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GIIA at Building Bridges 2023: Unleashing Youth Potential to Accelerate the Sustainable Finance Revolution

Emma Dean 

6 min read 

Author: Emma Dean 

Bio: Emma, a GIIA Building Bridges Executive, is an exchange student from Wellesley College, where she is completing her BA in Peace and Justice, Economics and Statistics. She is passionate about redefining responsibility within the financial sector, financial literacy education expansion, and increasing corporate transparency. 

“The finance industry is (slowly) becoming more sustainable, yet youth participation to drive this change is lacking. Switzerland, as a hub for finance, diplomacy, and sustainability, has great potential to bring together international students and young professionals for innovation in these industries. This is exactly the gap that the Geneva Impact Investing Association (GIIA) strives to address, as they firmly believe in the power that young people hold in advancing the sustainable development agenda and driving change within the financial industry. Thus, GIIA began assessing: what is the right venue to discuss the need for youth involvement in sustainable finance?

GIIA found its answer at Building Bridges, an annual conference founded in 2019, which brings together actors from the public and the private sector to leverage the power of collaboration in sustainable finance. The conference aims to "build bridges" between diverse stakeholders in the financial community, international organizations, governments and other non-governmental actors. 

The Vision

Founded just 2 years ago, The Geneva Impact Investing Association (GIIA) is the first student initiative hailing from the Geneva Graduate Institute focused on Impact Investing – investments made with the intention of generating positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return (GIIN). GIIA aims to enable and inspire future leaders to recognize and contribute their critical thinking skills in international governance and finance to impact investing. As a student initiative, GIIA equips its members with the knowledge, network, and skills necessary to forge and expand sustainable finance in a professional capacity. 

This year, our very own GIIA had the honor of hosting a workshop at the 2023 Building Bridges Action Days, titled: Unleashing Youth Potential to Accelerate the Sustainable Finance Revolution. This event aimed to bridge the generational gap in finance through a collaborative design-thinking workshop and create a holistic Youth Engagement Strategy (YES) to shape the future of finance. 

How did GIIA accomplish this contribution to Building Bridges? Executive Board Members Sophie Moens and Sameeksha Matta drove the application and planning process for this event. Moens and Matta vividly remember the day GIIA decided to make a bold move and apply for an event at a conference of such magnitude, which included competing against over 165 industry applicants! They describe their motivation to participate as the following:

“We believe that young professionals could propel the sustainable finance agenda as agents of change or entrepreneurs within their organizations… In order to bring this [vision] into reality, we saw a need for increased opportunities for raising awareness about sustainable finance amongst the youth, more skill development for the industry, mentorship, and collaboration among students to unify the youth voice in the sustainable finance revolution. That is exactly why we applied for Building Bridges 2023.” 

The Goodwall Challenge: Transforming SDGs into Financial Success 

In the lead-up to the event at Building Bridges, the challenge #GoodImpact, “Transforming SDGs into Financial Success: The Sustainable Finance Opportunity”, was launched in collaboration with i.a. Goodwall - a social media platform dedicated to youth empowerment and impact. It reached over 826,000 young people from all over the world – e.g. Nigeria, Philippines, Burundi, India, Côte d’Ivoire, and Spain – engaged over 27,000 individuals, received over 291 video participations, and awarded 5 youth visionaries, with solutions towards plastic waste recycling, floodings, and unemployment. This challenge demonstrates the ambition and interest of youth towards engagement in the sustainable development and finance sector. 

The Workshop Arrives: 4 October, 2023

The Youth Green Finance Initiative Liechtenstein defining their problem statement: “How can young investors be better prepared for impactful investing? Think of the opportunities and challenges for young people to learn how to invest in alignment with their values and positive social change, and how you could think of educational and financial initiatives to help them invest with impact.”

On the day of the workshop, I joined as a participant and Room E of the conference bubbled with energy. There were 9 tables, led by GIIA’s partner organizations, each working through a creative design thinking process to tackle the overarching challenge of “How to Encourage Young People to Get Involved in Sustainable Finance.” Throughout the workshop, each table developed a roadmap to a solution regarding a pressing industry issue with a mix of young minds to influential leaders, such a the former Mayor of Geneva, Sami Kanaan, the Head of Group ESG and Stewardship at the Pictet Group, Marie-Laure Schaufelberger, and our very own directrice Marie-Laure Salles 

The Table leaders and topics included:

