Episode # 3: Dr. Tia Kansara

Episode 3

Dr. Tia Kansara is an award-winning entrepreneur, lecturer and author. She’s also the CEO of Replenish Earth, an organization that helps governments, businesses and individuals become more environmentally sustainable. Dr. Kansara talks with David about mindfulness, the ability to adapt in a post-pandemic world and how changing our definition of “success” can pave the way to a more eco-friendly future.

Featured Guest: Dr. Tia Kansara

Tia is a multi award-winning entrepreneur. The youngest to ever receive the Royal Institute British Architects honorary fellowship, she is the co-founder of Kansara Hackney Ltd, the first ISO-certified sustainable lifestyle consultancy, and CEO of Replenish Earth Ltd, a cause and a collective action to protect the global commons.

Hailed amongst the Top 100 most influential leaders in Tech by the Financial Times and Inclusive Boards, her clients include Coca Cola, Bloomberg, the European Commission, Forbes, Formula One, MIT, and Siemens.

Aside from being the UCL Bartlett’s Ambassador to the Gulf region and advisor to the Economic Times of India, she’s an economist and future cities thought leader. In 2010, she wrote the brief and appointed the architects Foster+Partners for the Saudi American Bank‘s multi-million dollar headquarters as the first female to judge a LEED platinum building in Riyadh.

David Reiling Headshot

David Reiling

David Reiling is an innovative social entrepreneur focused on empowering individuals through community banking and financial technology. David is the Chief Executive Officer of Sunrise Banks and has been in the community development banking industry for more than 25 years.

Featured Music

Mason Zgoda

"Postcard to the World"

Postcard to the World
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Episode Transcript

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:00:00] As a result of having experienced the way that we can connect with nature and build businesses, products, and services that can help support community and people and all the stakeholders is actually really fascinating. So that’s the journey that I’ve been on.

David Reiling: [00:00:21] Welcome to the NextGen Banker podcast, where we explore what’s next in banking and talk with innovators responsible for creating positive change in the financial sector. I’m your host, David Reiling, and I am excited to welcome Dr. Tia Kansara as our guest today. It’s wonderful to be with you and to have the opportunity to speak with you today on the NextGen podcast. How are you?

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:00:45] Oh gosh, I’m so good.

David Reiling: [00:00:47] So Tia for our listeners who may not know you and they should know you.

Let me give them a little bit of background. So Tia holds a PhD from University College London, Bartlett an energy institute on designing future cities and energy evaluation, and has worked with some of the most prestigious companies and governments. I think roughly 90 countries across the world.

Tia is the youngest person ever to receive the Royal Institute of British Architects’  honorary fellowship. She’s the co-founder of Kansara Hackney Limited, the first ISO certified sustainable lifestyle consultancy. And she is the CEO of Replenish Earth Limited, a cause and collective action to protect the global commons.

Tia has a wealth of experience in building sustainable workplaces and pandemic proofing buildings and cities. I could spend an entire podcast on the last line about pandemic proofing buildings and cities. But I want to talk about a few other things first. I, I want to, I’m going to set you up because I want to talk about Replenish, but I have to go here first.

You’ve been so incredibly successful at such, I would say, quite a young age. Can I ask what drives you? Where does this ambition come from?

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:02:03] You know, so lucky that when I was a kid, because neither of my parents were in an opportunity to be educated beyond primary school. So their focus on all five of us kids in Birmingham, which is where we were born is, and has always been to educate yourself.

And so this kind of learning has been very much our own journey, but because my parents didn’t go to university and didn’t have traditional jobs, they never ever said, this is what you should look like. And because for themselves, they’d moved and continued to evolve and adapt, the adaptation process of holding diverse complex experiences was actually part of my childhood.

So the diversity of, you know, language, culture, religion was a welcome space. And, for me, the ambition and the drive was never to be linear. It’s always to be expansive. So it may appear that in traditional senses, it’s kind of like, oh, she’s got a PhD, she’s done these things. But for me, it’s always been one step in every direction to expand rather than a thousand steps in one direction and then questioning whether that was the career ladder that I should have been going up.

David Reiling: [00:03:27] So that is fascinating to me because I find in some of what I would consider the most successful as well as well grounded people there’s this quest to continuously learn, but it’s in this space of adapting of which I think is such a powerful thing in today’s changing environment, the ability to embrace change and adapt,  is such an essential skillset and mindset quite frankly. You touched on kind of that abundant mindset of education and learning and the ability to adapt just frees you up. Now, if I understand it, you are very close to taking a step back and going on a sabbatical.

