Portfolios and Experience

Louise Gardiner Profile Image

Louise Gardiner. Co-Founder | CEO

Louise has 20 years of experience working on global initiatives that have changed how the private sector, investors, and financial institutions think about value creation through improved environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance.

Since 2005 she has worked for IFC, part of the World Bank Group, on projects across Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America to promote sustainable business and financial sector practices in emerging markets. In 2010, Louise founded First Principles Sustainability Services, based in Cape Town, South Africa, to provide research and advice to South African and global clients on new developments in private sector sustainability, sustainable finance, and impact investing.

In 2019, First Principles incubated the ESG Tracker rating tool to accelerate the adoption of ESG and impact management in private equity. She joined forces with co-founders in 2020 to establish Vukani Impact Collective as a web-based Impact Investment consultancy to scale the ESG Tracker and support business and investors globally to build value and resilience through sustainability.

Louise holds an MA in International Relations from the University of Kent in Canterbury.

Dr Zoë Lees. Co-Founder | Head of ESG.

Zoe has over 24 years of experience working in government, business, finance, investment, entrepreneurship, NGOs, and academia across a wide range of sustainability topics and industry sub-sectors in South Africa and throughout Africa. The common thread has always been to demonstrate the long-term value of applying sustainability to decision-making, particularly within developing country contexts.

Zoe has spent the past 7.5 years consulting to IFC, part of the World Bank Group, providing risk and impact support on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance for IFC’s investments in Africa. Zoe previously headed up the Environmental Directorate for Gauteng Province in the new democratic government (1995-1999); and was Executive Director of the Business Council for Sustainable Development in South Africa (1999-2003), the local partner to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). She also co-founded the first Socially Responsible Index (JSE-SRI) in emerging markets in collaboration with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). Zoe is currently a Senior Advisor to FMO (the Dutch Development Bank) on ESG in Private Equity investments, and transactions with Financial Intermediaries.

Having served on a wide range of corporate and advisory boards, she achieved her Certified Directorship accreditation in 2011 and is currently working towards her Chartered Directorship. Zoe holds a Doctorate (Science) from the University of KwaZulu Natal, where she focused on the bioremediation of oil-contaminated soil. She is a Fellow of the inaugural class of the Africa Leadership Initiative-South Africa (Aspen Global Leadership Network), and an alumnus of the Prince of Wales Business & the Environment Executive Program (Cambridge), as well as the African Director’s Program through the University of Stellenbosch & INSEAD. In 2008, she was named by Mail & Guardian as one of the 200 Young South Africans You Must Take to Lunch. She has a strong creative and entrepreneurial side and over the years has initiated many personal and professional projects which have injected her life with inspiration and innovation.

Robin Gilbert Jones. Co-Founder |Head of Research and Analytics.

Robin brings 10 years of experience as a research and stakeholder engagement consultant, with particular focus on the developing world. Robin is skilled in data analysis and interpretation, research design, and quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.

As an independent consultant, he has mentored companies on integrating research techniques into their work to develop robust and evidence-based strategies.

Robin co-designed Vukani’s flagship tool, the ESG Tracker, which empowers clients and partners to manage ESG risk and maximise positive impact across their operations. He was formerly a Senior Research Analyst with Canadian research consultancy, GlobeScan, working across the sustainability, reputation, brand and stakeholder engagement teams. He holds an MA in Global and Comparative Politics, Queen Mary University of London.

Mischa Minne

Mischa Minné. Associate | Impact Specialist.

Mischa is a monitoring and evaluation, and social performance consultant with an MPhil in Climate Change and Development from the University of Cape Town. Mischa brings over seven years combined sustainability and social consulting experience within a tier-one global sustainability consultancy and as an independent consultant.

Mischa has specialist knowledge in developing outcomes-based monitoring and evaluation frameworks, including theory of change models and impact pathways. Most recently Mischa led the development of a monitoring and evaluation and social outcomes measurement framework for private equity, to evaluate the effectiveness of socio economic and enterprise development programmes in the renewable energy sector in South Africa, appraising R10 million in social investments, reaching over 5000 community beneficiaries.

Mischa has also been involved in numerous due diligence exercises in the role of social specialist, with a particular focus on targets in the renewable energy sector, as well as spanning oil and gas, power, and consumer goods across Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.

Honglin (Holly) Li

Honglin (Holly) Li. Associate | ESG Policy Specialist.

Based in Washington DC, Honglin is an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policy expert with over a decade of international experience in research, policy design, project management, and capacity building.

She specializes in supporting private sector clients to align their internal policies and procedures with international standards and best practice in ways that fit with business strategy, project characteristics, and country context.

Honglin has an LL.B. from Sun Yat-Sen University Law School in China and an LL.M. from New York University Law School in the US. She has published seven peer-reviewed journal articles, in either Chinese and English. Honglin is a licensed attorney and a certified Project Management Professional.

Rachel Aron

Rachel A. Aron. | Associate, Social Development Advisor.

Rachel  is a seasoned Social Development Advisor with  immense experience in identifying, analysing, managing, monitoring & evaluating, as well as reporting on social considerations in programmatic, project, and policy interventions. She has conducted social due diligence for private sector and public sector projects covering diverse sectors in all regions of Africa, including in fragile and post-conflict countries. She has worked on national and multinational projects covering the transport, energy, water & sanitation, agricultural, oil and gas, and mining sectors as well as other sectors, such as manufacturing, health, tourism, and information & communication technology. These engagements also encompassed private equity funds, financial institutions, and trade finance facilities.

Rachel has initiated, developed, and managed innovative and strategic partnerships. She has designed environmentally and socially sustainable solutions for diagnostic assessments, implementation frameworks, community investment programs, and capacity building efforts.

She has regularly presented at regional and international development forums.

Her professional expertise over the years has been gained primarily at international organizations and at civil society organizations.

Rachel holds significant advisory positions in various organizations and serves as an Advisory Board member for African Utility Week. She is an Expert for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s Inclusive Policy Lab. She serves as an Advisory Director for Global Mining Sustainability. She serves as a Board member for Circle of Global Business Women. She is a member of Avançons Ensemble, a platform serving to advance the development prospects of francophone West and Central Africa. She is a Senior Advisor to the President of the African Renaissance and Diaspora Network for a gender-based violence awareness campaign. She is also a Task Force member for Initiate! Africa, an initiative focused on youth and entrepreneurship.

Rachel has a Master of Arts in International Development, specialising in community  development and gender, from American University, Washington, DC, United States. She is fluent in English and French.

Abby Gilbey. Associate | Communications.

Abigail has joined First Principles on an internship basis for the latter part of 2020.

She is currently completing a three-year diploma in Sustainable Development at the Stellenbosch Sustainability Institute.

This program has taught her the fundamentals of sustainability, economics and ethical finance, as well as solidifying her interests within this field. She brings these skills to the table at First Principles and believes that her drive and passion will be an asset to the company.


Abigail is also trained in web development technologies which furthers her goal of having a positive influence in the Envirotech, Greentech, and Cleantech industries.


She maintains the belief that sustainability is achieved through focusing on three elements: Social, Corporate, and Environmental – and when equilibrium is achieved between these elements, a sustainable future becomes feasible.

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