Staff Spotlight: Patricia Benthien

Patricia Benthien (in the center) during a visit
As a Program Management Specialist at USAID/Brazil, Patricia manages activities related to forestry, biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, sustainable value chains, and Indigenous Peoples

April, 2023 - Patricia engages public and private sector partners to develop and implement innovative strategies for conservation that empower communities. These strategies also improve people’s livelihoods by leveraging funds and increasing access to markets. 

Patricia has always had a combined passion for environmental conservation and human rights. She grew up in Curitiba, Paraná, and earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in sociology from the Federal University of Paraná before achieving a PhD in environment and society from the State University of Campinas. She worked for the Embassy of Norway and the United Nations Development Programme before joining USAID in 2018.

When Patricia began her career at USAID/Brazil, the Mission was considering new ways to engage the private sector in biodiversity conservation in the Amazon region. The Amazon rainforest accounts for around 60 percent of the territory of Brazil and encompasses a rich diversity of plants and animals. It also houses a large number of people facing a variety of development challenges. The complexities and isolation of the region lead to misunderstandings about the Amazon’s value and prejudice against the Indigenous communities living there. 

“Unfortunately, in Brazil it is very expensive to visit the Amazon,” Patricia says, “so many people in the country have never been to the Amazon region.” She appreciates that her position gives her the unique opportunity to travel, collaborate, and have close contact with local and vulnerable communities to see the impacts of the Mission’s work in the Amazon firsthand. 

Patricia sits on the expert board of the Amazon Biodiversity Fund Brazil, a privately owned impact investment fund launched in 2019 by Vox Capital and co-designed with support from USAID, the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The Fund mobilizes long-term blended finance investments in sustainable local startup businesses that are working toward positive impacts on the Amazon’s biodiversity and communities.

In her role on the board, Patricia evaluates the biodiversity impacts of potential investments and provides recommendations for potential deals the Fund intends to contract. As the first-of-its-kind in the Brazilian Amazon, the Fund seeks to strengthen the autonomy of forest-dependent communities and companies, create innovative mechanisms for payment-for-ecosystem services, restore degraded lands and reduce threats to the forest, and encourage legal and sustainable alternative practices, such as the use of integrated agroforestry systems.

USAID provided a 50 percent loan guarantee through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to help reduce risk for the Fund, in addition to a $15 million grant to Biodiversity International and CIAT, who were then able to invest that money into the Fund to become its cornerstone investor. The Fund has already contracted with five businesses, including one that promotes Amazonian food products and another that produces dehydrated non-conventional food plants, which are edible plants that are not typically consumed or considered food products. The Fund expects to reach a total investment of $250 million in 2023.

At USAID, Patricia manages all territorial development projects implemented under the Partnership Platform for the Amazon. Founded in 2016, the Platform is a private sector-led collective action platform to develop innovative solutions for both sustainable development and conservation of the Amazon’s biodiversity and forests. Over 40 national and international companies from diverse sectors are Platform members. USAID catalyzed the Platform’s creation, as part of the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity, and continues to help facilitate partnerships, provide technical advice, and carry out long-term impact evaluations.

The Platform aims to leverage investments, share experiences and best practices, and foster partnerships with private companies that can provide innovative ideas, technology, and investments toward development, integrated territory management, and conservation in the region. Through its portfolio of initiatives, the Platform is working to strengthen the territorial development of key landscapes with high biodiversity value and accelerate startups related to a variety of biodiversity-based value chains, sustainable fashion, and local Amazon food processing.

“The traditional peoples living in the Amazon have rich and diverse cultures,” says Patricia, “and protecting their traditional territories, supporting sustainable best practices, and promoting social well-being is a way to achieve biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, and a better future.” Her greatest desire is to “see the forest standing and the people living in it recognized and respected.”