UN woos impact investors at GIIN conference

Grete Faremo, executive director of the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), has urged impact investors to put funds into improving the infrastructure of developing countries.

Faremo was speaking at the Global Impact Investing Network Investor Forum in Amsterdam last week.

“There are millions of people… who will be the better for your courage, your expertise and your enthusiasm,” she told the delegates.

UNOPS is the operational arm of the United Nations. It provides project management, procurement and infrastructure services, for example, by building schools, hospitals and roads after disasters, and assisting governments to buy the goods and services they need.

Faremo opened her speech by using the country of Guinea as an example of the difference decent infrastructure could make to people’s lives. 

During the Ebola outbreak of 2013-2015, 2,500 people died in Guinea, with a further 9,000 deaths in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Faremo vividly described how the problem of the outbreak was exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure: “No system of health centres in the countryside, no passable roads to bring medical teams to villages and the sick to the hospitals. No mobile phone network carriers to enable people to share information.

“And when the epidemic reached the city, the lack of basic sanitation and water systems maximised the number of people who got in contact with the virus.”

UNOPS has 10,000 people working in more than 80 countries and has an annual turnover of around $1.5bn. It is the only member of the UN family that is fully self-financed, charging a management fee for projects that averages 5.5% of project delivery costs. Recent examples include building off-grid power solutions in Sierra Leone and social housing in Colombia.

This conference has shown that there are colossal amounts of capital in search for investment that bring impact beyond returnable investment

Despite landing the audience with the bombshell that sustainable infrastructure development will cost a staggering $89tn during the next 15 years, she claimed money wasn’t the problem.

“This conference has shown that there are colossal amounts of capital in search for investment that bring impact beyond returnable investment,” Faremo said.

The GIIN Investor Forum was attended by around 800 people, many of whom were working for wealth management companies and institutional investors such as pension and insurance funds.

Faremo ended her speech by assuring impact investors UNOPS was looking to accommodate them. “The challenge is to create conditions, plans and partnerships to ensure return matches risk by creating affordable benefits for more of the people. I believe it is possible to do this.

“We are investing a significant portion of our reserves to prove we are right and to become an enabler and a partner for the private sector and I invite you all to join this exciting journey,” she finished.