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Gabrielle Harris

Former Executive Manager, Positive Planet China

BACKGROUND / Academic and professional background

Gabrielle Harris, Senior Advisor, Positive Planet China

Gabrielle Harris is the former Executive Director of Positive Planet China. In 2012, she was named one of the “Outstanding Persons in Financial Inclusion” by the Chinese Microfinance Institution Association for her contributions to advancing microfinance in China. Since 2005, she has been a major voice in the financial inclusion industry in China and carried out a number of cutting-edge projects in China including supporting post-earthquake lending in Sichuan, impact assessments of rural MFIs, research on microfinance investment, and a major multi-year integrated development project in rural Gansu related to renewable energy. Gabrielle holds a BA Honors Degree in Chinese from SOAS at London University, and a postgraduate degree from Nanjing University. She speaks fluent English, French, Chinese (putonghua) and some German. 130

ACHIEVEMENT/ What is your project/ initiative/startup/company all about?

In China, Positive Planet is known for its innovative development projects in poverty counties of Western China; most of these have been successful pilots linking microfinance and the environment and renewable energy technologies, undertaken in partnership with local governments. Our current project, entitled “From Rural Isolation to Market Integration” seeks to show local government that illiterate farmers living in marginalized areas can be brought above subsistence agriculture, become enthusiastic learners through participatory training, and can re-fashion their families’ lives if given access to tiny amounts of start-up cash.

Our renewable energy project from 2007 to 2009 used microfinance loans to complement a state subsidy program for household biogas system. In this way, economically active but subsistence farmers could get access to cooking fuel and the numerous benefits associated with biogas technology. This project was first showcased in workshops at the Decentralized Energy Supply Conference in Berlin in 2011. The associated case study published for this conference is entitled “Developing Microfinance Models to Facilitate Adoption of Biogas Systems in Rural Northwest China”. The next year, the same project was discussed in North Korea at the first-ever Seminar on Forest and Landscape Restoration Design in Pyongyang in March 2012, where the microfinance group lending model was examined for its potential as a way to get community involved with forest restoration projects.

LOCATION/ In which city, country, part of the world do you conduct your activities?

Our office is in Beijing but our hands-on, grassroots work is done all over China.

IMPACT/ What is the positive economic, social, political, environmental…of the activity, project, initiative, startup, company?

The impact comes making models of operation ALONGSIDE local government to make them realize that the non-literate poor just need equitable access to technical information and a few opportunities to get small-scale financing and should no longer regarded as a cohort that is not capable of changing and developing themselves, even linking into the local supply chain.

QUOTE/ A saying, quote or reference phrase that tells something about you

”The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth.

Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For this person, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly – to see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives around us.”
Chief Luther Standing Bear

Gabrielle will soon move back to Europe after more than 30 years in China. She intends to work on public/business consciousness-raising in environmental issues (especially ecosystems, biodiversity, climate change and the pressing need for new methodologies in evaluating value in economic models), while preserving clear linkages to poverty and food/energy security.