Q&A: Meet Roger-Mark De Souza, Pact’s Vice President for Sustainable Markets

January 14, 2022
Roger-Mark De Souza. Credit: The Wilson Center

Roger-Mark De Souza brings more than 20 years of experience driving innovation through local and global initiatives, streamlined operations and impactful teams. Over his career, De Souza has built social, economic, health and environmental justice and resilience programs, teams and movements across the world to encourage local ownership and empowerment. He has extensive experience building stakeholder relations, working with private and public funders and managing teams across geographies, cultures and languages. Before Pact, he worked at Amnesty International, where he served as Chief Movement Building Officer. Before that, he served as President & CEO of Sister Cities International, was the Director of Global Sustainability and Resilience at the Woodrow Wilson Center and has worked for a number of other nonprofits including Population Action International, Sierra Club, Population Reference Bureau and World Resources Institute.

De Souza joined Pact in November. As Vice President for Sustainable Markets, he oversees Pact’s work in the areas of the environment, livelihoods, energy and mining, driving our impact in these critical areas around the world. In this Q&A, he discusses his perspectives on global development and what he hopes to achieve at Pact.

Q: What made you want to join Pact?
A: I have a longstanding interest in building lasting, transformative change that enhances the well-being of marginalized communities, co-creating those opportunities with local partners, and forging collaboration across a variety of sectors. Pact is a leader in innovating and scaling up such approaches across the world.

Pact not only grounds such approaches in values of respect, integrity and inclusion, but walks the talk, whether it be through serving the needs of hard-to-reach communities or focusing on hard-to-address human development priorities. I wanted to be part of this strategic team that converts values into impactful work.

Joining Pact at this moment was also crucial for me. The opportunity to develop Pact’s work on sustainable markets is particularly important as we continue to learn from the impacts of Covid-19. My goal is to practically and measurably position human development initiatives to meet our aspirations for a sustainable and resilient future – and I believe that Pact has the comparative advantage, leverage and commitment to do so.

What do you hope to bring to this role?
I hope to engage with my colleagues and our partners so that we can learn and work together to provide a practical, bottom-line, Pact-specific vision for sustainable markets. I hope that vision will be grounded in the realities of the field, informed by our values, cognizant of measured risk management and buoyed by opportunities for sustained transformation in human development. 

Providing such a vision requires that I start by listening intently and asking strategic questions. I love that at Pact, we offer a promise to build solutions for human development that address the root causes of poverty and marginalization. This is a huge and broad goal. In this context, I hope to focus on the parts of that vision that capture our collective interest in developing, harnessing and leveraging sustainable markets to advance our organizational promise and to center sustainable markets as a key component of thriving, resilient and engaged communities.

I also want to be practical. I hope to bring a bottom-line perspective to development interventions and public-private sector partnerships, informed by ground truthing from our country offices and partners. We are learning a lot of lessons with this pandemic. Covid-19 has made us acutely aware that supply chains matter and touch our lives in ways that we don’t always realize. It is also reminding us that we don’t live our lives in siloes – what happens on the environmental side of our work has an impact on our health and is determined by governance frameworks. A disruption in reliable energy supply, for example, impacts health service delivery and educational opportunities. How can we practically, systematically address these connections, and scale up our interventions to a level of meaningful impact?

We also need to pave the path to resilience. We must be prepared to manage and address risks and disruptions. Providing thought leadership, building networks, being committed to the long game, demonstrating what is possible and embracing failure are all components of resilience planning. As we develop our sustainable market offerings, we will need to engage others, co-create opportunities and push the envelope through innovative thinking and testing.

"How we show up makes a difference. Respecting promises made, delivering impactful actions, upholding a commitment to equity and fostering inclusion through trust are key to success in global development."

Credit: The Wilson Center

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about global development?
There are so many lessons: Shared aspiration matters. Scope and scale should match interventions. Community engagement builds a global community. Linking environmental, social and governance perspectives shapes how we design development interventions. The market for sustainability exists and sustainable investments can transform the world. It is imperative to manage risks and plan for disruptions. Across these lessons I am reminded of the importance of leading with values and embracing complexity.

