TREE TOKEN: CONNECTING SMALL FARMERS WITH INVESTORS
Connecting different realities to create a positive outcome is the mission of Tristan Lecomte, founder of Tree Token, a marketplace for impact finance agroforestry projects. Social entrepreneur for 20 years, Lecomte has also created the equitable brand AlterEco and Pur Projet, an initiative to offset the carbon footprint of big companies by planting trees.
TREE Token leverages funding to further expand agroforestry projects (planting trees and combined agriculture crops) on the Ethereum blockchain. “We use a blockchain to bring agility, transparency, low transaction costs, as well as the possibility to scale up and diversify the proposal for the investment and for the people targeted”, says Lecomte in an interview to Beeleev.
The idea is to start with agroforestry projects but gradually propose diverse kinds of impact projects to be funded by qualified investors thanks to the blockchain.
TREE Token connects small farmers, especially those in developing countries, to investors with small transactions costs. With an annual rentability from 3% to 7%, the fund aims to generate economic, social and environmental impacts by financing small agricultors. The project is a spin-off of Pur Projet.
TREE Token is a partnership between Lecomte and Boris Vallee, Finance professor at Harvard Business School. The proof of concept is being tested in an agroforestry project in Peru
Opportunities in social entrepreneurship
“Linking two different worlds or being a specialist in a product or service that adds a value not yet offered: this is how an entrepreneur creates value”, says Lecomte. Addressing one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – a United Nations’ initiative to address challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environment, prosperity, peace and justice – is another promising choice for social entrepreneurs, according to him.
“In our society, where the traditional values and rules of work are in crisis, social entrepreneurship may be the easiest and the best way to create your own job and to develop a new sector of activity”, affirms the French entrepreneur, currently living in Thailand.
“Social entrepreneurship and, for example, regenerative agriculture, will become major and mainstream industries. There is still a lot of place for people to create their own jobs and their own companies, increasing social impact.”
Tristan Lecomte leads projects in 40 countries, planting more than 10 million trees in the last 10 years
Lecomte started his journey in social entrepreneurship in 1998. The first five years were mostly about trials and mistakes, he confides. AlterEco came to the edge of bankruptcy from 1998 to 2003. “My first plan was to open physical stores to sell fair trade and responsible food products. I opened a small shop: it didn’t work. Then I tried big stores: it didn’t work. Doing an e-commerce was equally a mistake.”
When the B2C model (capital intensive, since it depends on retail growth) was replaced by a B2B structure, AlterEco proved its potential. The company signed contracts with French mass retailers such as Monoprix, Cora, Match, E.Leclerc and Carrefour. In 2007, hundreds of AlterEco products were on the market. Coffee, tea, rice or chocolate, all sourced from cooperatives in dozens of countries.
Different worlds, but complementary
Sometime later AlterEco started to plant trees to offset its carbon footprint. This is how Tristan came up with the idea to develop Pur Projet. The social enterprise partners with hundreds of multinationals, from Chanel to Nespresso, from Saint Laurent to Louis Vuitton, to compensate negative social and environmental impacts within their supply chains.
“In Pur Projet we linked multinationals with small scale farmers. Alter Eco connected small farmers with supermarkets, two very different worlds, but very complementary”, says Tristan. “Small scale farmers have a great image but lack financial means. In contrast, the financial world or corporates have multiple financial means, but sometimes not such a good reputation. As well, they know that they have to invest in the supply chains they depend upon, in the future and in the sustainability of their business.”
Together, Alter Eco and PUR Projet have raised $ 10 million in capital and $ 70 million in grants. The projects do not target CSR or charity, but companies investing in projects that protect and regenerate the ecosystem they depend upon, to secure longer term revenues.
Through Pur Projet, Lecomte has been managing agroforestry projects in 40 countries, planting more than 10 million trees in the last 10 years. As a co-founder of TREE Token he is responsible for the business development and the sourcing of agricultural inputs (where to plant and how to manage resources).
‘Success is about not giving up’
Lecomte advises entrepreneurs to be open to adopt B2B models, positive cash flow models and structures that value the work and are not extremely capital intensive. “I started PUR Projet with 100 euros and my work power. Today we make a 10 million euro turnover per year, without debts or equity from others.” Pur Projet is present today in 40 countries, with 150 partner companies, and a team of 30 employees.
The main challenges faced in his 20-year experience are basically related to the balance between environmental impact and financial revenue, he says. Success, in its turn, is defined by him as the capacity to learn by mistakes and to be resilient.
“Success depends on your level of tenacity. It is all about overcoming many problems and not giving up. Difficulties make you clever. They will teach the most about yourself and others. In the end, you learn to be more resilient.”
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