Strengthening People and Planet [interview]
"As a social investor, our work is guided by the principle of empowering low-income people and communities sustainably and respecting the planet’s resources." Kawien Ziedses des Plantes - deputy director of social performance and capacity building
As Oikocredit publishes its Social & Environmental Performance Report for 2016, Kawien Ziedses des Plantes, deputy director of social performance and capacity building, explains some of the thinking behind the organization’s approach to social and environmental performance.
Why is it important to Oikocredit to report on its social and environmental performance?
Oikocredit was set up by the World Council of Churches as a socially responsible investment cooperative to enable organizations and individuals to invest their money for positive development. As a social investor, our work is guided by the principle of empowering low-income people and communities sustainably and respecting the planet’s resources. It is crucial that we monitor our own, and our partners’, social and environmental performance. By knowing how well our partners are addressing clients’ needs or environmental sustainability, we can improve where necessary and be accountable to our members and others, including the end-beneficiaries, such as micro, and small and medium enterprises borrowers and smallholder farmers. Our current assessments show that partners’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores for the inclusive finance portfolio tend to be particularly strong in terms of delivering client benefits, while the production and services portfolio scores high on environment.
What is new and different about this year’s Social & Environmental Performance Report?
This year’s report is slightly longer and more in-depth than previous years’ reports. It includes expanded coverage of how our work impacts our partners’ clients, including information on financial services partners’ outreach to rural and female clients, as well as longer-term trend analysis. The report also provides more detail in our work on environmental sustainability, including two new indicators, and looks at how our mission relates to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What are client outcomes? Why does Oikocredit focus so much attention on them?
Client outcomes are changes in people’s lives over time. Human empowerment in low-income communities is both the aim and the ultimate test of our work. We increase our understanding of client outcomes by asking such questions as What happens in clients’ lives? and Does financial inclusion make a difference? Our capacity building in client outcomes enables our partners to use client insights to drive informed innovation and business decisions. It also enables us to conduct in-depth longitudinal research based on data which has already been collected. We launched our global client outcomes programme in 2014 with partners in Asia and have expanded it to Latin America.
How is Oikocredit responding to the challenge of climate change?
Oikocredit’s renewable energy portfolio is growing rapidly. This both promotes energy inclusion and contributes to the low-carbon transition needed to avoid climate catastrophe. We have begun to assess renewable energy projects by the number of households gaining access to clean energy and by tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided. In parallel, Oikocredit offices increasingly measure and report on their carbon footprint. More colleagues now take carbon emissions into consideration in their travel decisions, for both daily commuting (reducing car travel, for example) and longer distance work journeys.
How are Oikocredit’s relationships with the partners it supports developing?
Good partner relationships are fundamental to Oikocredit’s effectiveness, starting with selecting like-minded partners. We describe our long-term commitment to partners as ‘development finance plus’ and provide capacity building in such areas as organizational leadership, management (financial, risk, data, and social and environmental performance), marketing and agricultural techniques. We ask partners each year about their development objectives and work with them on measuring performance and improving delivery. Every two years we undertake and report on a partner satisfaction survey.
Why is Oikocredit building new partnerships with institutional donors?
Long-term work to support and strengthen low-income communities requires a strategic multi-stakeholder approach. There are no quick or easy ways to achieve sustainable development goals or combat climate change. Innovation and perseverance is needed. By joining forces with a wider range of institutional donor partners we can raise more funds and all stakeholders can benefit from shared learnings and expertise.