Can you tell us a little bit about that and why at this time?

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:04:14] Thank you, David. That’s a very welcome question. So it’s my birthday on the 19th. And one of the things that I really wanted to celebrate was the opportunity to explore the quote that Mark Twain had shared, you know, two most important days in your life.

One is when you’re born. And the next is when you find out the reason why, and I’ve really riffed on that reason why for a good 10 years, I’ve explored my core values, put them into skills and time that I want to be spending. I’ve literally cut up my day so that my core values are practiced throughout that day.

And that, you know, increasingly more of my space and resource is used for exploring the unexpected opportunities that may arise, like really living in that serendipity. But what I found, especially with the pandemic, I mean, I’m a person who had you picked me two years ago I would have full clarity over an entire year of events, trips and projects like an entire year.

So somebody could say, okay, what are you doing on August the third? And, you know, pop comes in it’s like, that’s a project that we’re working on. Sorry, I’m not available.  Come back a year later or whatever, but this pandemic has put me in a sort of a complete opposite stance. I don’t know what’s happening next week.

I don’t know what’s happening tomorrow. I actually don’t know what I’m doing today. And not because I have no clue, but because I don’t need to control what’s happening. And that controlling of events and mapping planning is incredibly gratifying. When you are measuring that container of time, put into a productive element of space.

And recognized through a very specific performance metric. But I’m doing a way with that performance during these three months that I have in sabbatical, I’m actually turning it completely around where I don’t have a schedule I will or will not decide on that day in that moment if I’m going to go offline completely, meditate for a day.

Be in silence, be in nature, spend time with my mom. It doesn’t really matter to me. What matters most is that I’m aware that to step into this future, this present, it’s really about being here in the now, and that feels so comfortable. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been in a comfortable adaptive space to be ready for whatever emerges, to be real with how I’m feeling and to be awakened to the challenge that I believe that we’re in today.

We aren’t in a challenge of the past. We are in a challenge of the future and all of those items of the past that we have overcome have been incredible adaptations that we’ve had to use your word, however, the imagination that we require using Einstein’s method is really to tap into that which appears not in our consciousness. And what I mean by that is a cute thing that Einstein used to do, and I believe Darwin did it, Salvador  Dali had done it, is to actually be in, a meditative state before they wrote, before they worked, before they painted. And people don’t speak about that, but when I’ve visited their homes and learned about their lives, this is the thing that I wanted to learn more about.

You know, Darwin, for example, would sit and meditate on this crazy chair that he created by the way. And then would sit with a pen in his hand and just get into meditation, get into deep kind of like kind of sleep , really. And then at the moment that he touched that deep sleep and let go, he captured it. But because the pen would drop. And it would wake him up and that’s what Einstein did as well. And when they activated that space time, I don’t, I’m not too sure what you call that supraconsciousness , that’s when they would start working with it. So slightly long answer. But the point is that I’m stepping into the unknown.

David Reiling: [00:08:40] I love that. And, that, introspection, particularly in a time where to be present and to reflect your values, there’s one other thing that I take away from some of that. And I start to see this well, I see this with all sorts of entrepreneurs that I talk to, and that is in the most difficult times, like the challenge of the past year, the most learning comes out.

I often say that, learning is just on the other side of discomfort and you have to put yourself in some space that is not comfortable to stretch the boundaries. And it’s a bit like going to that meditative state, it’s intentional, but you need to go beyond what is normal or comfortable to find that space to do that.

So very cool. Let’s move on. I really want our audience to know about Replenish Earth. Tell us about it. What is it, how are you involved? How did it come about?

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:09:38] Yeah, Replenish really started when I was communing with a 4,000 year old tribe that lives in the Sierra Nevada in Colombia. And you know, one of the things that emerge from this beautiful Arawakan tribe was this relationship with nature.

They connect with nature in a way that I’d never seen before. You know, my first moment of, of being in the wild was when we went camping as a kid. And, you know, I, you know, I was born in a city. So for me in a city is a normal environment. So, tapping into this  completely different reality was eye-opening. And this beauty that they brought about with the concept of in Spanish, it’s Pagamiento and I can’t remember what the word is in Arawakan, but it was this, this giving back. So this concept of giving back to nature from having taken from it was this piece of gratitude, thanking it, saying, you know, this has really served me and like you would with any relationship, you know, you receive and you give, and so there was this reciprocity that I was seeing in the community, but I wasn’t seeing it so much in the way that we form business and the way that we develop products and services. So I became really curious about what does this, what does it feel like when we design business that has as a majority stakeholder nature?

