SDG in Finance


MINT students gain real-life exposure to the SDG trillion-dollar agenda

Post pandemic, the global estimated funding required to achieve the ambitious agenda of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals was revised to 4.2 trillion USD per year, a 40% increase compared to pre-pandemic. The question remains: where will this funding come from? What are the roles that the public and respectively the private sector play in this effort and how? What are some of the key opportunities and challenges associated with financing SDG-aligned enterprises and other efforts? How can governments unlock the scale of capital allocation needed to achieve the SDGs?  

“Financing the SDG Agenda: Unpacking the Trillion Dollar Opportunity” is a highly interactive course part of the MINT program hosted by Visiting Lecturer Brindusa Burrows. It is designed to introduce students to types of actors, mechanisms, strategies and opportunities available to public and private financing institutions. In autumn 2021, students were able to dive into a range of concrete investment thematics and discuss SME finance, particularly in emerging markets, a timely and important issue particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. with guest experts including Jennifer Blanke (ex VP African Development Bank), James Cameron (Pollination, UK), Valerie Harrington (Blue Orchard, Switzerland), David Taylor (Cardano Foundation, Switzerland), Christine Coignard-Haas (BoD member Eramet, France), Xavier Pierluca (Enabling Qapital, Switzerland), Almira Cemmel (FTI, UK) and Kostis Tselenis (Swiss Impact Office). 

Students worked in groups on real-life projects, solving relevant and cutting-edge current research questions in partnership with key external organizations highly active in the space of SDG finance. Several groups were invited to present their findings directly to the company leadership and all students received inspiration for their future careers. Several groups summarized the results of their research, available below.

Group 1: Deep dive into smart recycling and clean/green materials in Switzerland working with Swisscom Venture Capital. The group provided incisive market research and received accolades from the group’s sustainability-focused Investment Director, Jennifer Webb

Group 2: Carbon credit financing analysis of landscape working with Enabling Qapital. The group worked closely with Xavier Pierluca, Managing Partner of the impact asset management firm, and their research was presented to the firm leadership. 

Groups 3-5: Country market studies: Nigeria, Morocco, and Indonesia working with Ground Up Project. The groups identified key economic sectors linked to the achievement of the SDGs, including challenges and opportunities to invest in the country. The group working on key SDG-related opportunities in Morocco had their thorough work appraised by CEO Brindusa Burrows and the senior leadership of Ground Up Project. 

Group 6: European Green Deal financing for Romania, with Raiffeisen Romania. Students provided the bank with detailed research on the diverse sources of finance available in relation to the Green Deal. Their work was highlighted by the Executive Director, Regional Corporate and Public Sector Raiffeisen Romania, Radu Ciocoiu

Group 7: Leveraging private funding for the SDGs, with the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund. Students worked very closely with the newly appointed head of the fund – Dominic O’Neill – and SHF Board member Jennifer Blanke on strategies for differentiation and leveraging private foundations money into the fund’s new structure and its thematic. Their research was embedded in the strategy presentation made by the SHF to its board. 


Project Introduction 


With the rise of the circular economy and regulatory pressures from governments, recycling and green materials promise to become increasingly lucrative activities. Swisscom Ventures, the venture capital arm of Swisscom AG, the leading ICT and telecom provider in Switzerland, supervised a group of master students at the Graduate Institute of Geneva in their research of investment opportunities in “smart recycling” and green materials. 


The group divided the task into 5 streams: disruptive technologies encompassing recycling and green materials of all sorts, e-waste, green materials, plastic recycling and li-ion batteries. The choice of streams was based on the potential for recycling opportunities in the medium and long term, regulatory norms, the value that can be generated from recycling and market potential. 

Each student was assigned to a particular stream of which they soon became specialists. After an initial market research for each stream, including market size, market trends, key drives and study of Porter’s five forces, the students came up with a non-exhaustive list of investment opportunities in “smart recycling” and green materials in the EU and Switzerland for each stream. The research was facilitated by the use of Crunchbase and Pitchbook. 

The final output consisted of a PowerPoint including market trends, value chains, company critical success factors and exit routes and an excel sheet of investment opportunities.


3 Key Takeaways: 

  • Disruption/sorting has the highest potential: Their software based nature and large applicability makes these types of companies the most promising. 
  • Mismatch between work needed & investment potential: People often name plastic waste as the most pressing waste issue although its investment potential is not that promising. 
  • Importance of partnerships across value chains: In all streams we find strong network effects. The potential for collaboration is a key success factor in the smart recycling industry. 