  1. World YMCA: Youth and Impact Solutions – the User Journey

  2. Swiss Youth for Climate (SYFC): Youth and Carbon Credits

  3. Geneva Impact Investing Association (GIIA): Youth and Sustainable Finance Skills

  4. Finance Club, University of Zurich: Youth and Sustainable Entrepreneurship

  5. Swiss Impact Investment Association (SIIA) & G100: Youth and Wings for Girls

  6. Youth Green Finance Initiative, YOMA & UNICEF CH/LI: Youth and Innovative Finance for Impact

  7. Swiss Impact Investment Association & QAnalytics, LLC: Youth and Outcome-Focused Innovation

  8. St. Gallen Symposium: Youth and Cross Generational Leadership in the Financial Sector

  9. 60 Decibels: Youth and Accountability for Social Impact

As a fresh GIIA executive, I had the pleasure of contributing to G100’s table, led by Nicoleta Acatrinei, Ph.D., Global Chair Sustainable Banking and Finance, G100 and Founder & CEO Impact Investing Metrics, focused on the inclusion of women in venture capitalism. We considered that the vast majority of female lead/owned businesses have a tangible social impact, and yet, these businesses comprise less than 1% of global venture capital investments. First, to level the power hierarchies amongst our diverse team, we were asked to share “what makes us remarkable” within one minute. Next, we identified the problem statement – what barrier do women face to obtaining capital for their businesses? We discussed how many venture capital investments are established via personal connections, referrals, and word of mouth. How do we increase the number of female Venture Capitalists, who may be more inclined to invest in other women? How do we increase mentorship opportunities for aspiring female entrepreneurs? The plan we developed consists of creating networks for young women: beginning in secondary school and continuing throughout their professional careers. These networks would allow young girls to connect with high achieving women in a variety of fields – giving future female leaders access to representation and mentorship. Over time, we believe this will increase the proportion of women studying quantitative fields in university and women in venture capital leadership roles, leading to a higher level of investment in women-led businesses. 

SIIA / G100’s table on Youth and Wings for Girls

After the Workshop: The Development of the Youth Engagement Strategy

My experience is just one out of the nine examples of innovative thinking fostered in the workshop. All nine strategies together comprise the Youth Engagement Strategy (YES). This strategy identifies levers for change and action points such as creating Youth-led Advisory Boards, creating mandatory mentorship clauses in employment contracts, involving cross-generational governance through shadow boards, and engaging Roger Federer to garner investment attention for sustainable ventures. 

When reflecting on the workshop, Moens describes the event as “a great success. The room was fully packed, the energy level was above the roof, and [young] minds came up with brilliant ideas.” Matta also reflects that “leading an international event of this scale was a collective effort from the entire GIIA team, who worked so tirelessly even during the summer break, engaging with all our partners and managing the process alongside other commitments. On the day of the event, when everything came together so perfectly, it was one of the proudest moments of my time in Geneva so far. Like I said at the end of our event, the room was full and so was my heart that day!”

 In his closing statement, Anthony Giannumous said it best: “These moments matter. But they are only the beginning.” The Youth Engagement Strategy will continue to grow as a living, breathing document. GIIA is committed to the foundation of the Youth Engagement Strategy, and dedicated to pursuing the coming possibilities of making these dreams a reality. 

The Geneva Impact Investing Association (GIIA) team and Anthony Giannumous

GIIA would like to extend its gratitude to Sustainable Finance Geneva or the opportunity to participate in Building Bridges. Further, GIIA would like to thank its partners: Centre for Finance and Development, Geneva Graduate Institute, UNICEF Switzerland & Liechtenstein, Youth Green Finance Initiative, YOMA, Goodwall, World YMCA and its table hosts: Swiss Youth for Climate, Finance Club at the University of Zurich, G100, Youth Green Finance Initiative, QAnalytics, LLC, Swiss Impact Investment Association (SIIA),St Gallen Symposium and 60 DecibelsB for their support and collaboration in Unleashing Youth Potential at Building Bridges. 

For more information regarding Building Bridges 2023, please see the newly released Building Bridges Report 2023 report, which provides a comprehensive overview of the efforts and initiatives aimed at leveraging finance for sustainably and aligning economic models with the Sustainable Development Goals. The report details the results of the work carried out by Building Bridges and the Institute's team: Giovanni Donato (Main Author), Nathan Sussman and Patricia Arnold (Co-Editors) and the Geneva Graduate Institute's Team of Rapporteurs: Abriana Saenz, Benjamin Butcher, Gregory Cerutti, Hussein Ali Ghandour, Ishankaur Khalsa, Joshua Ostry, Juhui Oh, Juliette Geisinger, Keza Mbodje, Léo Chauvin Morisse, Liran Offner, Luz Stecca Vieira Magalhães, Masa Awad, Puru Rohilla, Saloni Srivastava, Sameeksha Matta, Sophie Moens, Steve Ka Lok Wong, Tanushree Kaushal, Varun Vithalani, and Yixin Du. 

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