Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon displayed genuine emotion during his 2011 speech to the General Assembly. He listed the challenges facing the planet, warning of the rising pressures on land, energy, and food. He spoke of villagers in Kiribati who told him of their fears of climate change causing the sea to sweep into the ocean. A terrified young girl asked him what would become of her.
Then he turned to the audience and said, "Today, I pose her question to all of you ... distinguished heads of state and government and leaders of the world: What can we do? How can we help our people find greater peace, prosperity and justice in a world of crises?"
What indeed? In 2015 Ban Ki-moon published a big part of the answer. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals set out exactly what must be achieved by 2030 to stave off disaster. An estimated $5 trillion to $7 trillion a year is required simply to hit goals in clean energy, water, sanitation and agriculture. To put that number into context, the total value of venture capital spend is around $200 billion annually.
A month later a second document appeared. The UN's Positive Impact Manifesto revealed how those trillions are to be obtained. It set out how investors and financiers can increase their positive impact on society. It established the rules for a common language of progressive investing for humanity.
It was a critical document for ethical investing. For years the finance industry has spoken of a code of responsible behaviour. The result is a long list of initiatives. There is blended finance, green bonds, triple bottom line reporting, sustainable banking and so on. The new Positive Finance initiative is an umbrella concept covering each and every one of these.