Going Beyond the Sustainable Finance Trend – Mobilizing the Financial Sector for the Sustainable Development Goals

With just eight years left to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs, accelerating the transition to a global economic model aligned with SDGs is of the essence. So, what’s needed to speed up this transition? What are the roadblocks to accelerating the pace?
Going Beyond the Sustainable Finance Trend –  Mobilizing the Financial Sector for the Sustainable Development Goals
With over 2,000 participants across 65 events, this year’s Building Bridges Summit and Week (BBW), brought together major players from the financial sector, civil society, and international organizations for streamlining and increasing action-oriented investments. (Photo: András Barta © Building Bridges 2022)

Going Beyond the Sustainable Finance Trend – Mobilizing the Financial Sector for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Building Bridges movement launched in 2019, of which the SDG Lab at UN Geneva is a founding partner, aims to tackle these very questions. Recognizing that the complexity of the 2030 Agenda requires the active involvement of all actors in society, not least the financial sector, this movement brings together the UN, international organizations, academia, and civil society, with actors in the financial sector. The goal is ambitious – to tackle the world’s most significant challenges – from climate change to social inequality – by mobilizing and accelerating the flow of financial investments towards achieving sustainable development.


With over 2,000 participants across 65 events, this year’s Building Bridges Summit and Week (BBW), held 3-6 October 2022, in Geneva, underlined the need and urgency for action-oriented investments for climate action, biodiversity and social justice.

Here’s a few take-away’s from the SDG Lab’s participation at this year’s Building Bridges.

At the opening of the Building Bridges Summit on behalf of the UN system, Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, underlined that the only way to break through cascading economic crises, inequalities, and instability, is through smart and bold investments. (Photo: András Barta © Building Bridges 2022)

"Finance can and must do more"

“The theme of building bridges is incredibly pertinent today, where we are in what I call a world of cascading crises. Cascading crises means three things – systemic vicious cycles, cascading inequalities, and instability,” said Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, at the opening of the Building Bridges Summit on behalf of the UN system. “Finance has an answer to each of these three issues. To break these vicious cycles, we need to invest.”  

Understanding the integrated nature of the challenges posed by the 2030 Agenda, the SDG Lab identifies collaborative ways of working to accelerate the SDGs, tapping into innovate approaches, techniques, and expertise from the Geneva SDG community and beyond.

During BBW, the SDG Lab, together with partners, organized and co-hosted events that focused on presenting solutions and identifying collaborative ways to accelerate finance for SDG-implementation on the ground. This included a panel on Investing in Change for Africa, in partnership with UNDP and AlphaMundi, and two workshops, one on Demystifying Risk to SDG Investments in African Markets, and one on  Digital Transformation – Risks and Opportunities for a Holistic Approach to Sustainable Finance.

Sharing perspectives from an emerging-market economy, Yofi Grant, CEO of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, and one of the workshop moderators, underscored the pressing need to do more to bring the private sector into the SDG-fold. (Photo: András Barta © Building Bridges 2022)

Streamlining SDG Investments in African Markets


Together with The Ground_Up Project, the SDG Lab has been developing an innovative approach to source SDG investments from emerging markets – the Pipeline Builder. The Pipeline Builder focuses on the “missing middle” – small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and projects that can demonstrate a direct impact on SDGs.


At Building Bridges, the SDG Lab co-hosted a hands-on workshop that brought together entrepreneurs, investors, and government officials, among others, in a dynamic and interactive exchange on national investment conditions, challenges, and opportunities in African markets.


“Despite various crises, investors are still interested in the SDGs. In emerging markets, where the SDGs are critically needed, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) want and must have access to better financial resources to succeed,” noted Brindusa Burrows, founder and CEO of Ground_Up.


Participants at the workshop noted several measures and approaches to spur greater SDG investments on the continent: increased government–private sector interaction and partnerships, private equity modelling applied to impact investments, and digitalization can help further galvanize the financial community in shifting financial flows into African countries.


“This is what we are trying to do through the Pipeline Builder,” said Brindusa.“We empower asset managers in emerging markets who invest in sectors that are critical to the SDGs in each country, to accelerate what they are already doing and to access new capital for the SMEs they support.”

Participants at the digitalization workshop noted that cybersecurity is key element in ensuring the success of the growing digitalization of the financial sector. As it impacts everyone on a day-to-day basis - government, regulators, the financial industry, and even vulnerable segments of the population, need to be involved in co-designing and testing digital products and services. (Photo: András Barta © Building Bridges 2022)

The Digital Transformation


The topic of digitalization for the SDGs has been identified as an interest for many actors within the community of Geneva-based actors working on sustainable development. Indeed, digitalization will have profound effects on both societies and economies and our ability to achieve the SDGs. The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation notes that, “Of the SDG’s 17 goals and 169 targets, not a single one is detached from the implications and potential of digital technology.”

Building on two stakeholder meetings on the topic of digitalization for the SDGs hosted earlier this year, the SDG Lab, together with the CyberPeace Institute, UN Women, UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), co-hosted a workshop exploring the opportunities and risks associated with digitalization for SDG-implementation.


Introducing the broad topic of digital transformation, David Jensen, Coordinator of the Digital Transformation Programme at UN Environment (UNEP) underscored that the digital transformation could be the greatest window of opportunity to achieve the kind of system-level changes needed for sustainable development. “Today we are talking about the intersection of sustainability on one hand, digital technology on the other, and the role of finance to bridge the two. Digital technologies can really streamline our efforts to confront the massive challenges we face globally,” he said.


While covering diverse topics, such as cybersecurity, blockchain technologies, and the financial inclusion of women and girls – there was a consensus amongst participants that digital governance and partnerships, digital literacy and education, and a just digital framework for proper inclusion of marginalized segments of society –are needed to minimize digitalization risks and reap the benefits of a digital transformed financial system, to ensure an equitable achievement of the SDGs.

Various teams at BBW pitched ideas about cutting-edge finance initiatives and investment opportunities. Here, investment-ready Zambian SMEs (including from ITC's FastTrack Tech programme) pitched investment opportunities for bankers in Zambian tech companies. (Photo: András Barta © Building Bridges 2022)

The Way Forward

Building Bridges delivered on the overarching goals key to implementing the SDGs by pushing for cross-community dialogue and understanding of sustainable finance, advancing concrete collaborations among the finance and development communities, and leveraging the know-how and expertise of the Geneva and Swiss ecosystem.

Various panelists and keynote speakers, however, noted the continued need to tighten and regulate sustainability disclosures (to avoid greenwashing), ensuring greater participation of stakeholders from the Global South, and the imperative to “think big” to mobilize finance at a scale large enough to tackle current global challenges.

Building Bridges 2023

The next edition of Building Bridges will be held 2 - 5 October 2023 in Geneva.

For more information about Building Bridges and a recap of this year’s Summit and Week, visit www.buildingbridges.org.

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