Christian Hiss

Ashoka Fellow
Eichstetten am Kaiserstuhl, Germany
Fellow Since 2009

Citation

This profile was prepared when Christian Hiss was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Agriculture today is financed much like any other big business: with a view of investment that only includes financial return. This approach, however, is limited in scope and leads to major negative environmental and social externalities. With few sources of capital available to smaller players in the sector, and with an increasingly competitive marketplace, large-scale agriculture is increasingly squeezing out smaller scale regional agricultural economies. As a result, the industry has suffered from significant losses in jobs, open space and community identity.

Christian’s Regionalwert AG broadens the financial base of organic regional agriculture enterprises by defining their success not only in financial return, but also in environmental and social returns. Instead of investing in anonymous green investment portfolios with difficult to measure impacts, Christian offers investors the opportunity to invest in their own region and therefore remain closely connected to their investments.

Christian's key insight is that each return – financial, social and environmental – needs to be well accounted for. To do so, he has developed 64 indicators that cover performance in these three arenas. At each annual meeting, the organization’s shareholders learn about the tradeoffs between these returns and can thus make informed decisions on how to balance them in the future.

As a result of Christian’s vision, the Regionalwert AG has creates regional value chains where they did not previously exist. In addition to buying small farms with social and environmental impacts, the holding company also invests in parts of wholesalers or organic catering firms with much higher financial margins. The result is that all three returns – financial, social and environmental - are soundly balanced inside of the holding. By ensuring a balanced return the Regionalwert AG enables regional, small and medium sized farms and grocery producers to survive in a highly competitive market while also allowing local supply chains and synergies to strengthen the region's sustainable values.

With the Regionalwert AG, Christian has found a sustainable mechanism to connect capital with local agricultural enterprises, thereby creating benefits for entire regional economies. As a leading model for shareholder participation, his idea is not only on track to grow organically, but also to spread to other regions and potentially beyond agriculture.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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