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Green finance expert Faty Dembele on responsible investment

BRIDGING THE GAP: Faty Dembele is bringing academia and the investment world together to create more socially responsible businesses

CONSUMERS ARE increasingly drawn to businesses that demonstrate environmental and social responsibility, and this green trend is also being reflected in investment decisions.

The emerging fields of sustainable and green finance refers to raising capital and financial investments into companies, services, products and projects that accelerate the development of an environmentally friendly and climate-resilient economy. Here we talk to one of the leading women in the field, Faty Dembele, who is senior programme manager for the Investment Leaders Group (ILG) at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

What exactly do you do?
My role at CISL is to run the ILG, which is a global network of pension funds, insurers and asset managers committed to advancing the practice of responsible investment. The ILG forms a pooled research and development vehicle for members, who typically pilot test solutions, drawing on CISL research.

How did you get into the field you are in?
I started my career as a traditional financial auditor, as a masters student in finance. I heard about sustainable finance during my exchange semester in India, which has been a real catalyst for me.

At that time, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a micro-finance institution and realised that it was actually possible to allocate capital towards solutions that could help lift people out of poverty and transition to a low carbon economy.

I then went on looking for an internship as a responsible investment analyst for an asset management company in France, which created a full-time position for me.

I then worked in the Morgan Stanley research team, focusing on sustainable finance.

What do you find exciting about it, what do you get out of it and why do you enjoy it?
I’m excited by the idea of catalysing change and challenging the status quo. There is so much more to be done to ensure that investors are factoring in environmental and social risks in their decisions, and more importantly to change capital allocation decisions towards high impact projects or companies. I’ve also been particularly attracted by the idea of bridging the gap between the academic world and the investment industry.

What are some of the really interesting things you’ve worked on and how do they ‘fit’ with clean growth?
We have spent a lot of time working on an impact measurement tool that allows investors to measure their alignment to the United Sustainable Development Goals in a comparable way. This gives a unique opportunity for the investing public to understand the climate performance of their funds and make more informed decisions. I really believe that empowering financial consumers to make choices that align with their value is a driving force towards a clean and inclusive economy.

Why might you encourage others into it, to consider it as a career or a career in the ‘green economy’?
I can see two reasons to consider a career in this space: 1) The mega-trends that we are seeing, which include water and resource scarcity or climate change, pose a major risk threatening the new generations. We’ve seen recently, many students across the globe pushing for faster and better action to mitigate such risks. Starting a career in this space will place you on the side of those bringing solutions. 2) The green economy will require us to completely rethink the way we produce and consume. This is likely to lead to a talent race towards the most innovative minds. This is an area likely to grow fast and offer fulfilment, as we drive social and environmental progress and work to advance a cause that we care about.

When do you get the greatest satisfaction from your career?
Seeing the growth of impact investments, which are meant to provide positive returns and address some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges is a great source of satisfaction for me.

Why do you think what you do is important in relation to clean growth/the green economy?
Investors have a huge role to play in allocating capital towards companies or projects that help us achieve our climate goals, preserve natural resources and maintain healthy ecosystems. My role is to achieve scalable investor action on those issues.

Why is gender equality important and what does it mean to you?
Gender equality is not only a moral imperative, but also a sound business principle to follow. There is much more to be done to advance women’s rights in the workplace and to get more women to the top.

We all need to contribute to open the way to the new generations and inspire those who don’t dare yet.

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