Profile: Daniela Fernandez

April 20, 2020

For our first Profile, The Ocean Digest hears from Daniela Fernandez, a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient for her work as the founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance. Based in Silicon Valley, SOA partners with startups and mentors young leaders to take action for the health of the oceans.

Tell us a bit about yourself like where you grew up and any early connections to the sea.

Growing up in Ecuador, I remember being surrounded by mountains, rainforests and the ocean. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I was exposed to the threats facing our planet while on a walk home from school.  I saw a movie poster with penguins walking on the sand for Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and wondered why penguins would  be walking on the sand. I immediately watched the movie thinking it was about penguins, but instead the movie exposed me to the reality of climate change at the age of 12. Since then, I knew I would dedicate my life to the protection of our environment.

I read that you founded Sustainable Ocean Alliance as a “college-room idea” at Georgetown University. Tell us more of the story about what sparked this idea.

While I was at Georgetown University, I was invited to attend a meeting hosted by the UN on the “State of the Ocean”. At that meeting, I observed that decision-makers were not devising any solutions to address the devastation of climate threats, but rather only debating the gravity of the situation. At this exclusive convening of policy and government officers, the voice of young people was not represented ­— the generation that will inherit the dilemma of environmental devastation. Young leaders were neither invited to the conversations, discussions and debates, nor asked to contribute their ideas. So I founded Sustainable Ocean Alliance to ensure that young people have a voice and a seat at the table during these high level convenings.

I understand your Ocean Solutions Accelerator Program supports startups focused on improving the health of the ocean. What innovative solutions are you particularly excited about right now?

We are very proud of our Accelerator program having accelerated 20 ocean technology startups in the past two years, representing eight different countries. The companies receive a $25k investment from SOA, and we have a robust curriculum with the entrepreneurs in pairing them with mentors, investors, media and an opportunity for them to pitch their ideas to potential investors during our Demo Day, the culmination of the Accelerator programming. 

There are a few companies that have really excited me with their technology and their impact on the oceans. One of them is Finless Foods, whom we accelerated in 2019. They are a company that is experimenting with lab grown seafood, which will directly reduce the impact on the environment from overfishing and shipping.

Another company is BioCellection, founded by two female founders. They are a biochemical company converting unrecyclable plastic waste into valuable chemicals for a circular economy. Both companies are based in the Silicon Valley area.

Tell us about the Ocean Leadership Program and how participants take action.

Our Ocean Leaders presence span across 165 countries, with 32 ocean solution hubs working on 500+ projects for a healthy and sustainable ocean. The Ocean Leadership Program works with college students, recent graduates and young leaders who serve as our grassroots advocates organizing policy campaigns, local cleanups and ideating solution projects.

We also offer microgrants, up to $2,000, to our ocean leaders to support the implementation of their solutions.

SOA has also co-hosted high level convenings in partnership with the UN and government entities, where we provide scholarships for young leaders to participate. 

The past two years, the “Our Ocean Conference” was held in partnership with the governments of Indonesia and Norway with high level policy makers in attendance and speaking to our youth leaders such as Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, and Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway.

Finally, what brings you hope for the future of the ocean?

The active engagement of our youth leaders in seeking opportunities to campaign, letter write, and create a movement to affect policy changes. We are currently engaged in a SeaBed Mining campaign to call for a moratorium on a vote to allow commercial SeaBed mining. The voices and solutions of our young leaders have been strongly organized from an informed position and they are currently preparing to influence the vote with the International SeaBed Mining Authority, an arm of the UN,  later this year.

Another point that brings me hope is that corporations are starting to be aware of the environmental issues and allocating funds to sponsor nonprofits working in the climate space. Impact investing has gained traction in the past few years with corporate social responsibility at an all time high, and this gives me hope that corporations are understanding their responsibilities to the climate and to their customers to respond with meaningful action.

Thank you, Daniela!