An investment idea whose time has come for Angola

USC Marshall students win a global competition with a proposal to de-mine Angolan land and turn it into farming property

April 25, 2016 Julie Tilsner

Pitching a proposal to help the people of Angola led to victory for three USC Marshall School of Business graduate students at this year’s Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investment Challenge in Hong Kong.

“Angola currently imports 80 percent of its food. Even though the country is rich in resources and the land is ideal for farming, the land cannot be used as it is covered in 10 to 20 million landmines as a result of its 27-year civil war,” said Megan Strawther, who competed with Suzana Amoes and Ryan Alam against graduate students from 64 schools across 21 countries.

The USC team was one of 10 finalists who pitched investment vehicles and made a business case for a sustainability goal.

According to the USC team’s plan, farmers would be provided with technical aid to grow crops that would be sold to institutional buyers in urban markets.

“The time to restore Angola’s agricultural legacy is now, through investments with transformative impact on the livelihoods of people,” said Amoes, a native of Angola.

“Their idea was amazing and their due diligence and presentation were applauded,” said Adlai Wertman, professor of clinical entrepreneurship and director and founder of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab. “They simply shined above the competition. I could not be more proud of our students and our school.”

The challenge, hosted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business since 2011, has been sponsored by Morgan Stanley since 2014. It invites graduate student proposals to address key social and environmental challenges.

“When people think about the problem of land mines and remnants of war, they think in terms of it needing a purely humanitarian solution,” Alam said. “This shines light on Angola and provides an opportunity to explore solutions that are beyond development aid and grant dollars.”

Building a pipeline

A key aspect of the challenge is to build a pipeline of innovative thinkers in sustainable investment that will inform the next generation of business leaders. This year, more than 100 proposals were submitted, with innovations ranging from refugee support to flood mitigation.

“The caliber of finalists was among the best in the three years that the institute has been partnering with Kellogg on this,” said Audrey Choi, CEO of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing. “We look forward to seeing a number of breakthrough projects coming to fruition in coming years, as a direct result of the challenge.”