Key Takeaways from Building Bridges 2023

Another edition of Building Bridges has come and gone and as the movement grows so too does the quality and diversity of the dialogue that happens within the conference program. This year, SFG strove to bring unique, forward-thinking topics to the agenda and, thanks to collaboration with our partners and speakers, we believe we did just that. Here are three key takeaways from each of our main events.

Pitch: Launch of Ecosystem Map and Peace Finance Hub
On Tuesday, SFG held a pitch where we launched two new interactive tools that support our community.

  1. Delphine Bachmann, State Councillor for Economy and Employment, underscored the uniqueness of Geneva’s ecosystem as a multilateral hub and a global financial centre. It is the perfect place to build the collaborations needed to transition to a sustainable, inclusive financial centre. She noted that sustainability can be an engine for prosperity and stressed the importance of gender equality for unlocking value in the economy.
  2. José Ramos Horta, President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, noted that Switzerland has an important role to play in reducing global inequality given its neutrality and resources. He called for all leaders (whether they be in government, business or any type of organization) to set clear goals and remain laser focused in their pursuits of sustainability.
  3. SFG unveiled its interactive map and Peace Finance Hub. The ecosystem map provides valuable information about who is advancing sustainable finance and in what ways. This is meant to facilitate further collaboration. It is open for public consultation until November 15. The Peace Finance Hub consolidates useful knowledge, tools and guidance on peace finance. Conflict continues to rise globally and is therefore a reality most portfolios must address to protect against conflict risk, and to ensure their investments are not furthering conflict.

Rethinking Finance for a Post Growth Economy
On Thursday, SFG, Greenpeace and the Impact Hub Geneva convened a workshop on Post-Growth. The session started with two context-setting presentations and then gave participants the opportunity to explore the topic in table discussions.

  1. Sandrine Dixson-Declève of the Club of Rome made the case that society’s current structure and fixation on growth have not only caused us to pass 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries but has also created massive wealth inequality and profound disparity between people and countries. It is time to transition rapidly to a system that values wellbeing, sufficiency, and community.
  2. Peter Haberstich of Greenpeace explained the concept of Post Growth, a society whose central functions are not subject to a growth imperative and do not depend on economic growth to function. We live on a planet with finite resources, and we consume beyond what can be regenerated. Therefore, we must move to a system that focuses on wellbeing & prosperity without economic growth and that decouples these concepts from GDP. We need sufficiency, strong dematerialisation of consumption, sharing of long-lasting products, and the circular economy.
  3. The finance sector is predicated on growth so it would fundamentally need to change to be compatible with post-growth economy. This may include measures such as banks reducing lending to only that which can be done out of self-generated capital, asset managers no longer chasing the highest returns and instead focusing on promoting sustainable companies, preserving value in the long term, and supporting the business-models of non-expanding sustainable businesses with financial services.

Activism in the 21st Century: Driving Change in Finance
On Thursday, SFG, UNEP FI and Alliance Sud convened a fishbowl conversation on Activism that explored the role of activists and how we can increase their space for action with the finance industry.

  1. There was a strong call for more transparency from the finance industry. It is impossible to hold institutions accountable for their actions if there is limited information about the actions they are taking. In addition, activists called for better access to leaders and decision-makers within financial institutions to make their concerns and calls to action known.
  2. Activists noted that it is crucial to expose and challenge power. This is particularly important in forums like Building Bridges where large financial institutions pay for the majority of the event and powerful voices often go unchallenged, particularly during the Summit. We also need to make space for challenging and contrarian voices. They should be featured prominently, on the main stage and not only in side rooms.
  3. A massive mindset shift is required in the finance industry, from the top to the bottom. This can only be done by systemic change to the way financial institutions govern themselves and reward performance (compensation). Awareness raising, training and capacity building are also crucial. In addition, we cannot forget the importance of the policy regime. We must call on governments to do more. Their plans are simply not ambitious enough and this trickles down through the economy and society.

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