An interview with Marie-Noëlle Keijzer: WeForest’s Co-founder and CEO

WeForest Interview

How was WeForest created? What’s its origin story?

“Daddy you broke the planet, you better fix it.” Willow is eight years old, and when she addresses her dad, Bill Liao, like this, he is deeply troubled and decides to take action. How? Bill loves science and researches everything: he understood before most people the power of trees. Working with permaculturists and water scientists from Australia,  he came up with the concept of WeForest. 

And when I saw Bill at an event in Amsterdam presenting the short Stephen Fry video with the vision for WeForest he had created, I said: “Bill, I heard you were looking for someone to take this idea and make it happen, here I am. Everything I have done in my life until now was to prepare me for this.” This is how it all started in November 2009. We had no cash, no plan, just a great video, great ideas, networks, and a lot of enthusiasm!

What are WeForest’s long-term goals and vision?

WeForest’s vision is a world where communities and nature sustainably thrive together to stop global warming in our lifetime. 

We can proudly say that we have directly restored over 71,000 hectares to date (close to 100 million trees) and that we are positively impacting surrounding landscapes equivalent to the size of Belgium or the Yosemite National Park with 3 million ha. This is quite an impact and demonstrates our determination and resilience.

Thanks to 14 years of invaluable experience, we are now ready to double our impact three times faster, in only 5 years.

As a reminder, if we are to reverse global warming and restore the biodiversity and water that sustain all life on Earth, we need to restore and protect an area the size of the USA, the equivalent of 1 trillion trees. This is a remarkable vision that needs a gigantic increase in current restoration efforts. 

What challenges do you face when trying to protect and restore habitats?

It’s not about planting trees: anyone can do that. We focus on the entire landscape and create an economic environment with the communities to protect their trees. We became one of the first to practice FLR (Forest and Landscape Restoration). WeForest provides a comprehensive scientific solution for revitalizing degraded forests in often overlooked geographies, empowering local communities within forest landscapes to thrive while safeguarding their natural resources.

All funders get reporting: it better be good! We were the first to join the OpenForests explorer land platform, assigning each restored polygon to funders. It is now standard practice in our industry.

What makes us different is the solidity of our projects: we hire scientists and experts; we invest in science and tools. 

Tell us about the people from the ground. What is the role of each stakeholder?

80% of WeForest’s staff are based locally, reinforcing our grassroots commitment. This deep-rooted presence means we understand the nuances of each region, making our restoration efforts more impactful and tailored to community needs.

Every member of our HQ Monitoring and Evaluation team holds a Ph.D., underlining the caliber of expertise at the helm of our operations. Moreover, nearly 90% of our field and country Monitoring and Evaluation teams have advanced degrees, showcasing a deep reservoir of knowledge and dedication across the globe.

Collaboration is deeply ingrained in our ethos. Regular exchange visits gather HQ and field staff together to share knowledge, experiences, and methodologies. The visit in 2023 united staff from Zambia, Malawi, and Senegal at our flagship project in the Desa’a Forest of Ethiopia. Along with our team discussions at HQ, these get-togethers ensure that we are always learning, refining and innovating together.

If you could recommend a book to people wanting to get informed about sustainability, which book would it be?

Our own book, “Forests: Reasons to be Hopeful”, which was published in 2013. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu accepted to write the foreword to it. 

What is a rare fact about our ecosystems you’d like to share with the world?

Mangroves secure up to 10 times more carbon than other forests!  WeForest’s project in Senegal – covering more than 7,000 hectares – is one of the world’s largest mangrove restoration sites globally.

Learn more about the work we are doing with WeForest here

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