Part 3: Lessons Learnt

Working as a recycling expert
This project gave us an insight into the current state of development of the smart waste recycling and green materials industry. Its market size and development potential are huge. We also learned about its future trends and are looking forward to the application of AI, IoT and new biochemical technologies in the recycling sector.

Working as an investment consultant 
The main takeaway was learning to think from an investor perspective. Not only do we need to look for start-ups with great growth potentials, but we also have to handpick the investments that fit the given criteria in terms of growth stage, positing etc. Meeting our supervisor regularly helped us better understand how investors evaluate potential investments. 

Working as a group 
As a group of five consultants, we had to ensure effective communication. We established clear roles in order for everyone to know their responsibilities. Our solid feedback culture allowed us to push each other further and spot links between our waste streams. Our team's diversity in terms of cultural and professional backgrounds was a rich resource that we actively nurtured by embracing our differences. 


Many feared the potential of substantial greenwashing for a country's carbon emissions prior to COP26 in Glasgow. Particularly the question of double counting a country's generated carbon credits had the potential to set emissions reduction efforts way back. Therefore, the ratification of Art. 6 of the Paris Agreement was a step in the right direction into the still missing actual international carbon credit market.  In this context, as part of the SDG-Financing course at the IHEID in collaboration with Enabling Qapital, the research project is embedded. It tackled the question of the potential to develop a pre-carbon credit financing vehicle for SMEs involved in the design, manufacturing, and distribution of products limiting carbon emissions. The student researchers’ group structured their research approach in three steps: the market sizing of the current and future carbon credit market; the analysis of existing and potential competitors; the draft of a company pipeline of SMEs involved in the end-consumer utility sector in Europe and Africa.

Overall, the global carbon credit markets grew more than 10% per year to a total issuance of 373 MtCO2e in 2020.  A mismatch between the supply and demand for voluntary carbon credits can be observed, leading to a surplus of credits and relative price stagnation.  While the compliance carbon credit market remained comparably tiny, the voluntary markets experienced a roaring growth in demand. The compliance market’s small size can be explained due to the lack of domestic compliance carbon schemes allowing for offsets, the predominantly voluntary nature of the market, and controversies about using offsets to meet NDCs. However, with the advancements of the negotiations of Art. 6 of the Paris Agreement, the allowance of international offsets to reach NDCs, and the rise of  bilateral agreements, there are prospects for the growth of the carbon credit market.  Concluding, the market is no longer just a niche of impact-driven financial players increasingly vying for a piece of the pie but becoming one of many viable tools to financing a transition to a more sustainable economy.

The 28 impact funds examined focus mainly on forestry, ecosystem conservation, and sustainable agriculture. Utilities and SMEs, in contrast, are less present. While Verra and Gold Standard are the most widely used standards, there is still a lack of disclosure regarding the tCo2e reduced per million USD invested.

The group shortlisted around 100 SMEs from several online databases, personal contacts, and fund pitches for a preliminary pipeline. Categories considered for evaluating the companies included operating markets, business type, SDG focus, Co2 reduction, and the growth stage. The companies were divided into five sectors, namely mobility, appliances, water, energy, and others, and assessed according to the investment opportunity. Besides SDG 13, SDGs 7 & 11, in particular, have stood out as a focus, which ideally complements the funding gap in the previously examined impact investing funds. Furthermore, the additional analysis of the projects registered  with the Verra and Gold Standard Registry showed that projects in the appliance sector that were of particular interest to the client are limited. Only three projects are currently registered in the European Union with the Gold Standard, and only 37 projects will be implemented in Africa with Verra. Given that 99.2% of the total annual estimated emissions reductions in the appliance sector with Verra in Africa are expected to be from cooking appliance projects, making up 89.2% of all the registered projects, it shows tremendous potential for further offsetting opportunities.

Concluding, the growth potential for a pre-carbon credit financing fund is considered relatively high. This is particularly the case due to the future market growth fueled by company demand and a lack of funding for SMEs and appliances. Further, the 100 shortlisted companies show that there would be sufficient viable investment opportunities. According to the research done, the client should firstly focus on financing companies supplying the growing voluntary market in the short term before the dust settles around compliance markets. Secondly, a focus should be placed on financing projects that plan to issue credits targeting multiple SDGs, particularly SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, as these are more demanded. Finally, the client should invest in more mature business models, both from a growth and risk mitigation perspective.


