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30 Best Leaders To Watch 2019

In His Own Words: Rino Solberg, Better Globe Forestry Ltd Founder/Chairman on Eradication of Poverty and Corruption in Africa

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“We organized a microfinance system for farmers in Kenya to eradicate poverty and after five years of operation it has proven great success – with over 5000 farmer families out of extreme poverty.”

While the total number of impoverished people worldwide is declining, the rate of progress is not as fast as it needs to be to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030; especially in Africa.

In light of the above-mentioned scenario, we’re thrilled to present Better Globe Forestry Ltd (BGF).

The company’s vision is; “To eradicate poverty and corruption in Africa” and the mission is; “By Social Entrepreneurship, plant as many trees as there are people on this planet and thereby finance the sustainable implementation of the vision”.

BGF is to make Africa a greener, healthier place in which to live and to eradicate poverty by focusing on the development of profitable, commercial tree plantations that will deliver environmental as well as humanitarian benefits.

The company was incorporated in 2004 and is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rino Solberg, Better Globe Forestry Ltd Founder/Chairman spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Can you brief us about the history of your company?

In 2004, when I was 60 years old, I decided to do something more than just building businesses for profit. I, therefore, decided to spend the rest of my life, on the biggest goal I could think of, to “eradicate poverty and corruption” in Africa. I believe that in order to eradicate poverty, people must be self-sustained which promote their dignity and their pride. The next step was to find out; “who were the poor people in Africa”?

That was the easy part, as approximately 70 percent of the people living in Africa are small farmers. I had been looking into tropical trees, as a business before, and I knew that the right tree could help the farmers make more money and we, therefore, spent two years on a feasibility study (2004-2006) in order to find the right tropical tree, with enough profit within 15-20 years, which was the time limit I had planned. We then found a tree called “Mukau”, which grows in dry land in Kenya, and had the quality wood I was looking for.

Tree planting, therefore, became the business engine behind the whole concept, where everybody could make money, from the one who planted the trees to the one who financed it. The company Better Globe Forestry Ltd became the main business operation and is now the most respected forestry company in Kenya.

In 2006, Muhammed Yunus got the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing “microfinance” and that was also something the poor farmers in Africa needed. We, therefore, organized a microfinance system for farmers in Kenya as the second part of the strategy to eradicate poverty and after five years of operation, it has proven great success – with over 5000 farmer families out of extreme poverty.

However, there is no way anyone can eradicate poverty in any country without free education for children. And since my wife Julie and I had been running Child Africa, a non-profit organisation for children since 1991, that had to be included in the strategy too.

It thereby became a three-pronged approach to eradicate poverty and corruption in Africa;

  • Massive tree planting (By 2018, 2 million trees are planted)
  • Microfinance (By 2018, 5,000 families are out of extreme poverty)
  • Children’s Education (By 2018, over 10,000 children have been helped through schools)

Q. What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

My idea was to find a sustainable business model which could make money for poor farmers in Africa and thereby eradicate their poverty over time. All farmers can plant trees; therefore we spent the proper amount of time to find the right one; which could give a big enough profit over 15-20 years.

After two years of studies, our forester, Jan Vandenabeele, discovered a mahogany tree that grows in the semi-arid land in East Africa; we finally could start the operation. We have had hundreds of “hurdles” after that too, but after 14 years “pilot project” we have managed to overcome all of them and are ready to prove to the world that our model works.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish in the long run?

By 2044 we plan to have planted nine billion trees; which has the potential to pull millions of African farmers out of poverty. BGF will probably be the world’s biggest tree planting company by that time. We also plan to reach millions of children with our “Bingwa(Champion)” message of fighting corruption, through our “Bingwa Movement.”

We will have our teaching of ‘honesty and integrity’ into the school’s curriculum in many African countries, and through TV programs and magazines we will educate children not to accept corruption when they grow up.

Q. What other leaders do you look up to, and why?

I have many mentors, but not to mention any names, I admire leaders who stand for something with integrity, regardless of resistance and failures; that keep the faith in themselves and never give up until the job is done.

Q. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Don’t start a business just for making quick money, because you will probably never find it.

It is better to find something you are good at or like to do and could work with even without getting any money. When you find that, money will come as a natural result. The famous Zig Ziglar was known for his quote; “You can get everything you want in life if you only help enough other people get what they want”. I believe in that.

Q. What do you think is the most memorable moment in your career?

I cannot tell you one that sticks out alone, as I have had so many such moments, during my 50 years as a serial entrepreneur. But every time I have a new business idea, which is turned into practical success and help other people, makes my day.

Rino Solberg: A Charismatic Leader

Rino Solberg, Norwegian, born 1944: In 1976, Rino Solberg got patents in 12 countries on a grinding machine for valves that he called “Unislip” and he had a Unislip company in Norway, the USA, Germany, Japan, and agents in 25 countries. Today, probably 70-80 percent of all nuclear power plants worldwide have his “Unislip” machines. He ran his companies successfully for 13 years, and then he sold out and started a training company. He has written 12 books and published five magazines within the area of personal development/business/leadership and trained over 150 companies to be certified to ISO 9000/ISO 14001 series quality standards. In addition, Mr. Solberg has been a motivational speaker for over 40 years.

In 2011, he was awarded the “Global Achievement Award” in the Philippines and in 2012 he was knighted as a “Knight of Rizal” in the Philippines. In 2015, Mr. Solberg and his wife got an “Extraordinary People Award” in Dallas USA, for their charity work in Africa. In 2016, he was awarded; “The Most Innovative CEO in Kenya” by Corporate Vision Magazine (UK). In 2015, his company Better Globe Forestry Ltd was awarded as “Best Corporate Tax Yield – Small and Medium Enterprises” by Kenya Revenue Authority, handed out by President Kenyatta of Kenya. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, his company Better Globe AS in Norway was awarded as a “Gazelle Company” for growth and economic results. In 2018, Mr. Solberg was honoured with “The Man of The Year Award” by the Business Worldwide Magazine (UK).

“My idea was to find a sustainable business model which could make money for poor farmers in Africa and thereby eradicate their poverty over time.”