So that nature always wins. That is the sort of the, the seed, I believe where I came away from that and multiple, you know, deep ritual s , meditation journeys, vision quests, silent meditations, and relationships with the Ayahuasca medicine. And deep sort of, you know, trans states of meditation where you get this kind of natural, DMT kind of release in the body where, you know, it blew me away.

You know, there was my normal reality and there is this connection with nature and we’re nature and everything that we build is from nature. And it all came from the imagination of our minds. So Replenish is really about going beyond sustainability. Sustaining the status quo or having net zero impact, it’s not where we’re going. I’m sorry. This is not about, you know, make a mess and clean it up in a CSR department. This is about not making the mess in the first place so that you always have a positive impact. And this isn’t, you know, undoable, like not, not possible. It’s not impossible. And as a result of having experienced the way that we can connect with nature and build businesses, products, and services that can help support community and people and all the stakeholders is actually really fascinating.

So that’s the journey that I’ve been on to explore what it means to live in harmony with nature, to give more than we’re taking and to build something that is purpose driven. Because it’s about our legacy as humans on the planet, because what we do during the time that we are alive on this planet is left here.

So what’s the impact that we want to have left. And that’s, that’s the kind of core seed, the core magic of Replenish Earth.

David Reiling: [00:13:11] So you have completely stretched my mind. So I have dreamed, I have dreams to have a zero waste bank. And so I have we’re on a journey to do that, but it is challenging. And so to me, the goal was a zero waste bank, which I don’t think exists anywhere.

But the fact is, I think it’s totally possible to do, it’s just going to take some effort, but that’s not enough.  How do we create a bank that’s beyond just zero waste that actually contributes, gives back, reinvests in, and I think this is your term, the circular economy, or it’s the circular investment.

So I’ve gotta go and think about that.

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:13:55] Yeah. Think of it more as a, as a spiral, right? Going around in circles is not kind of the aim. The aim is to evolve and expand. So our ability to give something to the planet where it can regenerate is phenomenal. So it’s not just a closed loop container or a box that can be, you know, can go round in these 90 degree angles and does exactly the same thing.

That’s what we’re used to as humans, we contain spaces, we architect them, we design them to behave a very particular way. And then we repeat. And actually all of our science is on that process of repeating and replicability with confidence. So we want confidence that something that we do has an impact. Now play with that together with, and, and this is what we’ve inherited. That’s a system that we have. Play with the potential of turning it upside down. What does it mean? Or how might we have businesses that can have a positive impact on everything that we do?  And that, you know, it’s radical, it feels radical, but that’s what nature does. That’s what nature does. So if we tap into that, that nature within us and how we interact and relate and connect with humans, how we build their businesses, how we support their communities, their families, and actually grow an entire actualization framework around that is where we’re at.

And so thinking only in terms of you know, the, the kind of, you know, a contained space doesn’t really help in the evolution of the way the banks can actually really provide support because that investment in a community, in an economy has the foundation of the banking system. You are banking on something.

And those values that you’re banking on are in the, they’re in the kind of the DNA of what you create. How you design businesses and help accelerate them is the way that these businesses will continue to function after they have taken your investment or how it is that you’ve connected with communities that feel as if you have supported them, that they’re trusted and they’re safe, their money and their assets are, you know, trusted and they’re safe.

So, so it’s completely turning banking on its head  from a traditional model to something that doesn’t exist right now. And that’s okay.

David Reiling: [00:16:28] Yeah. A whole different definition of value and return and benefit comes out of that. So you totally touched on something that reminded me quite frankly, of my childhood. And I grew up in a family of builders.

There were always architectural plans on our kitchen table. So our cocktail hour, if you will, always was around some type of blueprint on a building and how to do it better and make it look. So the thing that I take away from really your background in architecture is architecture is so intentional.

You design things for beauty and aesthetics, but you also do it for sustainability and reusability. It was the first time, I think, a few months ago and maybe it was you that said that there was a building, I think, in the Netherlands that they actually built with the intention that someday it’s going to come down and they can deconstruct it.

You could actually put it somewhere else or reuse the components somewhere else. So that intentionality in that design, if you will, is, is I’m putting in the context of a building. But if we put that intentionality and design of a business of purpose or a bank, now we start to really look at a broader type of outcomes that can be positive for the planet.

