An unsettling discovery by Suzie Amoes inspired her Terra Limpa team’s winning Sustainable Investing Challenge proposal to de-mine Angolan farmland.
Suzie Amoes was 11 when she and her six brothers and sisters were airlifted from war-torn Angola to safety in South Africa and separated from their parents for years, except for the occasional trip back home on school vacations.
It was during one of her holiday returns to Angola as a 14-year old, that Amoes made a discovery that had a lasting impression, and inspired her Terra Limpa team’s winning proposal at this year’s Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge.
“I had no idea that this trip would completely transform my life,” says Amoes, as she recalls venturing into an abandoned building during a walk one morning. “I remember slowly running my fingers over the old paint and bullet holes that pierced the walls when I heard a sudden shuffling at the far end of the house.
"I found a little girl crouching under a concrete slab that had fallen and created a shelter. She was holding a baby wrapped in old rags. She was only 12, and her baby was two years old. It hit me that it was possible this could have been my fate, if I hadn’t been able to escape the war at a young age.”
It was the pivotal moment that put Amoes on a career path that currently has her studying social entrepreneurship at USC Marshall School of Business. Her focus is on developing financial solutions to social problems in Angola, where its 26 million people are still feeling the impact of a 27 year-long civil war which ended 14 years ago.
She jumped at the chance of participating in the Sustainable Investing Challenge, which is held every year by Morgan Stanley and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. “I saw it as a global platform I could use to get an audience with authorities…a way to start formulating a plan to help Angolan people less fortunate than me, like that little girl.”
With Terra Limpa team members Ryan Alam and Megan Strawther, Amoes discovered that one of the principle factors holding Angola back today was the 10-20 million landmines still scattered across the country.
The team says 47% of Angola’s land is fertile, but only 8% is being cultivated because small farmers are frightened of landmines. The landmine problem had turned a once thriving sugar and coffee exporter into a country forced to import 80% of its food.
The team’s Terra Limpa Fund proposal seeks to revitalize about 5,500 hectares of farmland by turning landmine eradication and crop development into a profitable venture for private investors.
The Fund would issue private equity to private investors and use the proceeds to buy the land; de-mine it, and employ small farmers to grow crops. It would try to bring third parties together to restore agricultural distribution channels to central markets and urban areas, where produce can sell at prices as much as five times higher than in rural areas. If enough revenue is generated, then farmers would be incentivized to buy the land and investors could reap attractive returns.
Amoes and Alam will leave for Angola in June to stress-test the idea and develop a pilot program.
The Challenge, presented by Morgan Stanley and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, invites graduate student proposals to address critical social and environmental challenges. Terra Limpa was one of 10 finalists who pitched their investment vehicles and made their business case for a sustainability goal.