A team of five IHEID master students from varied academic backgrounds collaborated to produce a sustainable investment case for the country of Morocco. Specifically, the project identified Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)-related investment opportunities focusing on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the country. 

Sustainable & impact investing have gained momentum in the financial industry, and the SDGs, as a universally recognized set of objectives, have provided a framework for sustainable development criteria that investors can earmark their funds for. SMEs, in particular, have an immense potential for SDG impact. Yet, they remain significantly underserved by financial institutions in what is often known as the “missing middle” of impact investing or investments that are too large for microfinance and too small for traditional bank lending. The Morocco investment case was developed for Ground_Up Project, a Geneva-based organization, which seeks to bridge this “missing middle”. Ground_Up Project  is an initiative in collaboration with the SDG Lab that provides pipeline-building and brokerage functions for SDGs investments below USD$20M. 

The project primarily focussed on identifying key economic sectors in Morocco, which were evaluated based on their SDGs alignment and economic potential for SMEs. Sector-specific characteristics, sectoral government policies, growth potential and sector-specific challenges were also considered. In addition, the project provided a general country investment case by identifying opportunities and risks of investing in Morocco, as well as by investigating the existence of a government-sanctioned sustainable development strategy. Having a national institutional commitment to sustainable development, particularly when aligned with the SDGs, signals a receptive environment for sustainable investment opportunities. Finally, the project identified key financial actors and SMEs aggregators in Morocco – institutions that can facilitate linkages among Moroccan SMEs, domestic and international investors. 

The main findings of the project are as follows. Based on the Sustainable Industry Classification System®, four economic sectors were identified, including (1) Food and Beverage, particularly the subsector Food and Agriculture, (2) Resource Transformation (or Export-Oriented Manufacturing), (3) Tourism, particularly the subsector Hospitality & Recreation, and (4) Technology & Communications. These sectors offer immense opportunities for SMEs, including for value chain integration, and large transformational socio-economic potential for Morocco. Consider, for example, Food and Agriculture. The sector is essential to achieving SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), which Morocco faces particularly severe challenges. Agriculture also accounts for more than 30% of total employment and over half of total female employment in the country (World Bank, 2019). Investments in the sector can thus promote SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 5 (Gender Equality) and 8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth). Besides, there are factors that suggest promising economic opportunities, e.g. agriculture is highly prioritised in government plans and presents large potential for the development of value chains for products with high-value added (e.g. olives). However, the extreme vulnerability of Morocco to climate change and water stress imposes substantial challenges. However, it can also create investment opportunities, for example, in water-saving technologies. 

Another example is the Resource Transformation sector, particularly Automotive, Aerospace and Electrical Machinery subsectors, which are at the centre of Morocco’s industrialisation strategy. The sector is spearheading Morocco's transformation into an economy with higher value-added and an export-hub for both Europe and Africa, thereby boosting economic growth and reducing the trade deficit. This sector is fundamental for achieving SDGs 9 (Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure) and 8. Although the sector is dominated by large businesses, there are opportunities for SMEs to enter value chains. For instance, government programmes create relationships between large industrial leaders and SMEs through industrial clustering/ecosystems initiatives. Moreover, this energy-intensive industry opens doors to a domestic renewable-energy sector; the Moroccan government strategizes pivoting from fossil-fuel reliance to majority renewable-energy use by 2030, which is in line with SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption & Production). 

The government of Morocco has committed to align the SDGs with its National Strategy for Sustainable Development (Morocco NSDS, 2020). It has also adopted investment incentives, such as tax breaks for specific industries, funding schemes and free trade zones. Serving as a springboard for reaching other African countries, Morocco occupies a privileged location among European, Middle-Eastern and African markets. Overall, it is a stable economy, which shows to be an attractive investment destination in Africa as proven by its favorable ranking in the Doing Business Report (World Bank, 2021). Risks and challenges to investors exist, however. For example, poor productivity and insufficient skilled local labour hinder SMEs growth. Government and judicial bureaucracy remain inefficient by developed market standards. The threat of social unrest due to persistent socioeconomic inequalities and its high vulnerability to climate conditions also pose considerable risks.  

To conclude, in the fast-growing and constantly evolving world of sustainable finance & impact investing, this project provided an opportunity for the IHEID student team to gain hands-on experience in identifying sustainable investment opportunities in a promising emerging market. The team looks forward to applying this experience to promote SDG financing in their academic and professional careers.

