Mara has been a non-executive director of Australian Ethical for the past four years and brings more than 20 years of business and community experience to the board. Her diverse executive career has spanned finance, non-profit and consulting.
Company director and adviser to companies, governments and research agencies who seek to advance collaborative initiatives, Mara was raised in Brazil, educated in the US, and has been calling Australia home for 25 years.
Mara was the founding CEO of Green Cross Australia, an organisation set up in 1993 by Mikhail Gorbachev to create a new approach to solving the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. In early 2018 it was also announced that she will become the first female President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Previously, Mara has worked for The Wilderness Society, Greenpeace Australia, CHOICE, the CSIRO and a number of financial organisations, including Macquarie Bank, Morgan Stanley, and as a director of Allen Consulting Group. Mara has also worked for The World Bank on an earthquake reconstruction project in Nepal. She was a Director on the Board of Bush Heritage Australia for ten years and a member of the NSW Sustainable Energy Development Authority Advisory Council for six years. Mara studied economics and political studies at Williams College, Massachusetts.
Even greater than her impressive resume, one thing that really stands out about Mara is her optimism and enthusiasm. This is why we decided to ask her a few questions to find out what makes her tick.
Why you are a member of Australian Ethical’s board?
“I’ve watched this company’s development with great interest and seen how the vision of the Ethical Charter to do good and avoid harm has manifested in a powerful, contemporary way. So when the opportunity came up to join the board in 2013, I was delighted. Building on some experience in investment banking and the non-profit world, I know that the time for ethical investing is now.”
Why do you think that Australian Ethical [AE] is in a good position right now?
“AE has been focused on a long-term narrative for over 30 years during a time of huge transitions in technology, energy, urban environments, food, and so on.
“It takes time for capital to reach solutions, those solutions to reach the market and also for education on the importance of investing in a positive future. And now, the fruition of decades of very good, sustained investing and engagement with the public and our members is translating into very rapid growth for our fund and also for ethical investing in general.”
It’s not uncommon to get a bit jaded after watching the news today. So how are you always so optimistic and what makes you feel positive about society as a whole?
“I feel really positive that last year AE was the fastest growing super fund in Australia. So clearly there’s a tonne of enthusiasm with this model. Also, the really strong performance of AE over a sustained period of time suggests that this isn’t just fairy dust, it’s a really good investment strategy. So both of those things – the company’s track record and rapid growth – give me great happiness and confidence.
“The other thing is seeing how quickly the cost curve on renewable energy has dropped, which means that the solutions for major transitions we need to make are now completely viable. You know, when I put solar on in 2008 it cost me $28,000, but my neighbour can now do it for just $6,000.”
You’re also the director of a community energy company. What has this experience been like?
“It’s been an exceptional opportunity to see how innovation at a community level that’s scalable is happening in the here and now. Enova Energy is a community-owned energy retailer that came from a ground swell of people in the Northern Rivers region of NSW – the same community that really led the movement against coal seam gas. Rather than just protesting, the community crowdfunded $4 million in equity to set up their own energy company. It’s now been scaled-up so that once we’ve broken even our model can be duplicated in other Australian communities.”
“You know, in Germany 46% of all renewable generation is owned by local communities. Enova Energy has 4,000 customers; it’s Australia’s largest solar customer base by a mile. So that’s a combination of customers that have installed solar and customers buying green power in different proportions.”
Why specifically do you personally have this connection to wanting to make a change with renewables? Why has that been your focus?
“We’ve all known about the greenhouse risk as a planet, since the 1800s. And awareness about the challenge that our generation faces is gradually rising. I just get excited about the fact that now, not only is there something we can all do about that challenge, but we can even make money, and create community resilience and business models that create local jobs and local investment, along the way.
Australian Ethical has always been vocal about gender equity. Of late, there’s been quite an interest in women’s issues in society – how have you seen the progression of women’s issues of late?
“It’s clear from data that question of gender equity is embedded with structural problems. In my own life, I’ve certainly experienced a number of those inequities when I was a young financial analyst in New York in the 80s. There was a culture of chauvinism that was diabolical to navigate when you’re also trying to work on some of the biggest deals on Wall Street. Also when I was in the technology group in San Francisco I would often would be the only professional woman in the team, and I would have to listen to really tacky ‘jokes’. It was a very chauvinistic culture… it is so important for women and men to be able to stand up to that.
“Meanwhile, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with amazing men and women. Just last year I joined a group of women committed to supporting each other in being game-changers. I see incredible women all over society, so finding ways that we can learn about what works and what doesn’t is so important to creating change.”
Mara was also featured as one of our ‘Top 10 Aussie businesswomen’ in the latest issue of our member’s magazine, Good Money. You can check out the whole Good Money magazine here.
Hear more about Mara’s new role as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation below: