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Complacency means devastation, warns SA-born climate financier



It’s not every day that an entrepreneur born and raised in South Africa meets a king and a president to launch a bold plan to combat climate change, but then Dr Andrew “Andy” Kuper is no ordinary entrepreneur. Named on the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours list a year ago, the co-founder and chief executive of LeapFrog Investments met King Charles III and President Joe Biden at Windsor Castle on 11 July, where he announced a $750 million (R13.4 billion) investment plan to combat climate change.⁠

Australia-based Kuper was one of just 20 global chief executives and chairpersons invited to meet the gathering. “It was a surreal experience meeting King Charles and President Biden together, both of whom were warm and gracious,” says Kuper. “They knew about LeapFrog and my work with my co-founder and fellow South African [Leapfrog Chief Operating Officer] Gary Herbert and our diverse partners to build a business dedicated to changing lives at scale in Africa and Asia.

“The king and president chose to focus us on their shared passion for many decades – protecting our environment,” says Kuper. “Limiting the earth’s warming and avoiding catastrophic climate change is of existential importance to us all. US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and UK Secretary of State Grant Shapps convened a climate finance mobilisation forum around the meeting. They brought together 20 chief executives and chairpersons who together oversee trillions of dollars, and who have been at the forefront of finding and investing in solutions to climate change. We then reported back to the king and president together, as well as met with each of them individually, to chart a path forward.”

Kuper says he has been strongly shaped by his upbringing in South Africa. “I went to Woodmead, the only unsegregated school under apartheid, for a period,” he says. “Eventually, I matriculated from King David Schools, where the Wolf brothers emphasised contribution to community. I was there, as a Wits [University of the Witwatersrand] politics student, surrounded by friends of every colour and background on the Union Building lawns in Pretoria, on the day Madiba was inaugurated. As I watched the prisoner become president, I knew my life needed to be devoted to making large-scale change.

“The companies LeapFrog has backed and built have now reached 450 million people with healthcare, financial services, or climate solutions,” he says. “That’s more than 5% of the world’s population. So we have a distinctive perspective to share on how to raise and invest capital, and how to back businesses that enable people to adopt new tools and technologies that change their lives along with their communities and environment.”

At Windsor Castle, LeapFrog announced its plan to invest in companies that provide climate solutions in emerging markets. “We expect to reach and enable 50 million low-income people in Asia and Africa with climate solutions,” says Kuper.

The investment will focus on supporting companies in the built environment, energy, transport, and food sectors. “By 2030, overall investments in these sectors could help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions substantially, and could create an estimated 90 million new jobs in developing countries.”

He emphasises the urgency of the situation. “To limit the warming of our planet, we need to take carbon out of people’s lifestyles, commerce, and ultimately the atmosphere. If we fail, the result will be fires, floods, droughts, and other natural catastrophes that are more severe and frequent than we have ever experienced.”

The discussion focused on developing countries. “Today, they account for 25% of carbon emissions but could account for more than 70% of emissions by 2050,” says Kuper. “Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested to decarbonise wealthy countries, but unless we can encourage similar investment in emerging markets, the world will warm by more than two degrees.”

He says that though LeapFrog has worked to empower emerging consumers in Africa and Asia, “seeing the impact of a warming climate on their everyday lives made us realise we needed to do more to combat climate change. It’s often those who have contributed the least to climate change who suffer the greatest effects.”

Kuper shared his plan individually with King Charles and Biden. “Kerry and Shapps also discussed it with the broader group of chairs and chief executives. The plan was universally well-received for both its ambition and practicality. It was encouraging too to be one of several commitments announced on the day.

“We need to be sober though on the challenges here,” he says. “These commitments are catalysts – insufficient on their own. But they are powerful as a start and in providing a road map for others.”

On that note, “We have a lot of work to do!” he says. “LeapFrog’s climate team will continue to build its climate investment strategy. We have already invested in companies such as Sun King, started in Kenya, which has reached tens of millions of people with pay-as-you-go solar home systems, beginning to light up that map of Africa at night. CarDekho, in India, is enabling four million online searches for electric vehicles in India, every quarter. Lessons from investing in these companies will help LeapFrog and others to broaden our investment universe and help to catalyse more green growth.”

His advice to others who want to help with climate change but feel too overwhelmed to start is that “there are simple things that anyone can do to reduce the carbon footprint of their household such as changing how you commute to work or making different choices about food and travel. You can volunteer with non-profit organisations that protect the environment or lobby governments and the private sector to do more. You can build or join a business devoted to having an impact on climate change by enabling the transition to cleaner and greener products and services and creating ‘green-collar’ jobs. Whatever you do, don’t wait – get stuck in and be part of the solution.

“I’m optimistic that the world is on a path away from any worst-case scenario, but we mustn’t take our foot off the accelerator, or my children and billions of others will live in a world of volatile climate conditions,” he says. “My hope is that LeapFrog’s example will show that there’s a way to combine profit with purpose, to find green solutions that also generate profit for investors, and to mobilise trillions to protect our planet, especially its most vulnerable people.”

Finally, he says, “It’s sad that so many of us aren’t together in South Africa any longer. But it’s also inspiring to see how many Jewish South Africans have had a positive impact on societies across the world. We lived through powerful times and transitions together, which had many good and many hard elements, and that shaped us all. Whatever the location or challenges, we shouldn’t lose hold of home or hope.”

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