Building Bridges 2021: A Recap

The much-anticipated 2021 edition of Building Bridges Week (BBW) ended on Thursday, December 2 after three intense days of sustainable finance for the SDGs. The hybrid format of both the Building Bridges Summit, held on 29 November, and the Week allowed for diverse and strong online and in-person participation.
Building Bridges 2021: A Recap

The much-anticipated 2021 edition of Building Bridges Week (BBW) ended on Thursday, December 2 after three intense days of sustainable finance for the SDGs. The hybrid format of both the Building Bridges Summit, held on 29 November, and the Week allowed for diverse and strong online and in-person participation.

Despite evolving COVID-19 developments – the Omicron variant and the resulting last minute travel restrictions – the Building Bridges coordination teams maximized the participation of confirmed speakers, with overall engagement remaining high and rich.

Building Bridges 2021 helped advance the dialogue and understanding of sustainable finance, creating concrete collaboration opportunities between the finance and sustainability communities, and highlighting the know-how and expertise of the Geneva and Swiss ecosystem for sustainable finance. As a step forward since the last edition in 2019, it served as a platform to share existing collaborations between both communities.

The Week also underscored the critical function of the UN to differentiate good practice from good marketing, denounce ‘green, impact and SDG washing’ and to hold actors accountable for tangible results on the ground.

SDG Lab at Building Bridges 2021

As a founding partner of Building Bridges, the SDG Lab was active both behind the scenes and in the organization of events:

  • A panel discussion on the Pipeline Builder project focused on how to drive more capital to emerging markets through investments aligned with SDG priorities and through a pipeline of different yet complementary expertise. Much of the conversation revolved around Ghana as it is the focus of a pilot of the Pipeline Builder, an initiative of the Lab and The Ground Up Project to connect investors with opportunities in emerging markets and developing countries.

In addition to the Pipeline Builder panel, the project team held one-on-one meetings between Ghanaian counterparts with potential funders and partners of the Pipeline Builder pilot in Ghana. The Lab played a leading role in enabling the Pipeline Builder to gain visibility during BBW, and specifically with high-level BBW partners. In addition, a concise summary has been prepared on session outcomes.

  • The Geneva 2030 Ecosystem, convened by the SDG Lab and International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), hosted two data workshops that saw participants engage in dialogue on how to measure the social dimension of sustainable finance. The two workshops clearly signaled a need and an appetite from the community to tackle the challenges associated with measuring the social impact of investments. The Lab will respond to this by continuing the work with the Geneva 2030 community on the issue in 2022.
  • The International Trade Centre, in partnership with the SDG Lab, officially launched the publication “Twelve lessons in gender lens investing”. The report focuses on the lessons learned and shared by financiers and addresses the remaining gaps to meet women-led businesses’ needs. The participants expressed strong intention to continue to break silos in discussions and engage during the next iteration of Building Bridges.

SDGs – and countries – at the centre of sustainable finance

In addition to the events it organized, the Lab was part of the organizing committee for the Week and participated extensively in the communication of major themes. This included ensuring the message of keeping the SDGs at the centre of sustainable finance remained at the heart of the Week, including through securing the high-level participation of the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed and ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, as well as highlighting country perspectives by hosting video messages from the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, and a Senior Advisor to the Minister of National Development Planning for Social Affairs and Poverty Reduction of Indonesia, Vivi Yulaswati.

Other national voices whose presence was facilitated by the Lab included Costa Rica's Vice Minister of Multilateral Affairs, Christian Guillermet-Fernández, and Colombia's Permanent Representative to UN Geneva, Alicia Victoria Arango Olmos. As part of the Pipeline Builder event, the UN Resident Coordinator in Ghana joined virtually, and the Managing Director of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, Yofi Grant, and a Ghanaian investor, Jerry Parkes, attended in person.

Focusing on the social dimension of sustainable finance

Overall, these and other voices emphasized the importance of stimulating social investments in tandem with environmental and climate finance and the need to "build bridges" between Geneva and Switzerland and the rest of the world to ensure that sustainable finance reflects country realities. In addition, the strong response to the Lab’s event on measuring the “S” in sustainable finance data demonstrated the maturity of the issue and the Lab's niche in this evolving space.

Participation of UN Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General’s in-person participation at the Summit set the tone not only for this high-level day but for the entire Week. Speaking alongside Swiss Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer and Building Bridges President Patrick Odier, Ms. Mohammed called on participants to deliver more ambition, action, and scale in delivering on the 2030 Agenda, as well as urged for concrete actions and commitments to emerge from the Week. As part of her visit to Geneva, the Deputy Secretary-General sat down with Geneva Solutions in an exclusive interview ahead of the Summit.

Useful resources

  • Editorial and interviews:
  • An opinion piece by SDG Lab Director Nadia Isler and Sustainable Finance Geneva Director Sandrine Salerno was published in Geneva Solutions (English) and l’Agefi (French) ahead of Building Bridges.
  • UN Geneva Director-General Valovaya spoke to the importance of Building Bridges in a special newsletter (French) of the Canton of Geneva interparliamentary group on International Geneva.
  • “Capsules”: As part of the SDG Lab’s contribution to Building Bridges, key Summit speakers were filmed for short social “capsules”, capturing nine invitees, including the UN Deputy Secretary-General and Ambassador Christian Frutiger of the Swiss Agency for Development Corporation (SDC), among others.
  • Replay of Livestreams:
  • Building Bridges Summit high-level segment: https://youtu.be/kJfp967p0h4
  • SDG Lab Pipeline Builder event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmGtSRHNdmE (session starts at 13:13)

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