EU - ROMANIA RESILIENCE RECOVERY PLAN Sector and SDG Mapping, Challenges and Financing Sources


This article is based on a group project by five Master’s students for the course “Financing the SDG Agenda: Unpacking the Trillion Dollar Opportunity” at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, under the supervision of Professor Brindusa Burrows, and Mr Radu Ciocoiu, Executive Director, Regional Corporate and Public Sector at Raiffeisen Bank Romania.

Introduction to Study

Recovering from the adverse economic and social effects of COVID-19 has been a high priority in Romania, like any other country in the world. The EU-Romania Resilience and Recovery Plan (RRP) is one of the significant sources of funding for the economic recovery of Romania. A total investment of EUR 29.2 billion has been earmarked for this plan by the medium of grants and loans that will be disbursed through the Ministry of Investment and European projects (Press corner, 2022). There are six pillars of investment as follows:

Pillar I – Green transition
Pillar II – Digital transformation
Pillar III – Intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth
Pillar IV – Social and territorial cohesion
Pillar V – Health and economic, social and institutional resilience
Pillar VI – Policies for the next generation and youth

Upon the recommendation of our partner, Raiffeisen Bank, we wanted to have a broader understanding of the sectors of the economy that will benefit from this long-term emergency COVID-19 funding.  Knowledge of sectors that will benefit from this funding would be of interest to the Romanian banking sector and our partner as they can then reorient their investment activities to aid the country's economic recovery.

Aim of research 

Our research focus was threefold.

  1. Sector and Sub-sector Mapping: The six pillars of the Romania Recovery Plan have fifteen components which we used as the base template for mapping sectors and sub-sectors. To select sectors relevant to Romania’s context, we looked at Romania’s SDG and national plans. We also mapped each sector's direct and indirect SDG targets and indicators.
  2. Challenges and Limitations: We identified limitations and challenges for the RRP implementation. We looked at specific challenges for all six pillars and the overall challenges in Romania’s socio-economic environment that could hinder the plan implementation. 
  3. Financing: We researched the current funding scenario and scope for future funding in each sector. Due to language barriers and the availability of data, we mainly focused on EU funding. 

Findings of the Research

The findings we unearthed through the research centre around two thematics. Firstly, the research analysis in itself. Secondly, the limitations that act as barriers to investment in Romania.

Research Insights

  • The Romania Recovery Plan concentrates significant amounts of resources towards green transition (Figure 1). Within this, 52% of the total funding goes to green transition, with Sustainable Transport receiving about half of the green transition funding, for more information refer to the table in the annexure. Sustainable Transport is also a focus within the Romania National SDG Plan (European Commission, 2021). This speaks to the strategic priorities of the EU Recovery Funding as well as potential opportunities for Investment within this domain in Romania.

Distribution of funds towards pillars in the RRP

  • A lot of the funding towards the six thematic pillars is from EU sources, with the majority of them in the form of loans and grants. This can also be a function of access to data in English. However, we also found some non-EU financing mechanisms that include the World Bank, Abris Capital Partners, Enterprise Investors, to name a few.
  • Boiling down the pillars into sectors and their subsequent SDG alignment has shown us the significant overlap that exists between funding and SDG mapping. A lot of pillars have sectors that are aligned to multiple SDGs. Hence to include this overlap, we have mentioned direct and indirect SDG alignment.

Challenges to investment in Romania

  • There is scope for governance to be improved. The frequent government changes have led to unstable and unpredictable policies and priorities, complicating the business climate.
  • Corruption remains a major problem for the business environment. Foreign investors complain of complicated procedures, arbitrary application of rules and requests for bribes when resolving administrative tasks related to business operations. 
  • The infrastructure can also be improved to support investment. The lack of sufficient and modern transport has been a barrier for business in Romania. 
  • The lack of skill improvement has hampered the recruiting and retaining of employees. The skills proficiency of current or future workers, especially in rural areas, compromises their ability to be productive at the workplace. 
  • Low investment in R&D resulted in poor innovation performance. With R&D expenditure of just 0.48% of GDP in 2019, compared to its Europe 2020 country target of 2%, Romania remains among the underperformers in the EU (European Commission, 2021).

Through this research pursuit, we have uncovered the significant opportunities that exist in Romania as a result of the injection of RRP funding, especially for sectors that have already a focus in the Romania National SDG plan.  However, while keeping in mind the opportunities, the Romanian government should also invest money to overcome the challenges to capitalise on investments and accelerate Romania’s sustainable development.