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:17:49] That’s the thing about the blueprint, right? You have in the design of something, created the walls and you created the negative space. That’s awesome that you’ve designed a space, but you’ve also designed a behavior. If I walk into a building and I can only take a left turn, you have mapped the way that I journey through a building.

My interactions with this space have been designed by you so you can design the behaviors of communities and businesses purely with the way that your products and services function.

David Reiling: [00:18:23] You know, I have to tell you from the standpoint of, so Sunrise, we, we have built the two first LEED certified bank buildings in the state of Minnesota.

And I never knew, back then, what, I can, I can tell you now when I walk into a building, if it’s LEED certified or not. Because I can smell the air. I can tell by the light at the design, it has an impact on mood. It’s an amazing type of, of design and intentionality around that. And it really does have an impact.

And so particularly for culture and productivity and so forth, the way that is designed is really impactful to the human who actually has to interact with it, just as you were saying.

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:19:06] These are the unseen things.

David Reiling: [00:19:08] Exactly.

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:19:09] These are the unseen things. So when you walk into a hotel and you can smell that the air system and conditioning has actually got Legionnaires’ disease in it, or, you know, some kind of bacterial, viral or microbial, you can smell that.

And, and if you’re pretty trained, you’ll know the temperature and the humidity and  these are the things that you end up being, uh, sensitive to, but, and you can actually feel the mood of a place through chromotherapy, the design of materials or use of these spaces. Those learnings and specialisms are great as individual ways of mapping, but, but you need to get the meta view, right? Having that one specialism is helpful. But it’s not the be all and end all. It’s one perspective on a map that is being created. And when you walk into these buildings and you know that, you know, it’s efficient and it’s effective, it makes you feel good. There’s lots of daylight, you know, what’s a metric for good mood.

What’s a metric? I mean, if you feel sick and there is a thing called sick building syndrome and huge amounts of research that has been done, on usable buildings and how buildings and the evaluation of buildings can have an impact on the way that we behave.

And how we feel and whether we get sick and whether we’re performing and ultimately in a business you want people to perform so that you’ve got a product that can sell and that there is a cost attached to ill health. So pro mental health is designed into a building, pro mental health is designed into a business.

Pro mental community, right? Communities’ health, the planetary health is designed into the system, the ecosystem and how we develop and design that blueprint is the way that we will then emerge out of what are some of the most complex decisions that we’ve got to make. Not as individuals, not as prime ministers, but as communities.

David Reiling: [00:21:14] Love it. So Tia, I want to take you to maybe the last year in the pandemic, and what has the pandemic taught us about economic and environmental sustainability?

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:21:25] I think what’s really, you know, an interesting exploration is denial. And wherever we feel responsibility lies. So let me tap into denial.

And if I do forget, do remind me of the responsibility piece. The denial is,  we, we often go about our lives in a way that, that functions in a very mechanical fashion and for some, you know, mass production methodologies that industrialization have gifted to us, we’ve taken the format of programming quite literally to compute the way that we behave in society nine to five jobs,  what would call it, you know, the grip of a mortgage, for example, or the way that we function,  within society.

And what has been really interesting is the piece of denying ourselves an opportunity of pro mental health, the pro physical health, but at the same time, attaching that to how the ecosystem is working and denying how the ecosystem could be better. So that was really fascinating when, when the first couple of months friends, family, colleagues were thinking, huh, pandemic, uh, everything will go back to normal again, but there is a marked shift in the opportunity that we have in seeing that we have been denying this change and this evolution for ourselves.

So the invitation is, to open to a reality that we haven’t lived yet. And nobody’s had that experience yet. So it’s fascinating to, to open the door to something we have no clue about, but denying that that door is there and denying that the evolution of humanity is probably at its most potent because we’re all in this strange transformation together.

That in itself is a denial. So, so when we meet that denial, whether it is the environmental impacts that we’ve seen, right?  This is the responsibility bit, but we have, um, externalized, our, uh, you know, responsibilities or liabilities. We just said, Nope, not liable. That’s your issue. But there is nobody that takes full spectrum liability.

Even in you know insurance, for example, car insurance in the UK, you don’t admit liability. You’ve just killed somebody, but you don’t admit liability. That is incredible that we have systems in place at the moment that stop any kind of responsibility for planet, people, purpose, right. We deny that to ourselves and to future generations. We can make huge amounts of money from the work that we do in the future.

