Its methods: “The Nature Conservancy is guided by science and is local in orientation, which allows the organization to appeal to those who aren’t necessarily conservationists but who care deeply about the land and water in their communities,” says Mark Tercek, president and CEO. The organization also puts a strong emphasis on pragmatism. “We’re not interested in ideological debates—we just want to get things done,” says Tercek. To this end, it partners with seemingly strange bedfellows, including ranchers and major chemical companies, and buys land outright in order to protect it. “We also take a businesslike approach to conservation. We have a balance sheet and a credit rating. We’re basically an investment bank for nature,” he says.
Its impact: In 2013 alone, TNC has safeguarded and restored land and waters on multiple continents. Its efforts include expanding Australia’s natural reserve system by more than 20 million acres; helping to support Indonesia’s declaration of nearly 11.4 million acres of marine waters as a shark sanctuary; protecting drinking water for more than 70,000 residents in Bloomington, IL; and establishing China’s first land trust reserve.
How the Satter Foundation has helped: “The Satter Foundation is a superb and strategic supporter of TNC,” says Tercek. “As the leader of our finance committee, Muneer oversees the investment of the organization’s $1.8 billion long-term portfolio, including the organization’s $1.1 billion endowment. He’s highly engaged and brings incredibly valuable financial and business acumen to the board.” The foundation’s support has been especially valuable because it often is given for projects that are vitally important but difficult to fund. For example, the foundation recently supported the Montana Legacy project.
“We developed a structured deal to purchase 310,000 acres of land in northwest Montana for $500 million. This land is an important habitat along a grizzly bear migration route. Muneer was instrumental in helping ensure we weren’t taking undue financial risk. The foundation also agreed to donate a million dollars to make it happen. As a result, all species that were there when Lewis and Clark traveled through are still—and will continue to be—found there,” Tercek says.
The Satter Foundation was also a strategic partner in TNC’s efforts in Costa Rica. The foundation gave a million-dollar gift to help TNC, the Costa Rican government, and other partners protect 10 percent of the country’s land and marine ecosystems. TNC is also working in Borneo’s rain forests to show that it’s possible both to preserve vital habitat and generate a revenue stream that ensures economic and natural-resource sustainability. “This project is important as it will demonstrate the feasibility of our market-based approach to conservation. The political climate has made funding this project challenging, but because of the Satter Foundation’s leadership, we have been able to attract other donors as well,” says Tercek.
What’s next for the Nature Conservancy: “We are launching an initiative that uses our science to work with big business to show how it can incorporate sustainability into its business model to maintain or improve financial benefits,” says Tercek. The organization is building a team that understands the science and has the skill set to talk to those in the business sector. It aims for this project eventually to become self-sufficient and produce its own returns. The Satter Foundation has agreed to provide seed funding for this project.