The regeneration of Australia’s food and farming systems
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20 April 2023
20 April 2023

Principles for Navigating a Regenerative Finance Paradigm

Written by Tanya Massy
“Across cultures, navigation is influenced by particular environmental conditions — snow, sand, water, wind — and topographies — mountain, valley, river, ocean, and desert.
But in all of them, it is also a means by which individuals develop a sense of attachment and feeling for places. Navigating becomes a way of knowing, familiarity, and fondness.Investing in Infrastructure for Values-Based Supply ChainsIt is how you can fall in love with a mountain or a forest.”

— M.R O’Connor Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World . 2019.

How do we navigate our way towards a finance system for regenerating our food, farming and fibre systems? How do we keep our steps sure and strong on a regenerative trajectory, regardless of how tempting the straight, smooth highway may be when we hit steep slopes or heavy storms?

A key learning from our research is that we are all going to need some tools to help guide our navigation — so here we focus on outlining those tools in the form of principles.

Each of them reflects strong and recurrent themes which emerged across our research and conversations.

  • Relationships are all
  • Move at the speed & depth of trust
  • Collaboration Humility
  • Integration
  • Terroir

Relationships are All

Over and again, we heard that relationships are the critical glue in the interplay between industry and investment. The strength of an investment, an initiative or the new system we are working to grow is determined by the strength of the relationships within, across and between.

Just as the regenerative system is evolving us away from the ‘food from nowhere’ regime, so too it requires something other than the 'money from nowhere' norm, something more grounded, human and transparent.

Accountability and transparency are foundational. They go both ways in a co-creative investment relationship. Usually, we just focus on where the money is going, the impact and the outcomes.

But where is the money coming from and to where will it return? And is that destination part of the regenerative trajectory to which it was given?

Risk is shared, acknowledged, and discussed. Value, impact, timelines and returns are collaboratively agreed on, not imposed. All of this takes conversations, time and human-to-human interaction.

Developing new forms and flows of regenerative capital is relational work.

“The depth of relationship between individuals in a system determines the strength of a system.”

— Margaret Wheatley, Cited in Emergent Strategy (brown 2017)

In practice examples:

  • RSF Community Price Gatherings where borrowers and lenders collaboratively set interest rates for each quarter.
  • Regen Network creating systems of 'radical transparency’ for the Nature Based Solutions market so stakeholders have clear lines of sight not just to where capital is flowing, but from where it comes.

Move at the speed and depth of trust

Like relationships, the trust principle touches on time and scale and is potently articulated by adrienne maree brown:

“Meaningful scale depends on deep transformative work rather than surface, widespread work.” (2017)

Yes, there is urgency and huge scale across the problems and challenges before us. But we have no time for superficial initiatives.

We heard that we need to go deep:

  • To ‘move at the speed of trust’ (ibid), not rush
  • To shore up relationships
  • To listen
  • To take the time to co-create, and not impose solutions

It's easier and feels faster to come in with a recipe, with the answer, with the pre-fab solution ready to go — but that's a sure way to erode trust and ensure work stays inch deep. That's business as usual.

Moving at the speed of trust means our focus shifts from 'mile wide, inch deep movements, to mile deep, inch wide' (brown 2017).

“At the end of the day, it's one farmer at a time.”

— Terry McCosker,  RCS | Carbon Link | Interview 2022

“Let's not be afraid of the difficult and sometimes clumsy conversations about how to make this work. That’s the only way we can hope to figure it out.”

— Bec Milgrom, Tripple | Interview 2022

In practice examples:

“I think impact is where people are engaged with what their money is actually doing, ideally with as little separation as possible between them and the change they are seeking. And if we're doing things worth doing, it won’t always work.
I would argue we should be failing a lot because driving change is hard, but where people are engaging with one, maybe two, degrees of separation — there's an authenticity in that intention which means whether it's having impact, or not, people are understanding, are learning why...”

— Dan Madhavan, Ecotone Partners | Interview 2022


"This is not a boat any one investor can lift.”

— Esther Park, Cienega Capital | CREO Webinar 2022

Or any one farmer, brand, politician or philanthropic organisation.

Collaboration is our superpower — it enables us to align resources and efforts, avoid duplication, share skills and capacities and shift systems and structures in ways we can't do on our own.

There's a fair bit of individualist, 'we're gonna be the hero, we've got the solution' mindset happening across the system at present.

And we heard that collaboration is happening a bit more on the surface level in the philanthropic and investment community, in terms of 'this is what we're doing, this is our solution, hop on board’. Yet not a lot of collaboration is happening at depth — of folk coming together to say ‘this is a problem, how can we come at this from different angles, what are your ideas?’

One thing our research made very clear is that these kinds of disparate and subsurface competitive activities and mindsets won't get us very far.

Transformation requires collective, experimental and iterative pilots towards a directional goal/north star. We need to be learning and piloting and testing and reflecting and failing, together. Sharing their learnings and outcomes to strengthen and inform the broader system, not operating out of sight.

