Q2 Newsletter: A view from the ground and measuring social and environmental outcomes

Your investment, outcomes and the UN sustainable development goals

Written by: Archie Pearson, Client and Office Executive, Oikocredit UK and Ireland

For many of the poorest people in Egypt, life can be tough. With a population of 95 million, Egypt is one of the fastest growing and most densely populated countries in the world. Competition for jobs and resources runs high. People with less education and fewer skills face tremendous obstacles to employment, and can struggle to improve their living standards and lift themselves out of poverty. Additionally, societal norms often mean women are confined to the home. Low pay, lack of access to diverse vocations, financial literacy and economic resources are just a few of the forms of discrimination affecting women – not just in Egypt, but all over the world.

In September 2015, the United Nations launched the sustainable development goals (SDGs) with a vision to end poverty, overcome inequality and injustice, tackle climate change and ensure a quality education for all by 2030. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network estimates that it will cost around $1.4tn (£920bn) each year to meet these 17 goals, and it is unlikely that governments alone will be able to foot the total bill.

In my role as client and office executive for Oikocredit, I considered these SDGs on a recent trip to the Egyptian desert. I visited one of Oikocredit’s co-operative partners, Sekem, to observe how impact investment can have a positive outcome and address the UN’s Global Goals. Founded in 1977, Sekem focus on supporting rural farming communities using social impact investment to introduce fair trade principles, adopt biodynamic farming methods, and transform areas of desert land into fertile soil for producing organic herbs, teas, spices and other crops.

Sekem also use investment to enhance the education of smallholder farmers and their families, particularly women. They have established a nursery, kindergarten, and primary, secondary and vocational schools, as well as the Heliopolis University to serve the local farming community. Thomas Abouleish, son-in-law of Sekem founder, Ibrahim Abouleish, shows us four Sekem schools, citing his personal motto: “We are tearing down the adult gender walls, ensuring they are not rebuilt for the next generation”. From childhood to adulthood, both genders are therefore taught the skills they need for working life, as well as a vision for gender equality as the foundation for sustainable human development.

Sekem’s vocational school is a unique educational establishment in Egypt. It provides inclusive, quality education and skills development for future employment, and gives schoolgirls an equal right to learn diverse vocations that were previously labelled male-only. Professions such as mechanics, plumbing, carpentry, agriculture, electronic technology and welding are among those now being adopted by girls, whereas in the past they tended to choose textiles or administration (partly for fear of breaking societal norms). Two Sekem girls are now apprentice carpenters; four are studying to become electricians and, for the first time ever, Sekem’s head of electronic technology is female. For adults, ongoing technical and vocational education plays a pivotal role in teaching life-changing skills to both genders. Courses on farming techniques, sustainable development training, supply chain management, financial literacy and money management are also accompanied by gender awareness training. The children’s nursery, built in 2013, frees up women to study, work and earn their own income without having to worry about childcare. At the top end of the educational tree is Heliopolis University. Graduates have included female physicians who have gone on to Sekem’s pharmacy and health clinic, which provide affordable services to more than 41,000 people.

My last day in Egypt is spent celebrating Sekem’s 39th anniversary where men, women, boys and girls share sentiments about equality and respect. I am struck by how innovatively this co-operative have used impact investing to build an education system that addresses gender inequality at its roots, at the same time developing a system of sustainable work and economic growth for previously disadvantaged farming communities.

I also see, first hand, how Oikocredit’s investing and capacity building activities, with partners such as Sekem, align with many of the 17 sustainable development goals – particularly, ‘no poverty’, ‘no hunger’, ‘gender equality’, affordable & clean energy’, and ‘decent work and economic growth’.

2016 Oikocredit Social and Environmental Performance

Our latest impact report was issued in June 2017 and can be downloaded from oikocredit.org.uk/publications. The headlines:

• 40 million people in low-income and developing countries received vital access to finance and technical support through social enterprises financed by Oikocredit.

• 84% of these people were women – a group traditionally disempowered economically and financially.

• Renewable energy projects provided clean energy for approximately 5,400 households and avoided 6,960 tonnes of CO2.

The full report provides greater detail; a message from Thos Gieskes (our new global managing director); how we connect with the UN sustainable development goals, and a spotlight on our partner, Ambootia – who buy and renovate abandoned tea estates in north-east India to bring lasting benefits to employees and their communities.

In June 2017, Oikocredit was delighted to be chosen from among the top 400 Asset Manager IPE companies and PRI signatories by Responsible Investor, for the quality of impact reporting relating to environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects. When commenting on Oikocredit’s social and environmental performance reporting, judges said that Oikocredit demonstrated “a clear overview integrating financial, environmental and social performance indicators, whilst demonstrating a hands-on approach to monitoring outcomes”.

Spotlight on the Oikocredit UK and Ireland team

On 1st July 2017, Monica and Archie celebrated ‘International Co-operatives Day’ with Co-operatives UK in Wakefield. The conference was attended by co-operatives and interested parties, enabling Oikocredit to convey our focus on co-operatives in low-income and developing markets – particularly in the sphere of smallholder agriculture. Oikocredit’s international MD, Thos Gieskes, speaking about co-operatives said: “Over the years, I’ve learned that the co-operative model is extremely powerful. Co-operatives are essentially about people coming together with a common goals or objectives that they want to strive towards. My experience has shown me that bringing strong leaders and passionate people together for that common goals can really make a business thrive. It’s also a great way of organising yourself and keeping that sense of purpose within the organisation”.

Spotlight on Scotland

Archie Pearson and David Cousland displayed Oikocredit at Edinburgh’s “Heart and Soul” event in May 2017, which was attended by her Royal Highness Princess Anne and Sir Timothy Lawrence – the latter paying a visit to our tent for a chat!

We are also delighted to become a recent member of the Network of International Development Organisations of Scotland (NIDOS). NIDOS unites the international development sector to promote effectiveness and collectively reduce inequality and poverty worldwide. To find out about more about NIDOS, visit www.nidos.org.uk.

We very much hope you’ve enjoyed this second newsletter of the year.

Thank you once again for your investments and dividend donations, which help us to reach ever more communities in low-income and developing countries and provide them with vital finance and technical support.

Kind regards,

The Oikocredit UK and Ireland team

June 2017

Hyde Park House, 5 Manfred Road, Putney, London, SW15 2RS, United Kingdom

Email: uk@oikocredit.org, Tel: +44 (0) 208 785 5526/8