The Mastery of Leaders: Shaun Paul

LaKay Cornell May 8, 2020

There is a deep interconnectedness of all life on earth,
from the tiniest organisms, to the largest ecosystem,
and absolutely between each person. Bryant H. McGill

There is a lot of conversation right now about the solutions we need to implement to emerge with a new world as we see the other side of COVID-19. Just about everyone agrees that we need new systems and ecosystems. Almost no one seems to agree on what the best ways to create them are. One of my personal disappointments with this conversation is that it seems to happen in isolated communities. I believe that in order to really create the change we have to consider the people who will most benefit from these changes as well as the people who have the power to implement them.

It is this sort of partnership that has the power to provide new models of the economy that benefit more people. We also need to figure out how to focus on long-term solutions while also helping people have more opportunities today. In some ways, this is a sort of hybrid philosophy that combines the immediate relief that comes from things like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), section 8 housing, or even the stimulus checks most of us are receiving now with the pull yourself up by your bootstraps philosophies of the other side. As I’ve said before, you have to have boots in order to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And much more eloquently, Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, say in their new book, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, that what we need is a change of heart where we realize that we can provide systems to level the field a bit and still teach people to work for rewards and financial gain.

As a society, we have to start imagining solutions that provide people with ways to participate in and financially gain from the global economy while also giving them what they need to survive today. There are some examples of this surfacing such as public-private partnerships, micro-economies that provide housing for the homeless, and tuition reimbursement that reimagines the relationship between paying for higher education and the economic performance of a company. 

And although many people are talking about the direct connection between COVID-19 and our misuse and abuse of our planet, what seems to be missing is how to combine all three. How do we provide immediate relief, modes for long-term financial success, and start to reverse the damage we have done to our planet? Or, as Shaun Paul, the CEO of Ejido Verde, says:

The questions we should be asking is, ‘How do I realize well-being as an individual, community member, or citizen of a country?’
We live in each of these nested, interconnected systems, and when we create wealth and happiness, we must consider
the scale of our being, as a community, as a life shed, as a country, as a continent, and as a planet.

When you say it like that, it sounds like a tall order. Maybe it is. But if we are going to do anything to reverse the damage we have done, as a culture to our citizens, and as a people to our planet, we have to attempt the seemingly impossible. Which is exactly what Shaun Paul is doing.

Ejido Verde provides capital to rural and indigenous Mexican communities to create trees (on currently degraded and unused lands) that produce pine resin (which is used in products worldwide). It takes about ten years for the trees to grow to the point they are producing resin. When they do, the loan is paid back with 10% of the resin. The rest is purchased by Ejido Verde at a fair market price. Ejido Verde then sells the resin to their customers (including the loan-payback part), making income/returns for them and their investors. 

They are planting, on average, 6,000 native trees a day. Yes, you read that correctly – 6,000. In 2019, they removed 100 tons of carbon from the atmosphere by doing this. They are also working with these family farms to help them adopt climate-smart farming practices.

What’s game-changing here, in my opinion, is that while all of this is happening, the people who are working the farms are making money to do so. As of January 2020, they provided 240 full-time jobs, that earn 3.5 times the minimum, livable wage for the community, and there are 1,786 rural and indigenous people earning income stewarding the new forests

. The goal? 10,000 full-time jobs as independent resin tappers, earning 3.5 times the minimum livable wage and $1B in transformative wealth for Mexico’s rural and indigenous people – within 20 years.

I had the pleasure of asking Shaun Paul how he came to this work and why he believes it is a necessary component to creating a more conscious world. There’s no doubt he is passionate and smart. He is also curious. He told me that when he was in college, President Reagan said something about how we couldn’t help the environment because it was bad for the economy. Instead of taking this on its face or getting frustrated and protesting, Shaun Paul started researching why that would be true. This led to him studying the economy and political science.

He says he found economics to be more of a philosophy than a science, and that while various economic philosophies hold some things in common (aka the literal facts), it is the values in their philosophies that differ and lead to statements like President Reagan’s. It was clear to him that a worldwide crisis in values was leading to drastic climate change and wealth inequality. And he was ready to do something about it. He has found great satisfaction in his career from creating new models to replace the old, outdated ones, following Buckminster Fuller’s well-known philosophy:

You never change things up by fixing the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Of course, I asked Shaun Paul how he is supporting his community during COVID-19. Once again, his response was impassioned and well-reasoned. He told me that he knows the workers need these jobs as desperately as the trees need their stewardship. The administrative team is working from home, but the maintenance and tree-planting (carried out by a 500 person team) is continuing with social distancing practices. And, although the Mexican government hasn’t given them the okay yet, they have already created safety procedures for when the resin tappers can get back to work.

For Shaun Paul, the current global crisis is just more proof that environmental issues are human issues, and solutions to both must be co-created with nature. He is also aware that for change to be sustainable and successful, the people involved at every level have to be able to make money from it. Based on their latest impact report, I would say he is poised to accomplish these goals with Ejido Verde.

Shaun Paul describes his work and values with the eloquence and passion of a poet or philosopher – painting a picture for you easily – while also being clear that he believes he is operating at a higher level of consciousness than others. After learning about his work and Ejido Verde, I wholeheartedly agree.

When he said, We must adopt regenerative principles in how we live and work, discovering positive and active ways to participate in the evolution of life on our planet, I whispered a little amen to myself. When he talked about creating a health Earth, not just curing a sick one, my eyes welled up a little bit – and I had that moment of if only it were possible. And then I learned, from him, that it is indeed possible.

To learn more about Ejido Verde, visit their site today. Shaun Paul is also on a mission to inspire others to adopt regenerative principles at this time when our world needs them most. He is urging anyone who wants to learn how to run a business with strategies that mitigate volatility and risk with a positive impact, regenerating life to contact him directly.

Visit Ejido Verde

Connect with Shaun Paul on LinkedIn

Social Entrepreneurship
Join the SOCAP Newsletter!