Q&A: Swedfund’s Maria Håkansson

A strong focus on sustainability is required to address pressing climate concerns and ensure a just transition, says Swedfund’s Maria Håkansson.

What are Swedfund’s impact investing priorities? 

Swedfund’s mission is to fight poverty through sustainable investments in developing countries. Our impact investing priorities are job creation, women’s economic empowerment, climate, digitalisation and increased access to energy, healthcare and food. 

Maria Håkansson, Chief executive of Swedfund

How has your approach to impact investing and impact measurement evolved over the years?

Swedfund has been doing impact investments for the last 40 years to contribute to the impact on society in the world’s poorest countries. We have learned a lot and continuously developed our business model. 

Impact is a strategic decision, and it is fully integrated into our business processes based on our theory of change, which describes our direct and indirect contribution to impact. 

Impact is about what results your business contributes to, and ESG is the ‘how’ – how to ensure that it is done in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible and ethical. We also report our impact, ESG and financial results in an integrated report. 

We co-operate with private investors and other development finance institutions in Europe to move our portfolio companies in a sustainable direction that contributes to development effects and inclusive growth. For us, impact is key for our mission – some say that the DFIs are the original impact investors.  

How would you like to see the impact investing market develop? What role can DFIs such as Swedfund play in that development? 

DFIs, through their long experience of impact investing, can serve as centres of excellence as well as being catalytic by showing private investors that it is possible to achieve both impact and financial results when investing. 

From my point of view, there is a particular sense of urgency when it comes to climate investments but also to cater for more decent jobs to ensure a just transition, and to respond to population growth in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. 

This can only be achieved if, apart from impact and financial results, we include a strong focus on sustainability. Only then can we help societies and economies to leap-frog and ensure the delivery of Agenda 2030 [a framework adopted by UN member states in 2015 to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030].

Maria Håkansson is chief executive of Swedfund, Sweden’s development finance institution for sustainable investments in developing countries