Remarks by Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive secretary, at the 2018 Sustainable Investing Conference

  • September 11, 2018

  • New York, United States

This meeting comes at a time of hugely exciting innovation that is happening to scale up the contributions towards the SDGs. Public agencies like mine, and private investors like you, are increasingly trying to figure out ways to work together to see more capital flow to projects that not only generate profit, but which help tackle poverty, empower women, and safeguard our environment.

This momentum is tremendously exciting, and we should continue to build on it through events such as these.

Still, we have a long way to go, and all of you in this room can play a role in propelling us forward in four areas:

First, innovation. We need more of the financial tools, research, products, and advisors that allow investors to construct portfolios around the SDGs. UNCDF has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation and nonprofit fund manager ImpactShares to launch the first UN-affiliated Exchange-Traded Fund, with the ticker “SDG”. The ETF will go live September 24, and we welcome your support for such initiatives that align finance flows with the SDGs.

Second, awareness. We need better outreach to investors of all stripes and to individual savers, so that they know what options are out there and how to place their money in line with their values.

Third, incentives. We need to design and implement the right incentive structures and regulatory regimes that support more long-term investments in riskier markets.

Fourth, reaching new frontiers. Getting from billions of dollars to the trillions needed should not come at the expense of the poorest countries. Making finance work for the poor need not be only the remit of aid agencies. Even in high risk countries, there are projects that are commercially investable, and not only in sectors such as clean energy or SMEs that are known for generating returns, but in sectors such as land degradation too. Where projects face higher risks, the development community has a growing set of concessional tools; correctly deployed in frontier economies, these can share risks in ways that make risk-adjusted returns for SDG investments attractive and bring perceived risks closer to actual risks.

For example, UNCDF is deploying its concessional instruments to work with an impact investor called CommonLand. They seek to unlock value in degraded land. They develop a multi-year ecological restoration strategy which integrates multiple revenue streams, each one contributing to the next level of restoration. At the end of the process the land is not only profitable, but also operates as a carbon sink and provides other social and environmental benefits.

The challenges our world faces are enormous, from climate change to inequality. These challenges impact us all, including our economies, and they could have big impacts on bottom lines too.

It is in all of our enlightened self-interest to do whatever we can to respond. I look forward to learning from and working with you all about how to increase SDG-positive investments.