Brink Foundation: Meet Magdalena Banasiak

Brink Foundation: Meet Magdalena Banasiak

Ahead of the launch of Brink Foundation, we spoke with our founding Board Members to learn a little more about their backgrounds and experience, their ambitions for the future at the Foundation and what impact they hope to see our work having.

Magdalena Banasiak is definitive when it comes to the role impact investing has to play in combating climate change. “It has a really important role!” she declares. “It's about taking risks. It’s about testing new ways of working and innovating to deliver impact. It's about setting the course and the direction for how we can leverage climate finance and how it can be used.”

Magdalena’s conviction has most recently been galvanised via her role as in Development and Partnerships at the leading impact investor, Acumen, where she builds partnerships with a specific focus on gender lens investing, youth employment and climate resilient agriculture. But it has been steadily evolving over the 25 years she has spent working in international development, as well her time leading the Tech and Innovation portfolio at the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office), not to mention her decades-long fascination with the question of how best to harness the capacity and innovation of the private sector to address systemic issues such as climate change and poverty reduction.

Magdalena currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and her experiences there have also served to highlight the challenges surrounding investment in climate adaptation and resilience.

I see that we have significant challenges, yet so little of the finance to support this is actually reaching the ground. There's huge potential within the private sector when it comes to entrepreneurship, technology and innovation; both in terms of how business models work and how technology is used.

“At the moment, particularly in Africa, climate financing is quite fragmented and we’re not really leveraging it sufficiently to address the challenges we’re facing,” she attests. “I see that we have significant challenges, yet so little of the finance to support this is actually reaching the ground. There's huge potential within the private sector when it comes to entrepreneurship, technology and innovation; both in terms of how business models work and how technology is used. We have such a huge opportunity to build partnerships across government, civil society and the private sector, but we need to see more people coming together to collaborate in these areas to address the challenges of climate change.

Magdalena cites Brink’s work with the Better Futures CoLab as a recent example where key players both from the demand and the supply side have come together to successfully experiment with different delivery models. “That’s an example of where the innovation wasn't necessarily in the technology,” Magdalena points out, “but it was more around the business model. The Better Futures CoLab’s work in the oxygen space brings different actors together and harnesses innovation to address challenges, test  and explore new ways of working, fail fast, learn and pivot but also harnesses different perspectives and skills,” she says, “and these type of innovative forums are critical to test and build evidence on what works to address the major challenges we face.”

Taking risks and making big bets

The inherent potential in this kind of collaborative innovation approach is one reason Magdalena is excited about the potential for the Brink Foundation. For her it's a chance to repair a fractured and disconnected climate space.

“One of the things I'm seeing, particularly in the climate space, is quite a lot of fragmentation. There's a lot of support going to different types of partners, across the public sector, private sector, and civil society, but it’s not linking up.

“This is where Brink Foundation can come in, through the development of CoLabs to bring different stakeholders together, and being able to really explore some of the big issues we’re all talking about right now. Brink is known as a leader in innovation, so there's a real opportunity to try new approaches, to fail fast and to learn from that. By creating partnerships and new ways of working and collaborating, we can look at reducing the fragmentation we’re currently dealing with. Now is the time to explore, take risks and big bets to address climate change!”

We will always need to pivot and adapt to the local environments and different partners to understand what works in the spaces we’re working within...

Magdalena goes on to explain that this collaborative, adaptive way of working is particularly critical in the arena of climate change because it’s a space that creates such a varied amount of challenges. “We will always need to pivot and adapt to the local environments and different partners,” she says, “and to understand what works in the spaces we’re working within, and depending on where we’re talking about and which sector we are working in. We also need to acknowledge and not ignore the critical role that political economy plays. We cannot drive forward change in isolation, therefore it makes collaboration even more critical - local problems need locally led and informed solutions.”

For Magdalena climate adaptation and behaviour change are inseparable. “Climate-smart agricultural practices rely on behaviour change to see success,” she explains. “For example, smallholder farmers have to balance their immediate needs to increase productivity and the increased use of inorganic inputs such as fertiliser, with the long term needs of soil health. Adopting climate-smart agricultural practices (which, in the long term, will improve soil health and sustainability of farming practices) requires behaviour change but also requires taking risks because there are real tensions there. With Brink Foundation leading in the behavioural innovation space, we can support both innovation and behaviour change to make progress with lasting impact.”

People, partnerships and capital

As well as her desire to see more risks and experimentation happening in the space, Magdalena has three major ambitions that she wants to help drive in the climate sector. “The first is around financing and how we can leverage it,” she says. “For instance, innovative financing to drive impact like impact-linked investing, or using limited climate finance to leverage more commercial capital through blended finance.

“The second is around partnerships,” she continues, “specifically how can we build and collaborate to make this space in addressing climate change less fragmented. And the third focuses on how we can be at the forefront of showing what can be done, build evidence on what works, while also making sure we support local innovators and their work.”

Across of all this, Magdalena stresses, it’s vital that the collaboration extends to those people who will ultimately be impacted by the work  “It’s crucial that we support people within the places we’re working with, because they understand it more than anybody, and they’re the ones dealing with the problems on a day-to-day basis,” she explains. “They’re the  real experts in  addressing these challenges.”

Orchestrating collaboration and exploring intersections

Magdalena sees the Foundation as a catalyst for scaling the Brink approach that sees people being brought together and given the freedom and security they need to take risks and innovate. “Brink has already demonstrated how this can be done successfully through the Better Futures Oxygen CoLab,” she says, “but, as well as bringing people together, Brink Foundation is well positioned to orchestrate even more collaboration across different sectors. We’ve seen from experience that when innovation sits within silos, things become stifled and our learning is reduced. An example of this wider collaboration is the work we’re doing with TRANSFORM in Kenya around the repair and reuse economy, in how this aligns with work we’re doing around plastics, workforce development and  climate change and how we can look collectively at these challenges.

“There’s so many intersections to explore,” she continues “between the likes of youth employment and climate change but also gender, education, healthcare - the list goes on. Brink Foundation is really well placed to take on these challenges, through existing methodologies and through the brave approach to testing and trying new things.”

During her time at the FCDO, Magdalena was able to see first-hand how Brink is able to drive both these innovation and tech agendas. “In 2018, we collaboratively set up a programme called Frontier Tech Hub,” she explains, “where we supported staff across FCDO to experiment and use different types of technology so they could apply these technologies to increase the impact of their work and address key challenges in their work. This was transformational in empowering intrapreneurs across the organisation to experiment and try new ways of working with new technologies and lean agile methodologies, while supporting them along the way. It was such a success that we actually won a civil service award for innovation - and I’m looking forward to working with Brink Foundation to win even more awards!"

When she’s asked what she’s most excited about for the future of Brink Foundation, Magdalena is unequivocal: “This is a great opportunity to really rethink the way that we do things on a larger scale,” she says. “Being involved at this creative and strategic stage of setting up something new will give me the opportunity to leverage my experience, my network and my expertise to allow us to find new ways of doing things, and I know that Brink Foundation is in a great place to be taking some of the big, important agendas forward.”

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