In conversation with: Lisa Kurbiel, Joint SDG Fund, on the future of SDG financing

SDG Lab recently sat down in conversation with Lisa Kurbiel, Head of Joint SDG Fund, the UN’s flagship global fund. The exchange delved into long-term approaches to financing the SDGs and ways the UN system could redesign its approach to financing sustainable development. The Lab spearheaded this interview as part of its convening role, which aims to bring together key actors to share insights on advancing the SDGs and explore emerging and future trends and topics related to long-term sustainability.
In conversation with: Lisa Kurbiel, Joint SDG Fund, on the future of SDG financing

The discussion served as a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about the Joint SDG Fund’s priorities and approaches to funding institutional and policy shifts that lead to catalytic systems change and help UN agencies and Member States boost their sustainable development strategies.

Since 2017, the Joint SDG Fund has been serving as the flagship innovative initiative of the UN system for interventions meant to be a multiplier of inter-agency action, and it directly supports UN Resident Coordinators and Country Teams in SDG implementation. Aligned with the Secretary-General’s vision for SDG transition, the Fund routes its funding to six areas: digital transformation, food systems, climate, energy, education, and job creation.

At a time when securing and scaling up funding for siloed SDGs proves to be more and more challenging, the Joint SDG Fund advocates for integrated multisectoral financing strategies. On one hand, the Fund encourages more collaboration and innovation in project design from UN country teams, while on the other, it advances a stronger ‘One UN’ approach vis-à-vis donors and Member States in identifying the most impactful projects to finance.

Key takeaways from Lisa Kurbiel

·        Localization of SD funding helps countries pursue their own transition paths

The UN system advocates for country ownership of transition and development strategies, which is a key built-in feature of all ongoing Unprogrammed at country level. By building on existing frameworks where UN agencies have already been working together, the Fund demonstrates to Member States how selected projects and initiatives align with their national priorities and what opportunities exist at a local level to scale up impact and financing.

Through cooperation frameworks between the UN and governments, UN country teams are enabled to do their work at the granular level, and the Fund’s seed money is meant to help countries direct where funds should go or be ‘localized’. Ultimately, the Joint SDG Fund aims to provide a turbocharge to UN agencies at the local level by multiplying each dollar entering the fund from 1 to 9.

·        Pooled, multistakeholder approach to leverage sustainable financing is more impactful

One of the major challenges of financing sustainable development across geographies is a high level of competition for donor funding that can lead to numerous requests and siloed donor-focused approaches. Instead, the Joint SDG Fund only funds multistakeholder initiatives (average composition is four UN agencies). The strength of this approach lies in togetherness, as targeted, multi-sectorial and localized actions can lead to rethinking policies on a national scale.

·        United approach for more leverage with the private sector

While the private sector plays an important role in financing sustainable development, oftentimes there is a significant gap between where the UN needs to be and where the private sector wants to go. Therefore, cooperation between the UN system on funding is key when partnering and working with the private sector.

The strategy of the Fund revolves around activating integrated policy and financing levers for systemic change and innovation at the country level, thereby accelerating SDG achievement. Additionally, our SDG Financing portfolio focuses on developing an enabling environment for SDG Financing and supporting catalytic investments that have the potential to leverage additional resources for SDG acceleration. These two pillars together enable the Fund to act as a catalyst, going beyond conventional development and bringing capital from Wall Street into projects that can help bridge the billion-dollar blue financing gap.

One example of innovation is to bundle impact funds sponsored by the UN system in an umbrella finance vehicle that will benefit from concessional capital and guarantees provided by Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). This bundling aims to reduce the risk for investors by minimizing exposure to single funds, industries or geographies. This approach enables the Fund to attract larger tickets from investors that would not normally look at the UN as a member of the impact investment ecosystem.

For more information on the Joint SDG Fund, visit: https://www.jointsdgfund.org/

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