Five Questions for Yusuf Merchant

1/ Please tell me about yourself and PeaceInvest.

My background is in investment banking and capital markets. I have experience in fixed income, structured credit and finance, cross-border receivables, supply chain finance, commodities and bond markets.

Peaceinvest is a financial service provider based in Geneva. We are a Swiss-regulated for-profit organisation. Our senior managers and employee stakeholders are all registered Client Advisors. We structure and arrange the financial architecture of our investments and get paid based on their success or execution.

We arrange peace-relevant financing to promote social cohesion and financial, economic and human security. We do not limit ourselves to conflict areas but seek to solve problems and issues in areas of potential conflict.

For example, we are discussing with the government of an African nation that has lost 15-20 per cent of its human capital to conflict over the last decades. They have since been through a mediation and reconciliation process. We have designed an investment to maximise the country’s remaining human capital potential and bring it back into the economy. The investment crowds in the private sector and is designed to produce a humble return linked to the US Treasury bond.

Another project in Africa is linked to digital inclusion and access. We will crowd in private sector investors to improve bandwidth availability, public infrastructure, and lighting.

Our firm is not currently able to offer investment projects to retail investors. Still, we hope retail clients will want to combine their funding into an investment where we might have a concessionary donation from a charity or foundation.

However, we do not focus on concessions, grants or donations. We believe asking for donations would limit our ambitions and the needs of the investees, regions and people whose lives we wish to enhance. We hope to realise a more significant potential by crowding in the private sector. In our field, investments that bring about substantial social change and improvement have often been made at the UN, IMF, and Foreign Aid levels. We wish to design our investments to crowd in the private sector, which arguably has larger pools of capital.

2/ What is Peaceinvest trying to achieve?

Unless we can address some of SDG 16’s * shortfalls concerning peace, society, human capital, security, and cohesion, we will be unable to realise any other SDGs. We will destroy capital if we can’t capture the dividends from peaceful coexistence. We must address SDG 16 in terms of the use of proceeds, risk factors, KPIs, and sustainability principles.

For the last year and a half since we’ve been in operation, we’ve created a pipeline of six or seven projects under the core themes of Food Security and Nutrition, Human Capital, Green Energy and Mobility, and Risk and Resilience. My presentation at GrainCom24 will focus on food security and resilience, storage, convenience, and geopolitical risk.

Human capital is our second theme: violence and insecurity, access to technology and data, digitalisation, and education.

Our third theme is energy poverty and access. Energy poverty restricts human capital and ambition.

Our fourth theme concerns youth mobility, creating conditions for young people to recognise their potential. Frustrated youth have the possibility of going into violence.

Our last theme is how we bind these four aspects into a risk and resilience framework. We don’t just think about an existing conflict but create resilience to mitigate the risk of conflict.

3/ How important is food in terms of conflict and conflict resolution?

Food plays into human security. Violence can occur between well-meaning individuals if they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Food is central to human aspirations and is a core theme for us. It is, at a most basic level, the fuel that makes one wake up in the morning and pursue their ambitions for a better, more prosperous and fulfilled life. There can be no growth without it.

I will devote much of my presentation to the Geneva conference on the next one billion lives in Africa. I will address some systemic and endemic issues Africa faces in replacing indigenous crops with cash crops of wheat and corn to sell on the world market.

4/ On your website, you mention peace and prosperity go hand in hand, but is that true?

The nature of human beings and how nations interact is such that we won’t be able to prevent conflict. However, our investments can help create the conditions societies and countries need to coexist peacefully. We can help prevent violence and insecurity.

We are more interested in resolving things than figuring out why they happened. We are not interested in assigning blame to either side. If you speak to one side, they may have legitimate reasons for doing or not doing something. That is the nature of human discord.

But we try to find common ground that allows former adversaries to reconstruct their lives and live again in peace. We want to help them understand and quantify the peace dividends to prevent them from again falling into conflict. Indeed, much work goes into ensuring that resource exclusion, societal disparities, and inequalities are not left to fester and cause a fracture in nations, societies and peoples.

Today, a declining proportion of the world’s population lives under a social norm that celebrates and ensures human rights. Democracies are failing; they are becoming less democratic and more autocratic. Even within democracies, participation in the democratic process is falling. Whether democratic or not, we must not lose hope and find a way to create peaceful conditions for all nations and peoples irrespective. We must recognise the peace dividend we earned when creating a new world order after the Second World War. We must remind ourselves where we could return if we do not celebrate this peace.

There’s always a tendency for human beings to fluctuate between taking things for granted and recognising that they should be preserved and cherished.

5/ What message will you give to the conference?

I will tell conference participants that Africa’s malnutrition rates of between 50 to 60 per cent compel us to do something if we want to avoid the chaos of mass emigration. We cannot afford to say that we live in an isolated world.

We must recognise that we coexist on this planet. We must invest in food security and resilience in parts of the world where malnutrition exists. Putting up more storage in the middle of North America will not help. Putting up more silos or grain processing facilities in the middle of Africa will.

*SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

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