For the complete interview
with Alex Khann:
Man with a Mission
by Paul Trustfull
Although the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism (CDM), run by the UN, is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing countries that invest in clean technologies, Africa and small developing countries have been essentially bypassed, and the Kyoto has yet to make it onto the developing world’s radar. Many among us vest hope into a system which will clean the air for all, and as such, a cleaner and greener world is not just anyone’s mission; it also lies close to the heart of the owner of Zen Carbon Management, Alex Khann. With his company, Alex Khann hopes to help developing countries in Latin America dream up projects to decontaminate the environment and curb carbon emissions which will certify that those projects are worthy of carbon credits under the Kyoto protocol. A mission indeed and one he is determined to succeed. Paul Trustfull met Alex Khann in his Tel Aviv office last November to talk about what moves him to make a difference.
Alex Khann was born in France, but throughout his younger years spent many holidays in Africa and the Caribbean. These short visits would leave a lasting mark on Khann, urging him to come back to the Caribbean while he climbed the corporate ladder in his early twenties. “I was completely taken by the quiet nature of life led in these areas of the world. You can really connect with nature and that connection creates a certain peace of mind. People take their time to enjoy life, they do not talk about stock markets or worry about pension funds. Every day is a new day to be lived to the fullest.” Although you wouldn’t say so from his young dynamic looks which give him that elusive actor quality, Khann’s affiliation with the simple things in life is rooted deep from within. “When I was small, I always used to share my toys with other kids. In France, where I grew up, the community is very much mixed race, and for some reason, I always felt close to the black kids, wanting to share my toys especially with them. Maybe, even at such a young age, I felt that somehow, they were still at a disadvantage from me.”
As Khann grew to be a successful business man, the feeling to give back to people and especially his acute awareness concerning developing countries, never escaped his senses, nor his wallet. “I’ve always given money to charity and different organizations in aid of third world countries. But at one point I decided I wanted to stand closer to the source and help these countries with my own hands”.
Khann went on to create Zen Carbon Management, which has already been working with Central African Republic François Bozizé’s team to develop the country’s carbon trading strategy in order to maximize its economic and environmental benefits. Khann now has his eyes set on Latin America, the next frontier to put on the radar screen of carbon finance.
Although a selfless businessman is contradictory in terms, it seems a term well suited to Khann, whose sharp business instincts stand next to his sensitive and joyful nature. Asked the question why he devotes so much of his time helping developing countries, Khann’s answer is simple; “Jah lives, Jah rules.” And it is not the only Bob Marley quote which frequented our talks, as Bob Marley is one of his long time inspirations. “I love music, especially reggae. It’s when I visited the Caribbean with my parents, when I first heard Bob Marley’s songs fill the air. And that’s really what his words do for me; they fill the air with promise. This man had a vision about sacrifice, about life, about giving to the poor and fighting imperialism. I listen to Bob Marley, I breathe Bob Marley.” Khann also feels a deep respect for Nelson Mandela, whom he admires because he sacrificed for a course and not for himself. “Mandela is a true example of a man on a mission and who succeeds in his missions. I would love to meet him. I would also immediately take the opportunity to give him a cheque for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, a non-profit charity organization in South Africa.” And just like that, a youthful admiration fills Khann’s eyes, which any onlooker would know, fuels a destiny for change. Another man Khann feels hopeful about is Barrack Obama. “Electing Obama is good for the world, because people will finally have the capability to unite again, to think about peace and to create openings for discussion and talk globally.“ But besides a positive outlook on the possibilities ahead, Khann stands firmly planted in reality, which brings world issues close to home. Being Jewish and living in Tel Aviv puts Khann at the centre of a long standing fight between Israel and Palestine. “The problem with Israel and Palestine is a religious one, but I believe that Palestine is using this as a base to continue fighting. Besides religion, it is also a problem of wealth. If the poor Palestinian people were given sufficient funding, I do not believe they would get up and fight.” Despite the ongoing dispute which at regular intervals has proven fatal for citizens on both side of the border, Khann felt he needed to move to Tel Aviv after having lived most of his life in France.
“I did so because I am Jewish. I feel connected to my homeland and I wanted to raise my children in their own environment and religion. Besides, the weather is great and the city is stunning. We enjoy a great quality of life in a cosmopolitan place“, Khann concludes while we finish our conversation on the balcony of his office, overlooking a quiet lane carpeted in green trees which only serve to exemplify his words. “But yes, we all belong to our homeland. We all belong to Babylon.” And as Khann breaks out in a Bob Marley tune, there’s nothing left to do but feel positive, happy and confident about him and what he wants to do, confident that this is a man on a mission waiting to succeed.
All Photos by Ronit Romano