.  phenomenal. (dear mayra – thanks – and see you next year!)

then there’s a16, another world class italian that left us (me and the nexii team) reeling from the quality and simpicity  of the food.

and yuzu, a small sushi bar down a side street serving mindblowingly fresh fish.

dont forget tataki, the world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, serving equally fresh and guilt free marine produce.

plus there is a wealth of street food – well close to street food – to savour.  top of these is el farolito, right down in mission and as good as being in mexico city.  also not to be missed are the multiple dim sum joints in china town – serving world class dim sum from early morning through to lunch.  there’s no better way to start the day than to share a table with an 85 year old noodle slurping local giving you recommendations of what to eat and how…

in fact – what am i doing here???  breakfast calls!!!

August 30, 2009

Why I’m going to SoCap09

Filed under: life..., projects, social finance — benmetz @ 4:03 am

There seem to be an increasing number of reasons why I am in San Francisco for SoCap09.  Obviously meeting up with friends, old and new, as well as sampling the range of culinary delights the city has to offer both rank highly but I keep having to remind myself of why it is I am here.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working with a leading emerging markets private equity fund, to assist them in establishing a new charitable trust.  The conversation with them has been rich and broad ranging and it looks like I’m succeeding in getting them to back a highly engaged approach rather than simply making grants and throwing the occasional pro-bono bone to beneficiaries.  If they take what I am proposing forward we’ll be seeing a new organisation something akin to a hybrid between the Monitor Institute and CIFF creating and engaging with initiatives to develop market based solutions to poverty alleviation and sustainable development at the base of the pyramid.  So right at the top of my agenda at SoCap09 is to connect with individuals and organisations at the interface between corporate finance and these market based solutions…  Conversations might be focused on learning and exchanging experience, potential collaborations or even syndicating across investments and initiatives and sharing back office costs…

As it’s increasingly likely I’ll be freelancing in the social finance space, in some capacity, in the months to come I’m also here to network, to find like minded folk worthy of collaborating with and to adopt a sponge like absorptive capacity regarding new developments across the sector.

Another reason for being here is to build on my understanding of the barriers to social finance deployment and social economy development the world over.  Research for the above mentioned private equity firm is exposing a similar set of barriers globally – missing middle finance, lack of management capacity, certain legislative and regulatory barriers – and I’m interested in how we could coordinate a global response to aid the endeavours of the many good folk trying to break them down.  In this regard the UK has a phenomenal wealth of experience of how to do things well and how to make a complete mess of things and I’m pushing for a UK lead in establishing this kind of global resource.  Perhaps further collation of evidence identifying these barriers the world over might help shift come of the complacency and introspection back home…?  We shall see…..

Oh yes – and did I mention the food here is pretty good?!?!?

August 29, 2009

clam chowder at fisherman’s wharf…

Filed under: food, life... — benmetz @ 5:18 pm

first meal in san francisco?  well it had to be clam chowder from one of the seafood stands at fisherman’s wharf!  thick and rich and served in a bowl made from a  scooped out loaf of sourdough bread.  fantastic!!!  and eaten to the tunes of a great jazz saxophonist while watching a woman dancing the “i’m a few sandwiches short of a picnic” friday night boogie!  with early evening temperatures in the high 20’s i could be mistaken for being in new orleans!!!

clam chowder

August 20, 2009

Person Centred Therapy – shaping my work…

Filed under: life..., projects, psyche... — benmetz @ 11:05 am

I’ve recently completed the first year of a two year foundation in counseling and psychotherapy at Birkbeck College.  It’s been a fascinating journey with a fantastic teacher and a great group of fellow students.  The course contributed substantially to my work – how I relate to and work with social entrepreneurs and business folk from all over the world.

One person stands out from the last year of learning – Carl Rogers, founder of the person centered school of psychotherapy.

Part of the wider field of Humanistic Therapy, Person Centred Therapy (also called Client Centred Therapy) proposes that if the therapist is able to show unconditional positive regard and empathy towards a client while being genuine in and of themselves (also called congruence) then this triumvirate of factors creates a supportive environment that allows the client to enter the process of becoming a fully realised person.  It is interesting to note that Rogers thinks that one will never become a fully realised person, rather that “life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed” (how very Zen of him!) and that these three building blocks create the conditions in both therapist and client so they may enter into this continual process of becoming and thus live a rich and fulfilled life.

This triumvirate, called the core conditions, has allowed me to codify existing thoughts and practice around a unifying theory that previously were scattered and often unrelated.  I work in the third sector supporting social entrepreneurs who oftentimes work in ways that place their beneficiaries at the centre of service design and provision.  I have consistently been struck by the similarities in approach across wildly different fields of work and the consistent success yielded by working in this way.  However until I had the opportunity to explore Person Centred theory and then examine the subject matter of my day-to-day work through this lens I had no framework to compare, evaluate and suggest improvements to my clients.  These core conditions and much of Rogers’ work has provided me with a set of tools with which to support the individuals and organisations I work with to increase the impact of their work.

Rogers, almost 50 years, after publication of his original theories, remains an important figure in the field of psychotherapy.  If acknowledged his theories, as well as much else from the oft dismissed world of ‘psycho-babblings’ could inform and improve much of the second tier, intermediary, support – or whatever else you want to call it – sector that seeks to realise step changes in the third sector activities.  After all isn’t it the case that all change comes from within???

July 31, 2009

stupid answers to stupid questions!

Filed under: life... — benmetz @ 12:22 pm

I was recently sent this link to an interview that the wonderful Ana Teresa Silva from IM Magasine did with me back in December 2008 at the final EQUAL conference.

My stupid answers to her stupid questions!  Thoroughly enjoyable and worth a laugh!

And yes, I do still want the superpowers of The Human Torch from the Fantastic Four!!!

flame on

July 19, 2009

Sarah Dodds Enterprise Accelerator – summer interns are go!

Filed under: life..., projects — benmetz @ 9:37 pm

It’s been a while coming – lots of skype calls, reading of CV’s, interviews, discussions with projects – but finally I can say our SDEA interns are go!

Jessica Shortall, Paul Cheng from Venturesome and myself have been looking after the fund that’s been established in memory of our good friend Sarah Dodds who tragically died in a cycling accident last year.

We’ve got four interns engaged across a range of projects this summer, three of whom are now up and running.

Alexandru, mid-way through his MBA at INSEAD, is working with Cath at Unpackaged to further develop her local as possible – organic as possible – unpackaged as possible grocery store as well as looking for strategies to replicate and scale her organisation to multiple locations.

Jonathan, fresh from his MBA at the Said Business School in Oxford,  is working with Worn Again to introduce Management Information Systems as well as scope and improve their supply chains.

Meredith, also mid-way through her MBA at INSEAD, is working with me to structure and make sense of the SDEA fund. She’ll be diving in on other projects we come up with too!

Janet, who is just finishing her MBA at the Judge Institute at Cambridge, will be starting to develop a strategic plan for Blue Ventures, the marine conservation organisation based in London and working in Madagascar, as they continue to develop and grow.  She’ll be starting in August.

Throughout their time working with the projects we’ll be holding regular monday dinners for everyone involved to socialise and learn from each other as well as for interested people to come and get involved.  If you are interested then drop me a line…

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