Global fintech and funding innovation ecosystem

Alternative forms of capital will be key to develop sustainable economic systems

Fintech Confidential Issue 4 | Éliane Ubalijoro, PhD | Jan 13, 2022

liane Ubalijoro alternative forms of capitalare key to sustainability - Alternative forms of capital will be key to develop sustainable economic systems

A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy is looking cautiously at recovery. According to the World Bank, growth will be very uneven given surges of virus variants, patchy vaccination rates, and withdrawal of government support measures, so global GDP in 2021 is still expected to be 3.2% below pre-pandemic projections. To support a more equitable and sustainable recovery, it is imperative that our economic systems recognize how they need to be underpinned by "flourishing communities, strong and resilient social institutions, thriving natural ecosystems and a stable climate” as the Capitals Coalition  articulates. As a member of their supervisory board, I truly believe that we must empower organizations to understand that their success and the success of the global economy more broadly is fundamentally dependent on natural, social, and human capital, in addition to produced capital.

We must work to curb greenhouse gas emissions in all the ways we produce goods and services, whether it is how we impact, air quality, energy management, water quality, how we reduce waste streams and maximize circular economies to minimize our ecological footprint. We must ask ourselves how are we valuing the rights of all people and nature, how are balancing our need for privacy and need for security, how are we making sustainable goods and services accessible, affordable and producible by all, not just some. It is time to consider product passports that standardize the ability to assess carbon footprint through a products lifecycle to help customers make buying choices that support planetary health. It is also important to ensure labor practices that favor employee health, safety, inclusion, diversity and equity.

It is time to enable that our businesses, financial institutions and governments include the value of all forms of capital in their decision-making, especially as countries face their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement and United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

And this is where there is huge potential to leverage digital technologies and increasingly, financial technology (fintech) to support a capitals accounting approach and to develop stronger ESG (environmental, social, governance) metrics in support of more sustainable investments.

For example, AgriLedger’s work in Haiti is very inspiring. This agricultural-focused blockchain systems provider is piloting a project to use blockchain technology for traceability and payment that will allow the farmer to maintain ownership until the sale at final destination, while all the packing and logistics services will be provided by AgriLedger. This mechanism scaled globally would give more power and improved livelihoods to farmers while minimizing waste streams as produce lifecycle management ensures maximum contribution to value chains as well as composting waste to increase soil health. CarbonX, a Canadian fintech-designed environmental software, enables users to calculate the carbon impact of their products and services and to offset this through investments in carbon mitigation projects carefully evaluated not only for their environmental impact but also for their social and economic impacts. Open Climate is a collaborative project led by the Open Earth Foundation, an non-profit organization operating globally and based in the United States. The project explores the potential application of a range of digital technologies to developing a transparent, global, integrated climate accounting system and aims to co-develop a decentralized ‘ledger of ledgers’ to collect and share climate data from around the world, balancing transparency and privacy.

Even with all these excellent examples, it is critical that the tools and technology are not developed in a black box. In order to have mechanisms such as stronger ESG metrics that can potentially transform investments and truly increase accountability, it is critical to first build trust. Trust in the metrics and trust in the technologies underlying the development of those metrics. By creating more inclusive, collaborative approaches to probe the assumptions underlying the algorithms used to develop ESG metrics, trust and common standards can be agreed upon.

Another barrier to overcome is the complexity of the systems at play

There is a dichotomy between technological literacy and education to build technological capacity on the one hand, and over-complexification of digital systems on the other hand. More of an effort must be made in order to de-complexify technology to some extent. This will avoid the development of what colleagues have referred to as “technological expertocracy” – or the continued development of a group of elites who have access to and understanding of the incredibly complex systems underlying the digital infrastructure that increasingly dictates our lives and is shaping fintech. A lack of trust in digital technologies or in the experts who develop and control them can create huge barriers to implementation, scaling, enabling policy frameworks and impact in terms of addressing systemic challenges such as climate change.

Related to this, there is a strong need to develop more human-centric technologies – including fintech. Engaging citizens more directly could be a positive way forward here, both to build trust and also to ensure that technologies are addressing biases, reflecting shared values, allowing more equity in access and incentivizing collaboration as opposed to increasing division.

And efforts are being made. For example, our initiative, Sustainability in the Digital Age, convenes leaders in business, government, science, and civil society to explore how to consciously steer the societal transformations unfolding from the development and deployment of new digital technologies, towards equitable and sustainable paths. Similarly, the Global Commons Alliance has been inviting all stakeholders interested in accounting and standard setting that considers ESG, to come together and work at shaping a co-creative space to align everyone. The international Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES) is an open multi-stakeholder community of change makers and practitioners that seek to collaborate in accelerating a digital planet for sustainability.

So the momentum is here, and collaboration is critical to unleashing the transformative power of digital technologies in an inclusive approach that values not just profit making but also our collective contributions to natural, social and human capital for planetary health.

liane Ubalijoro PhD - Alternative forms of capital will be key to develop sustainable economic systemsAuthored by: 

By Éliane Ubalijoro, PhD (LinkedIn)

Sustainability in the Digital Age, Executive Director

Future Earth, Global Hub Director (Canada)

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