Introduction & Gas Industry
Jan Bonde Nielsen was born on May 20, 1938, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is a man with a diverse group of passions and interests, and he has an unparalleled eye for business acquisitions and opportunities in a variety of industries. His titles include Danish oil tycoon, property developer, nature preservationist, and philanthropist, among many others.
One goal of his life is to provide clean, affordable gas to African families throughout the continent. According to the World Health Organization, one of the leading causes of premature deaths in Kenya is respiratory infections, with household fuels being a major cause. Wood-burning and charcoal-based fires emit more deadly matter into the air than diesel fuel, leading to pollution-related complications. In addition to peoples’ health and safety, the cost of cooking with liquid propane is also too expensive for the majority of families. Because of the Kadogo economy, there are a large number of low-income families in Kenya who will never escape their economic class level. Not only would a family’s attempt to upgrade to healthier gas include an installation fee, but there would also be a repeated charge for replacement tanks.
Circle Gas is an organization that developed a new, revolutionary way for even the poorest households in Kenya to have access to clean cooking gas for ranges and stoves. Not only is there no upfront charge, but families employ a pay-as-you-use format that only distributes enough gas that any family wants and can afford to pay at any particular time.
Together with the founder of Safaricom, Michael Joseph, Jan Bonde Nielsen helped support the technology for smart chips to be installed in all Circle Gas meters. A smart meter installed at each home will determine when it is time to refill the tank and automatically send an alert to Circle Gas whenever the gas runs low. This partnership is part of Safaricom’s contribution to the global Sustainable Goals for economic growth, social-economic transformation, and development. It has been made possible by Safaricom’s Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB IoT) network and M-PESA, a mobile phone-based money transfer service. NB IoT provides a low-power, mobile connectivity to devices across the country, allowing for remote monitoring and management of equipment like gas meters. In addition to making gas affordable to more Kenyans, this project will provide millions of Kenyans with the privilege of smoke-free cooking, eliminating the health challenges caused by reliance on smoke-emitting fuels.
Development & DCK International
In the 1960s, in cooperation with the Industrialisation Fund for Developing Countries (IFU), Jan Bonde Nielsen formed DCK International. This company evolved into one of the world’s largest flower growing groups. The company was based in Europe and Kenya until the mid-1970s and was well-renowned for using the most modern agricultural techniques known in the world at that time. With the support of the Kenyan government, DCK grew to more than five million cultivated square meters of land and employed 7,000 people. It also grew the flowering industry to such an extent that an entire sustainable new industry developed in Kenya, which is now one of the country’s largest foreign exchange earners with an export value of more than a billion dollars. DCK’s model of success was praised by The World Bank as an example of an effective development project.
Seeing the success of the joint venture with the IFU inspired Jan Bonde Nielsen to seek out a further private initiative into development projects. This was the beginning of his involvement years later in the establishment of two organizations in Africa: Farm Africa and the Virunga Foundation.
Jan Bonde Nielsen has been a board member/chairman of a number of listed Danish companies and of the Confederation of Danish Industries, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Horticultural Employers Association.
Industrial, Manufacturing & Shipping
In 1974, he acquired 51% of the shares in Burmeister & Wain, one of the oldest industrial companies in Denmark, including a shipyard and a marine diesel engine manufacturing company. The company had not been profitable for many years, and the board, the workers unions and management as well as the general public held a negative view of the future of the company.
Jan Bonde Nielsen totally reorganised and restructured the company and it made a profit from the second year in operation. The equity of the company was in reality negative at the time of acquisition in 1974 and had risen to approximately DKK 700 million by the end of 1978.
This turnaround was achieved through a combination of initiatives, which included streamlining production by producing fewer types of ships and instituting a best practice programme, which was developed by studying other companies, primarily in the Far East. Similarly, with the active support of the workers union, efficiency was improved dramatically. Unlike the previous 20 years, no strikes occurred after JBN took control.
In 1981 he moved to the UK and operated in the UK property market.
Agriculture & Conservation
In 1985, Jan Bonde Nielsen together with Sir Michael Wood was involved in the founding and became the chairman and member of the board of Food & Agricultural Research Management Ltd. (FARM-Africa). This organization supports African farmers and herders to grow more food, keep livestock healthy, and manage natural resources with a nonprofit business model. FARM-Africa is based in London and operates in African countries, particularly in Kenya and Ethiopia. This charity focuses heavily on supporting small scale farming.
In 2010, a fully commercial veterinary business, SIDAI, was established using a franchise format to establish 150 outlets offering products and services accessible to poor livestock keepers throughout Kenya. This was set up as a ‘social enterprise’ initiative by Farm-Africa, with the support of a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US Aid. In 2017, Farm-Africa helped 1.9 million African farmers improve their living conditions. Jan Bonde Nielsen is still an active member of the FARM-Africa board today.
Since 2005, in addition to his other philanthropic endeavors, Jan has also shown an active interest in endangered species and nature preservation. He is the Chairman of the Virunga Foundation, a multi-million dollar organisation funded by the EU in collaboration with the widow of Steve Jobs, the Eric Schmidt family foundation, Warren Buffett, the European Commission, the Earth Alliance, the Emerson Collective, and Global Wildlife Conservation. The fund’s aim is to protect the park and its indigenous inhabitants.
Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park, originally founded in 1925, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is known for its unusual landscape of glaciers and the world’s largest lava lake, but it is most notable for its endangered mountain gorillas. Gaining public approval for establishing a preserve was difficult since it rests on very fertile soil. A deal was ultimately reached which improved cultivation methods for farmers surrounding the park and provided community gains from trade and small industry.
Virunga Foundation has built three hydro power stations just outside the park with four more to come, which supply electricity to thousands of local inhabitants, and the deriving income helps finance the park.
The EU regards the activities of Virunga as important for peace in the region, however, Virunga’s big problem is safety. There are hundreds of armed rangers employed to protect wildlife and the park from criminal elements.
Virunga Park has received multiple accolades for its work, including from the BBC and National Geographic, as well as the Albert Schweitzer Prize and the Prince Albert Prize. In 2016, the film Virunga was financed by Leonardo de Caprio and was nominated for an Oscar. In 2018, Virunga received the Roosevelt Prize, which was previously awarded to, among other impressive recipients, Nelson Mandela, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Helmut Schmidt, Bill Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachev.