Nairobi, Kenya is the scene for the 2016 World Investment Forum and also the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The parallel, and in some cases joint, meetings attract a plethora of intellectual power, decision-making authorities, and other invited and influential parties. A key agenda item across the meetings is investment opportunities based on the newly established Sustainable Development Goals.
As a background, UNCTAD is a ministerial meeting involving 194 member States of the United Nations at the highest level. More than 20 heads of State and government attend, as does a large contingent of ministers and corporate executives. This is an unusually rich opportunity to engage with public and private sectors leaders.
In conjunction with UNCTAD, the World Investment Forum is also one of the first major public-private meetings following the establishment of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This gives the world an opportunity to tackle real-world challenges of the United Nation’s Development Agenda and frame viable options to concretize its implementation by 2030. Investment is a key.
To transform the world, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifically targets investment promotion and investment opportunities based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. And, there are a lot of investors that can and should be involved. One category of investors that may be left out – of their own doing or by not being involved – could be non-traditional investors such as pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and impact investors.
There is a real need to channel investment into the SDG areas. The potential for a disconnect, though, is that while many of these non-traditional investors have the means (i.e., money, funds) to invest in the SDGs, they typically do not have the resources or expertise to establish and operate projects (and the 17 SDGs are broad, provide depth of coverage, and have complexities that are deep – not an easy operational or investment task).
Given this disconnect between investors and SDG realization, there is always going to be the perception, or real, risk that non-traditional funds do not effectively get to the SDG projects they intend to fund. How do we solve such a problem? (whether it is real of perceptual)? Solutions, potentially, can be in the form of focused funds, financing “bankable” State projects, buying shares in companies focused on SDGs, providing loans to companies investing in SDG projects, or joining in partnership with these types of companies.
Such an investment starts with analysis of ROI (return-on-investment). The interesting take, to me, on how to analyze these companies that are SDG oriented is multi-fold. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are by design macro-focused, and involve 169 measures that effectively and mostly target the country-level infrastructure. But, companies have to be involved to make the country flourish obviously.
My take is that from an investment analysis this means that efficiencies and effectiveness in investment, and what it brings, is a function of the level a country has achieved on the 17 SDGs and what level a company has achieved on the same 17 SDGs. A mismatch in levels (or misalignment) spells trouble. If a company is great and the country is not, or vice versa, the investment opportunity, while seemingly could great, is unlikely to produce results. The ideal profile for investment is where the country and company levels on the SDGs are aligned, even at a “cost” of lower levels of SDGs.