This is not a planet any one investor can fix.

“We believe in out cooperating the competition.”

— Rebecca Harman, Regen Network | Roundtable Discussion 2022

“We’re so early into this that it's important we hold each other up.
It doesn't need to be competitive.
We need as many involved as possible because the challenge is massive.
We need to think about how we invite more people in, and invite them with generosity?”

— Robyn O’Brien, Re-Plant Capital | Interview 2022

In practice examples:

  • Regen Farmers Mutual building collaboration of famers to enable market access and ecosystem impact.
  • Steward — aggregating investors and finance through crowdlending.


So there's an elephant in the room that kept popping her beautiful large head around the corner in every conversation. In the business- as-usual world, money equals power.

Whoever holds the most money in the room — i.e. the investor/funder — holds the power, has the higher level of knowledge/skill (because they got rich) and so can dictate the terms.

But the mindset required for all of us in a regenerative system, pulls this power rung away. Practitioners are turning their back on money and investment deals if the values and intent don't align, recognising that knowledge to fix the problem is a superpower that money can't buy.

Working with nature's patterns, with her capacity to self-organise is inherently humbling — we can't get out of the way to enable self-organisation without humility:

  • The humility to acknowledge how much we don't know.
  • To hold mistakes and missteps not as failings, but as valuable learnings to cycle back through the system.
  • To sit in uncertainty.

To acknowledge:

  • That we need each other — as co-creators, as interdependents.
  • That the western scientific paradigm isn't the holder of all knowledge.
  • That the most useful knowledge at this time is often what is closest to the ground.

Humus. Humility.

“There is a lot of huge talk about what all of this can do. But to do it well takes humility. Saying I don't know. Saying we need to ask community. We shouldn't have the power to dictate how things should be applied. People on the ground and stewards of our bioregions — they are uniquely qualified to make those decisions.”

— Becca Harman, Regen Network | Roundtable Discussion 2022

“Generally the impact investment space is very controlled by investors, not practitioners. It's an uneven playing field.”

— Bec Scott STREAT | 2022 Interview

In practice examples:


We heard this one a lot.

We can't keep focusing on individual parts in isolation — to work with complex adaptive systems requires recognition of integration and interdependence. Nothing lives and grows in isolation.

Thinking, acting and operating with integration includes:

  • Working with different forms of capital to develop integrated toolkits capable of meeting different needs.
  • Taking a birds eye view of a problem to guide integrated interventions across landscapes, supply webs, and portfolios.
  • Being prepared to fund complex systems work, not just isolated projects.
  • Integrating finance with the workings of nature, the system on which finance depends.
“That's why we take an integrated capital approach, where instead of saying a loan or a grant will simply solve all your problems, we need to work together to harness all forms of capital, and not just financial capital.” 

— Erika Williams I RSF Social Finance | Interview 2022

“We've never had success getting food systems funded. The frustration is that everything has to be a project. Everything including core business we have to project-ise. Give it an exciting name and pitch. Make it bright and shiny.”

— Bec Scott, STREAT | Interview 2022

“We need to invest in whole supply chains. You can fund regenerative wheat but if there's no investing across the supply chain, you're not going to shift the system.”

— Chris Balazs,  Provenir | Interview 2022

In practice examples:

  • RSF Social Finance - Integrated Capital Approach.
  • Shorefast - holistic community economic development initiatives.
  • Mad Ag — designing in flexibility for hard seasons.


Used in the world of wine to describe the singular combination of factors in a particular place that creates a unique fingerprint of place.

In relation to investing in regenerative systems — the principle of terroir, we heard, is fundamental.

We know rolling out programs at scale is tempting because of the task at hand, but terroir acknowledges that every farm, and community, and landscape is different, and therefore monolithic rollouts of homogenous solutions don't work.

To avoid imposing solutions informed by limiting stereotypes, and not the reality of each community, solutions need to be informed from the bottom up in order to address the context-specific challenges of a bioregion/industry/farm.

Adaptive and flexible were two words frequently deployed about what makes capital enabling. Adaptive and flexible in order to honour place.

Food and fibre systems are fundamentally connected to place and the organisms of that place, and regeneration asks all of us to work in ways that honour the context of where we are.

In practice examples:

“A lot of funders I've worked with, they might have engaged with one Traditional Owner or one community and they take that exact same framework and place it over all of the others — they do in Cherbourg what they did in Yeppoon... I had one young guy ask me, 'When do we get to do the didgeridoo playing?’ I said, ‘Mate, you are out in the desert...’”

— Kalair McArthur Rural and Remote Development Consultants | Interview 2022 

“Steward provides thoughtful capital with a supportive team behind it, providing assistance to farmers when things become challenging.
For instance, when one farm was close to default the team worked closely with them to develop a flexible repayment strategy and even introduced them to a potential distribution partner."

— Bec Milgrom, Tripple | Interview 2022

This article is an extract from Regenerating Investment in Food and Farming: A Roadmap.

Image credit (right): Third Eye Photography