Fast Company

I-Banker Turned Environmental Activist Pumps $25 Million Into Saving South China Tigers

Stuart Bray

Investment banker Stuart Bray knows from the logic of markets. Now he's using that talent to save a rare, endangered species, the South China tiger, by relying on investments in timber and solar energy to finance a massive re-location program to an 82,000-acre reserve in South Africa.

Conservation Finance International (CFI) is the name of his new initiative, which was born after Bray hooked up with his wife's charity, Save China's Tigers. There are about 3,200 wild tigers left in the world, compared to 100,000 a century ago. The re-location effort involves transporting the South China tigers to South Africa's Laohu Valley, re-training them to hunt in the wild, and then transferring them back to China's tiger reserves.

The most striking aspect of what Bray is doing is that he's charging ahead on his own, despite criticism from wildlife heavy-weights WWF and others. And he's investing $25 million of his own savings into CFI. "I would rather have them give (their money) to us than what they are doing, but that is their own choice," said Sybille Klenzendorf, WWF's managing director of species conservation.

Like many private sector professionals who make their way over to philanthropy or social sector work, Bray found the conservation movement to be lacking. He saw an opening and this allowed him to infuse the field with a bit of his own private sector experience.

"It became clear to me that a big part of the problem in conservation is finance... In conservation you tend to find people who are anti-business and it struck me as though they needed some business expertise," Bray told Reuters. "We need to innovate to solve these problems."

The financial collapse, and the timber market's cratering, certainly didn't help Bray's efforts.

"Everyone is so angry over the financial crisis that the banks have been pilloried and punished for doing things that were perceived as being too adventurist," Bray said. "We are often able to put something together with pricing that is every bit as competitive with a simpler financing, but it is more complex and takes more effort and that's where the challenge is."

Bray is now at the cusp of closing a $1 billion deal with a Wall Street bank, which will obviously help his cause.

"I made my life in the markets," he said. "And I am convinced I can do this through the markets."

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