By Sarayu Krishnan, Aayushi Rawat, Julia Magdalena Sokolowska, Nishtha Agarwal, and Yuli Chen


European Commission, 2021. Analysis of the recovery and resilience plan of Romania. [online] Brussels. Available at:  [Accessed 10 December 2021]. 

European Commission, 2021. ANNEX to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Romania. [online] Brussels, pp.332-333. Available at:  [Accessed 9 December 2021]. 

European Commission - European Commission. 2022. Press corner. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 15 February 2022]. 

Annexure: Romania Recovery Plan Pillars and Components with Sector, Subsector and SDG Mapping


We were first introduced to the concept of a sanitation economy and the challenge of attracting funding for sanitation and hygiene (S&H) through a course, Financing the SDG Agenda, with Professor Brindusa Burrows. After our introduction to the Executive Director and senior team of the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF), we were convinced that investments in sanitation are crucial to address a multitude of global challenges. 

Consequently, we sought to develop innovative financing solutions to attract private investments to the sanitation sector. However, upon review, we noted that simply developing financing tools would not suffice especially in lower-income countries (LICs) wherein institutions tend to be unstable. Therefore, we sought to develop a strategy to address the obstacles in LICs, create and propel markets for sanitation. 

The first stage elaborates on the SHF’s current approach to create an ‘Enabling Environment’, by building key infrastructure to attract investments. The SHF’s theory of change seeks to achieve this by combining public sector investments with private investments to de-risk the latter (a method referred to as blended finance). Nonetheless, in LICs, unstable governments deem public sector involvement unreliable. 

However, since the public sector is crucial to the success of blended finance, we propose three strategies to ensure reliable involvement by the public sector. Namely, lobbying and building personal relationships within LIC public sectors, due diligence on the government’s fiscal and political capacities, and decentralisation of responsibilities. These recommendations have been inspired by case studies and a lecture with Ms Almira Cemmell, who emphasised the importance of due diligence.

The second stage consists of financing the pre-market phase through grant funding from family foundations. This strategy originates from the logic that family foundations are the potential investors most willing to provide funding to LICs. In addition, family foundations fundings are usually countercyclical. For instance, grant funding from family foundations in SDG-oriented projects worldwide has significantly increased in the past six years (reaching $90 billion in 2020).

This upward trend amplified with the Covid-19 pandemic, while corporate funding has stagnated around $20 billion. Moreover, family foundations have also shown particular interest in sanitation, some have actually significantly invested in this sector, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These grants should be primarily used to finance technical assistance and pipeline building projects. 

The third stage seeks market creation for the sanitation economy. To achieve so, we propose two recommendations. 

The first is to differentiate SHF from other players in S&H and transform the SHF into an integrated platform to connect multiple stakeholders. This was inspired by our discussions with Ms. Jennifer Blanke, board member of SHF, and Mr. Bara Wahbeh, the founder of Akyas, a Jordan-based Innovator for sanitation solutions for the base of the pyramid population. 

The second is to emphasise the positive externalities of achieving SDG 6–clean water and sanitation, on other SDGs. Thus, inspired by the BlueOrchard’s Thematic Investment case in class, we developed the recommendation to emphasize the cross-sector impacts of SDG 6 to other SDGs in a bid to better attract thematic funds from private investors interested in SDGs like gender, health, education.

The fourth stage focuses on diversifying the existing sanitation economy through the inclusion of sustainable and smart technologies. The idea was inspired by the presentation by Mr. Kostis Tselenis and the prospective market opportunities for nature-based solutions. Through this, we sought to defeat the common misconception that sanitation is simply confined to toilet infrastructure as recent innovations have revealed that emerging technologies in waste disposal and menstrual hygiene can further propel the sanitation sector.

For instance, the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan in India succeeded in this goal by creating demand for sustainable sanitary waste disposal technologies which transform waste into biochar and biogas for energy. Consequently, the exploration of key sectors in sanitation led us to the identification of opportunities for market diversification to ensure sustainable and market-based solutions.  

To overcome the challenge of leveraging private investment in S&H in LICs, we devised our 4-stage strategy based on knowledge developed through the interactive class and our independent research. On a final note, we identified that a lack of reliable data and transparency is the bottleneck to scale impact investment in S&H. Therefore, expansion of data collection capacities will be crucial for future development.

Subsequently, the SHF final strategy seeks to address the financing gap in the sector by employing long-term, sustainable and innovative financing mechanisms that go beyond sanitation by aligning with gender and climate goals.
Isha Bhasin
Jingjing Chang
Dany Currat
Mayu Suzuki