Values inform movements, and movements lead to change. We know, for example, that investors today are looking to the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) record of companies to guide their investment decisions. How do we practically and equitably do so? As global development practitioners, we must strategically think about the values that inform our worldview and our efforts to contribute to the common good. In doing so, we should interrogate our biases and cultural blinders. At times this is reflected in who we choose to bring to the table and whose perspectives we focus on. I believe, for instance, that we cannot have true development, reduce marginalization and increase equity without engaging the private sector. To do so, we must bring a values-driven business case to our private sector counterparts that helps test, elevate and scale up ways in which the private sector’s commitment to ESG is driven by values and makes for good business. Ultimately, you cannot have good business without good community-led human development. So, for me, the starting point of global development is essentially a values-driven proposition.

Targeted development interventions must be focused on sectoral outcomes and demonstrate a comparative advantage return on investment to be effective. But these interventions are most successful when they embrace the complexity of the environments in which they are to operate. When we embrace complexity, we deconstruct it and determine the most effective entry points for programs. There are still significant barriers to sharing and learning across disciplines and between sectors – and it’s our responsibility to work to overcome them. Where differences divide us, we can use evidence of impact to unlock our prejudices and inform our perspectives. This will help identify possible solutions for seemingly intractable problems and test innovations through trial, failure and renewed effort. Integrated solutions can break through our silos, reach new people in need and keep us from repeating the same mistakes.

You’ll be overseeing a range of programming at Pact, but what brings all our work together is our focus on engaging communities. What does this mean to you?
How we show up makes a difference. Respecting promises made, delivering impactful actions, upholding a commitment to equity and fostering inclusion through trust are key to success in global development. Working in partnership with local communities is fundamental not only to garner the knowledge needed to identify obstacles and opportunities and to design impactful programs, but also to bridge the last mile.

My first goal is always to listen. For me this is not only visiting (virtually or in person) projects and meeting local implementers and players, but deeply listening to each new colleague, partner and community I am going to be working with. Listening is an act of engagement. It is fundamental to center each person’s voice and to listen carefully to understand what’s going well and what’s not working. Only then can we create shared understanding.

Leadership team members, mid-level managers, administrative staff, field program officers, donors, corporate partners, community leaders, program recipients all provide key information to help surmount obstacles to development. In this regard, the last mile is the hardest to bridge: How can we hear from those whom we can serve through partnership and from those who may currently be excluded from our programs? How do we engage with local communities to decide jointly not only how to expand and adapt existing projects, but also to identify which new projects are needed to reach left-out beneficiaries?

In my career, I have worked on participatory mapping with Malagasy villagers to track the impacts of population dynamics on natural resources; learned from the perspective of Filipino fisherfolk through appreciate inquiry methodologies to preserve reefs to safeguard their livelihoods;  worked with the re-insurance industry in Latin America and the Caribbean on the application of resilience bonds in vulnerable markets based on customer appraisals; incorporated indigenous conflict mediation approaches with peacebuilders in East Africa who were looking to reduce conflict around natural resource extraction while bolstering local livelihoods. Such programs centered the voices and perspectives of local communities and co-created development approaches and understanding that improved project deliverables and product offerings. Community engagement means involving all stakeholders and coming together around a shared vision.  

You’re passionate about equity and meaningful inclusion. How will this influence your approach at Pact?
Equity and inclusion underpin some fundamental development questions around justice and rights. Who has access to resources? Whose voice is heard and considered in development decisions? Which processes are put in place to ensure equity and inclusion? Covid-19 has brought such questions to the fore as we have seen how systemic inequities exacerbate the impacts of the pandemic on marginalized communities, whether it be through access to vaccines, remote work and health information, or through the disproportionate effects of curtailing liberties. Covid-19 has highlighted additional dimensions of inequity such as intersectionality when individuals are marginalized on multiple simultaneous accounts, through race, gender, educational and/or economic status. As development practitioners these issues are forefront for us.