It’s not that we would be losing out on the economic impact of, of great, you know, purpose driven work. It’s because we deny that from ourselves and we don’t take responsibility for, for the full person’s growth and evolution of a community, because what we’re doing is we’re structuring the status of anxiety  into the way that we develop and that comparison, although when used in terms of, you know, a positive collaboration to improve the system as a whole, has then been used to kind of turn the system on itself. And so eats itself, it’s eats its own energy and it can’t evolve from that. So the pandemic has really been a wake up call for many of us to explore where something’s not working and where if we’ve been denying ourselves something some time to spend with our families or time to reevaluate our work, our purpose, our direction. This is about legacy.

You know, are you even going to live another year? Are you going to get a strand of the pandemic that will knock you out?

David Reiling: [00:25:22] Right. So it’s fascinating to me, the introspection of the past year of the pandemic of it, all, it highlights some of the, oh, I’ll call it the scarcity mindset that we’ve lived on, that feeds on itself.

And again, it comes from kind of that scarcity of resources economic model, that there’s only so many resources and you can only do so many things, but the fact is, is I know, and having a minor in economics, I kind of never liked that because it doesn’t take into account the abundance of what can be. It’s always looking at, okay, this is what it is today.

But the fact is, is if you switch from, let’s say a fossil fuel to a renewable energy, it’s unlimited. I mean, the sun shines, the wind blows. And the fact is, is there are different ways and they can be so abundant, but we, again, as you mentioned, we get locked into a system that just kind of feeds on itself.

And we think this is the only way we can do it until something maybe like a pandemic snaps us out of it that says, think about this a different way.

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:26:30] I love what you said. I love what you said, David.

David Reiling: [00:26:34] So I have to ask you one last question and for the next generation of bankers around the globe, who are, who are listening to this, you’ve given them I think some inspiration around that introspection of, of purpose and intentionality as well as sustainability.  But what are the skillsets and the mindsets that the next generation banker needs to have to facilitate a sustainable and inclusive financial system?

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:27:04] At the core of that, for me, is putting the seed in to an ecosystem. So what’s the seed that you’re bringing? What’s the intention that you want? And unless if you’re clear about that intention for yourself and for the people that you will be helping through a financial system that is inclusive of those, that by 2050 will be migrating from their home, will be homeless, will be disconnected, will have climate disasters that have traumatized their families and their communities. We have really big challenges coming. And for us to meet that challenge as an opportunity and a growth and an abundant mindset, we need skills that go beyond boxes, circles and shapes.

We have to be shapeless. We have to be formless. We have to be not controlled in the way that we have to contain something and own it, and that’s what gives us the metric of success because the success metric that we are inviting is not something that we’ve known before. I think that evolution of the planet is in the governing principles of the global commons.

And these communal spaces is what we’re building for. If you come outside of your country and the entire ecosystem has been degraded, there’s a ticking time bomb happening for your business and for the financial system. And as Larry Fink himself said, from BlackRock, if you don’t have an ecosystem, you don’t have a planet, then you don’t have investments.

And so this skillset of zooming in and out, taking the meta view, recognizing where the general comes in and all the different specialisms play a part. But the play is grander than that. To judge only one element of that and to have preference for only one element of that is like saying that this is better than, and this, this is not the time of being better than, or worse than, but collaborating so that we can all be in this space together.

So that skill of compassion in your work is going to be incredibly, incredibly profound. The ability to hold something that doesn’t exist, just as much as something that has is all equally a transformational step for banking. And that inclusivity that we’re inviting is in between the spaces of that negative space we were talking about, the blueprint. What is the blueprint that you want to bring?

David Reiling: [00:29:42] Right. Well Tia, thank you. I think your, your inspiration and your insights, for our listeners is fantastic. I could keep going, but I want to thank you and have gratitude for your time and your insights and for being with us today.

Thank you so much.

Dr. Tia Kansara: [00:30:00] Thank you. Thank you, David. Thank you everyone.

David Reiling: [00:30:05] For this episodes’ musical feature, we are showcasing Mason Zgoda. Mason is a Nashville-based singer songwriter who seamlessly meshes influences from the late sixties and early seventies while bringing a depth to her lyrics not heard in mainstream music.

Her latest release is her 2021 EP Postcard to the World. Here’s the title track from that album.

That was Postcard to the World by Mason Zgoda. You can hear more of Mason’s music on Spotify and on masonzagoda.com. If you’d like your music featured on the NextGen Banker podcast, email nextgenbankerpodcast@gmail.com with a link to your music and website. Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker podcast, and we’ll see you soon.