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A pulse-check on sustainable investing – Investment leaders

July 19, 2021

By Noah Grundy

As the pandemic continues to test the global economy, it becomes even more important that the world’s resources are allocated with holistic socio-economic outcomes in mind. This, of course, includes the investor community, which can do a great deal in advancing societal progress whilst increasing returns—just ask Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock; the world’s largest asset manager. But just how widely adopted is this approach?

At the recent 2021 Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific—broadcast live from Melbourne on 17 June—impact strategist Rosemary Addis AM was joined by investment leaders from the US, Singapore and Australia to explore the topic. And Daniel Roarty, CIO of AllianceBernstein, was the first to admit that the sector’s contribution is unclear.

“Investing sustainably is much harder than it sounds… and the jury is still out on how successful we’ve been.” Daniel also noted that “much of the challenge comes down to measurement and reporting,” and without “clear standards” or consistent data between companies, this remains an issue.

But despite the challenges, Daniel’s faith in sustainable investment continues. “As investors in socially influential corporations, we clearly have an opportunity to play a positive role in directing them to act in more socially positive ways,” he told an audience of almost 500 corporates, and representatives from across government, community organisations and academia.

Though, according to Mary Delahunty, Head of Impact at HESTA, simply targeting harmful business practices, through voting rights or the deallocation of capital, isn’t always enough, “because what they’re doing is legal”.

“If you genuinely want to make an impact, it must be baked into every decision you make, and that means sometimes you have to turn your attention away from company behaviour and towards system-level enablers of that behaviour. And that’s difficult,” she said.

There’s no denying the fact, however, that real opportunities to invest sustainably exist for those who know where to look. And for Senior Managing Director of the SEA Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund, Jennifer Buckley, that’s Southeast Asia.

Economic migration to the cities is challenging the traditional distribution of labour, she added. “We need to support women balancing work and household responsibilities….building businesses that tackle these social issues are often really strong commercial opportunities.”

The discussion never strayed far from the central challenge of sustainable investment—measurement—with Jennifer noting that for widespread capital to “recognise diversity as a value-driver” we will need “more evidence-based research”.

The SEA Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund is attempting to tackle just that, she said. “Our organisation is developing a framework, a scorecard methodology [that will assist in reporting on] the way gender is playing a role within your business”.

It was suggested that the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are perhaps the closest investors have come to a common vision. And though measurement remains a challenge, Daniel left the audience with a reason to take investors’ capacity to advance social progress seriously.

“The SDGs are a fantastic tool for the investment community, not only because they give us a roadmap for exactly where we can find opportunities, but also because they give us a helpful tool to communicate with clients about what sustainability is, to put a framework around it”.

The Shared Value APAC Summit was held on 17 June 2021 in partnership with major sponsor AIA Australia and supporting sponsors IAG, NAB and PwC Australia.

Missed this year’s event? Don’t fret! We’ve launched a first-ever on-demand ticket, to give you access to the Summit’s full program of keynotes, panel discussions and lightbulb presentations for the next three months. Find out more by visiting