Equity and meaningful inclusion have been key values throughout my career. Whether directing global programs that address women’s vulnerability to the impacts of the climate crisis; engaging corporations in environmental protection and clean energy initiatives as a business practice; convening donors to share their perspectives on engaging underserved communities; or identifying mechanisms for accountability and transparency to uphold human rights, I have always strived to apply the lens of equity and inclusion, and worked to address the intersectionality of systemic inequities.

At Pact, I am looking for ways to bring these concerns to the sustainable markets portfolio. To what extent are equity and inclusion a business imperative? How do we put in place an equity and inclusion lens to inform our processes, focusing on transparency, due diligence and responsible development? For example, in Colombia, informal sector workers typically do not have access to banking and credit. This creates a number of problems including emboldening illegal financiers and driving up informal fees and terms for the poorest of the poor. For the country’s artisanal and small-scale miners, even if the business itself is formal, they too are prevented from opening bank accounts because of suspicion of money laundering. It also means that artisanal and small-scale miners do not have access to services that would help formalize their sector. This lack of formalization inhibits miners from achieving standards that will secure the livelihoods of those in this sector. What role can Pact play in addressing these issues? This access to banking is, at its core, an equity issue and a development one.

We work on a wide range of projects such as access to innovative financing through USAID Green Invest Asia or access to decentralized renewable energy solutions through our Smart Power Myanmar program with the Rockefeller Foundation. Which lessons can we draw from each project regarding access, equity and inclusion that have implications for other sectors? We also work to increase the transparency, representation and accountability of decision-making processes in initiatives to support local district governments in Malawi aiming to improve revenue generation in the fishing sector or in programs to increase the influence of indigenous people as they seek to protect the Amazon Basin's environment and their own rights. Which lessons can such projects provide to bolster the business case for sustainability?

How do you think Pact’s programming can best contribute to reducing climate change – one of the biggest challenges for communities we serve?
The recent dire warnings on climate from the Intergovernmental Plan on Climate Change is a clear indication of the connections between climate change, the sectors touched by Pact’s Sustainable Markets portfolio, and our well-being. Environment, energy, mining and livelihoods are all irrevocably linked to the climate crisis as they both impact and are impacted by the latter. Energy can lead to environmental preservation through sustainable management of clean renewable resources, and it can also be affected by droughts, floods and other climate-related events triggered or worsened by climate change. Mining can lead to deforestation, which in turn contributes to greenhouse gases, yet it can also be a source of funding for restorative initiatives. Livelihoods are at the core of energy, environment and extractive industries. No farmer wants to erode their soils, no fisherman wants to deplete all their halieutic resources, no miner wants to open new ways for clear-cutting and poaching. All need a sustainable way to make a living that does not exacerbate the climate crisis – and adversely affect the future and well-being of their communities.

I want to partner with all of our stakeholders, and new ones we need to identify, to share innovative ways to combat climate change. Our sustained work around smart power, green financing, nature-based solutions, livelihood diversification and accountability in responsible sourcing and mining standards set us apart. Pact is an exciting cutting-edge leader – and I anticipate that we can be an even better leader on sustainable markets – demonstrating our proof of concept, providing accountability in public-private partnerships and engaging corporate partners in possibilities that make good business sense. Ultimately, I hope that we translate our sustainable markets approaches into concrete social good – improved lives, greater corporate practices, innovative solutions driven by communities, and better environmental stewards through our investments and operations.

I want to demonstrate Pact’s value as a validator, incubator, partner and leader – and to highlight that Pact’s brand of leadership transforms lives in the communities that we serve and offers deep value to corporations as they implement their business practices. Transformative financing through public-private-community partnerships, programs aimed at climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience, initiatives to address loss and damage, and cross-cutting livelihoods are all key both to upholding our values and walking the talk.