Financing the SDGs and ESG in Time of COVID-19

Adam Goudjil Blog

The following article was written by Cami Doo, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in political science in the College of Arts & Sciences and concentrating in legal studies at Wharton.

On April 5, The Zicklin Center at the Wharton School hosted Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, the International Monetary Fund Executive Director and the United Nations’ Special Envoy of Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Professor Djordjija Petkoski led the conversation, and Mohieldin discussed his role in the Ideas for Action (I4A) initiative and the challenges and opportunities in financing the SDGs and ESG in time of Covid-19.

When the UN launched the SDGs, people were particularly concerned with engaging the private sector in financing for development. Mohieldin referred to the capacity of the UN, saying, “This is the only place that you can get governments, private sector, civil society, and all stakeholders of development under one roof, an unparalleled kind of power.” Still, the role of young people was not properly recognized and utilized. By launching the Ideas4Action Initiative, the World Bank and The Zicklin Center at the Wharton focused on bringing in the power of youth into achieving and shaping the SDGs.

In the context of financing the SDGs and ESG, Mohieldin spoke about the 2019 spring meetings at the World Bank and an important brainstorming session where many investment funds, sovereign wealth funds, and private equity discussed the challenges and opportunities to invest in the SGDs following the ESG principles. “We thought, Let’s bring those people to the table and ask them why they are not investing in high return and high impacts.” Mohieldin summarized, “Instead of just talking to governments and officials and ministers of finance alone and development practitioners, let’s talk about the trillions, not just billions, available through the private sector.”

Advocating for the investment of these assets for a greater good came upon the coattails of changing government policies, regulatory functions, market dynamics, and impact; further accelerated by the COVID-19, Mohieldin noted. He elaborated, “People [are] expecting not just decent return to their assets, but they are not expecting, especially the young generations, any kind of harm to the environment or climate.”

As for the youth’s role in pushing for more positive impact, Mohieldin advised them to be trailblazers in setting sustainability standards. He brought up that many countries like New Zealand and Canada are requiring matters related to sustainability to be adequately disclosed. With trillions of dollars being spent on transforming infrastructure, he said, “All of that needs to be attached to a metric to confirm that such money is being spent, adequately and properly, with the highest impact.”

Petkoski asked Mohieldin if he had any advice for Wharton students in pursuing social impact. Mohieldin pointed to what he believes to be the two fastest growing departments in an institution, digitalization and sustainability, as potential career options. He listed additional ways students could make an impact, from becoming the standard setters and regulators, market practitioners, and consultants at think tanks. Mohieldin remarked, “Wharton is preparing you to be a globally mobile intellectual power with your network, with your knowledge, with your tools.” In closing the conversation, Petkoski pointed out that the I4A Initiative provides unique opportunities for students and young entrepreneurs to engage in global knowledge exchange and capacity development.