Investing in the environment

By Mary Teresa Bitti

It was her travels around the world and specifically the Middle East, studying archeology in Israel, Egypt and Jordan, that set Carol Newell on her life path to preserving the environment.

“I realized that folks were living in the same way their ancestors had lived thousands of years before,” says Newell. “That struck me as a good thing.”

Twenty years ago, no one had heard of global warming, and few were thinking in terms of sustainability.

But Newell’s self-described “terrific connection to the land,” coupled with her first-hand experience with cultures outside North America, caused the New York-born heiress of the Newell Rubbermaid Corporation to rethink her “standards of what was enough.”

Since then, she has focused her energies and the bulk of her inheritance on funding environmental charities and businesses in British Columbia, Canada, her home for the past 17 years.

In 1992, Newell created the Endswell Foundation to support charitable organizations focused on promoting environmental sustainability and a conservation economy in British Columbia.

Two years later, together with her business partner, Joel Solomon, himself heir to a Tennessee development fortune, Newell founded Renewal Partners Company, a venture capital firm that invests in local startup companies with the same goal.

To date, Endswell has granted $17 million and counts among its biggest successes the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, which helped preserve over 5 million acres of ancient rainforest.

The plan now is to spend down most of the foundation’s assets of $15 million over the next six years.

“The pace at which natural resources are being scooped up and wasted spells disaster,” Newell says of her decision to wind down Endswell.  “I wasn’t interested in waiting another 15 years to invest this money. The capital is needed now.”

Renewal Partners will continue.

“We are in it for the long haul, hoping these small businesses will be here in 50 years,” she says.

Over the past 10 years Renewal Partners has placed some $11 million with more than 50 small businesses in British Columbia.

Carol Newell

Job: Founder, Endswell Foundation and Renewal Partners Company, Vancouver

Education: B.S., geology, St. Lawrence University; Hollyhock Leadership Institute and Retreat Centre, British Columbia, which trains social change activists

Born: Ogdensburg, N.Y., 1956

Hobbies: “Cooking with produce straight from my garden, African hand drumming, improvisational singing, walking, hiking”

Inspiration: “The beauty, unending creativity and problem-solving capacity of Mother Nature;” Rhiannon, teacher and singer; sister, brother and mother

Heroes: Ghandi; Mandela; Vandana Shiva, from India, who is fighting against genetically modified seeds; “all the people I’ve funded”

Newell’s decision to invest in both business and “social-profit organizations” — a term she prefers over “nonprofit”, which she says “makes less of their value” — was no accident. She believes that the more the business and the social-profit worlds mix, share experiences and work together, the more effective they will be. That theory is part of what Newell says is a grand experiment to leverage her money fully in order to make change happen now.“I call it whole-portfolio activation because all of my assets are working toward the same goal — to turn the world around,” says Newell.

Endswell is currently at full capacity, she says, and is making only follow on investments to existing projects.

For years, she was quiet about her wealth and how she was using it, and until three years ago, many of her friends had no idea she was behind Endswell and Renewal Partners.

“For 10 years I let the money be active and then I realized I needed to stand up there with the money so that it wasn’t just an anonymous person who was doing it,” she says.

Newell was born and raised in Ogdensburg, N.Y., where her family ran a curtain-rod factory for generations.

When her father died suddenly when Carol was nine, her mother took his place on the board, transitioning from housewife to businesswoman and teaching Carol all that she herself was learning about business and investing.

The Newell Company became the Newell Rubbermaid Corporation, went public and made millions.

Carol and her mother talked about philanthropy and how “in the best of all worlds, what we hoped our wealth might influence,” she says.

Newell now shares her story with would-be philanthropists, business people and fundraising groups across North America.

And she and her business partner, Marian Moore, recently started hosting gatherings, called Play BIG, for people with discretionary capital of $15 million or more.

“Individual investors can do a lot,” says Newell. “By sharing my story and detailing how I’m doing exactly that, I hope to encourage them to take that next step to big philanthropy. The time is now.”

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