People assume that fame and fortune came easily to me because my grandfather was Jacques Cousteau, but nothing could be further from the truth. My father died before I was born and my sister and I inherited very little except our mother’s indomitable spirit. My grandfather left his entire estate to his second wife, who had little affection or loyalty to the descendants of his first marriage. She even sued to prevent us from using our own name! Though we retained the right; the experience of fighting for my own name was not pleasant, but it was ultimately empowering. I learned to be resilient, tenacious and creative. Perhaps this early struggle explains why my life mission is to help all people find their power to change the world.
Even though I never knew my father, I had his films. My mother made sure I understood and inherited his passion for the earth and the sea and his spirit of adventure. She also made sure I had a good education. Following the legal challenges we faced, my sister Alexandra and I decided to carry on our father’s legacy by starting a non-profit to support young environmental leaders, EarthEcho International.
EarthEcho International’s mission is to empower youth to take action to restore and protect our water planet. We are developing a new generation of environmental leaders through education and service learning. Our programs link young people and educators with prominent organizations working on water and ocean health.
I love my work at EarthEcho, but I don’t like constantly fundraising. In this depressed economy, philanthropic dollars are hard to find. Foundation grants and small donations are not providing enough money to solve our greatest challenges. A few years ago I realized that we need to find new and innovative models to finance our work. A friend of mine suggested trying to use the financial markets to fund non-profit work. We came up with the idea of a socially responsible investment fund that donated part of its management fees to a foundation.
After more than a year of researching different types of funds, I knew I wanted an affordable, accessible and low-risk vehicle. Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are affordable and liquid so, I decided to create an actively managed, diversified ETF. I had the good fortune to meet Noah Hamman at AdvisorShares, who was looking to add a sustainable fund to their stable of ETF’s. Together we created the Global Echo ETF (NYSE: GIVE)
GIVE is designed for any investor who wants to support global sustainability and also wants steady returns. GIVE contributes 1/3 of its management fee to fund the GlobalECHO Foundation, which provides resources for work in three key areas: support for the lives of women and children, the expansion of micro-enterprise, and education for environmental sustainability on a global basis.
At the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012 GlobalECHO announced its first commitment to provide funding for the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Panzi Hospital, founded by Dr. Mukwege in 1999, is world-renowned for its work on reproductive health support to survivors of sexual violence. The GlobalECHO Foundation will contribute funds to provide solar panels for the entire hospital, bringing a reliable source of renewable energy to the hospital.
Ever since I accompanied my grandfather on an expedition as a child, I have dreamed of being an adventurer and a social entrepreneur. Now, my whole life feels like an adventure. I’ve helped launch EarthEcho International to support young environmental leaders and now the GIVE ETF and GlobalEcho Foundation. I’m also a special correspondent for CNN International where I travel as the host of their Going Green series, and I am working with the University of Virginia to develop an interactive game that simulates the impact of individuals and communities on water resources. I wake up in the morning and think, “Wow! I am changing the world!” But the greatest reward for me is seeing the happiness on my mother’s face. I owe everything to her courage, tenacity and faith. She taught me how to stand up for myself and be bold, and that has been my most precious inheritance.
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