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Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF USA

Caryn M. Stern_2019

In what ways is impact investing making headway, and where is it lagging?

Its growth is incredible and it’s motivating to see such a large force of people being increasingly thoughtful to where they put their money and who they do business with – I want to see more of these dollars going to those who need it most. UNICEF’s March 2018 report on SDG progress for children showed significant advances and serious obstacles worldwide, including insufficient investment. We understand investing in higher-risk countries with low per capita incomes and underdeveloped markets is a challenge. But it is my hope we create the right partnerships and strategies that can catalyze investments for the most vulnerable children. At UNICEF USA, we established our impact investing program, the Bridge Fund, to solve a problem; which is children often need help before financial commitments are fulfilled and cash is secured. We built a vehicle that can fast-track the purchase of vaccines, deliver desks that arrive before school starts, and accelerate emergency relief. It was a new endeavor for us, but we saw a need and got creative with a mission-drive solution, both simple and effective.

What are the payoffs and costs associated with impact investing for all parties?

The payoff is world better fit for children – reduced inequality, a planet that is protected, and a world where we ensure everyone has the ability to survive and thrive no matter where they are born. And, regardless of where you sit in the impacting investing ecosystem, everyone gains when we lift up the most vulnerable and marginalized. For instance, UNICEF vaccinates 45% of all the world’s children. A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University found that for every $1 spent on vaccines, $44 is saved, including medical treatment costs, productivity losses and the broader economic impact of illness. UNICEF purchases 80% of the world’s supply of lifesaving malnutrition treatments and studies show that well-nourished children of both genders become adults who are 33 percent more likely to escape poverty, and women are 10 percent more likely to own their own businesses. I could continue, but the benefits for all are outstanding and powerful.

There are a lot of costs associated with anything ‘new,’ but there is a big cost in not participating and a much larger cost in not doing it right. At the end of the day, this market needs to point to real, measurable change and my hope is that we do not squander our energy and resources in ways that do not.

Where have you seen impact investing make the biggest strides in recent years?

I have seen the development community bringing it to the forefront of conversation. That is not to say there weren’t many early adopters, but in recent years I see a much broader recognition that to realize our ambitions and accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we cannot do it with philanthropy or government aid alone. There may be confusion, and some skepticism, but we know we need to make investment dollars work for the poorest and most vulnerable. And, now it is on us to understand what role we play. UNICEF works in 190 countries around the world in partnership with host governments to put the most effective and innovative ideas to work for children. How do we leverage that programmatic scale, scope and expertise globally in the impact investing space?