I have always been fascinated by foreign languages. My first language was Mandarin Chinese, I learned English at school, and I eventually studied French, Latin, Russian, German, Hawaiian, Spanish, and Arabic. While I can use only a few of these to communicate, I always felt that languages were a superpower that could open new worlds and perspectives.
I became a U.S. diplomat because I felt that my interest in languages and foreign policy would help communicate the U.S. story to the world. I was proud to represent America overseas and show citizens of other nations the qualities that I love about the United States: its openness, creativity, meritocracy, diversity, willingness to take risks, and belief that all people are equal and deserve a fair chance to make their lives better.
I served on the U.S. team that negotiated Agenda 2030, the groundbreaking UN development agenda that established the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. After that experience, I decided I had spent enough time discussing poverty, and wanted to do something that more concretely improved the lives of poor people.
The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is a UN aid agency that focuses on making finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs). UNCDF uses finance to fight poverty by expanding financial inclusion, helping local governments deliver services to their citizens, and working with private sector companies to extend goods and services to marginalized and underserved communities. I joined UNCDF in 2016, attracted by its pragmatism, technical expertise, and focus on the poorest and most vulnerable.
UNCDF has been a leader in creating new ways for impact investors to support the UN’s work. In 2018, we launched the first UN-affiliated Exchange Traded Fund on the New York Stock Exchange, ticker SDGA (https://impactetfs.org/sdga-etf/). UNCDF partnered with Geneva-based impact investor Bamboo Capital Partners to create the BUILD Fund (https://www.uncdf.org/article/5305/the-build-fund), a blended finance investment vehicle that will channel growth finance in the form of debt and equity to impactful small and medium enterprises sourced by UNCDF in the LDCs. And later in 2020, UNCDF will launch a municipal bond fund to help developing country cities to finance climate-resilient infrastructure projects.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, UNCDF is leveraging a range of technical expertise and investment instruments to reduce and limit economic and social hardship for poor communities. UNCDF is supporting governments and businesses on digital payments to enable key financial flows; boosting the capacity of local governments to accept and deploy funding quickly to meet local needs; and injecting targeted investment funds into small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to stabilize local economies, preserve and create jobs, and accelerate recovery.
As an example, UNCDF recently supported SafeBoda, a Ugandan motorcycle ride-sharing company, to shift its business model to include food and medicine delivery. This has saved the jobs of 18,000 drivers, linked 800 merchants to the marketplace, and allowed 30,000 customers in the greater Kampala region access necessities while maintaining social distancing. This is just one example of how a targeted infusion of capital can have a disproportionate social and financial impact in poor countries.
UNCDF has always supported the LDCs to build stable and resilient economies. As we look to invest in a post-pandemic world, UNCDF will continue to work to drive finance in more dynamic ways for poor people and excluded populations. I am proud of the work we do and invite interested investors to join us!
For more information about UNCDF go to www.UNCDF.org