ESG Investing

The Pandemic’s Impact on Global Goals: Revelations for ESG Investors in the Gates Foundation 2021 Goalkeepers Report


As the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) act as a beacon for ESG investors the world over, the 2021 Goalkeepers report from the Gates Foundation titled Innovation & Inequity offers notable revelations that spotlight the full depth of the pandemic’s impact on global goals and countless ESG concerns.

Here are three key takeaways from the report that can both provide insight into the ongoing effects of COVID-19 and highlight opportunities for ESG investors to maximize their impact in both pandemic recovery and UN SDG goals.

Global Poverty

The No Poverty SDG goal aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. Yet the 2021 Goalkeepers report shows a tremendous backslide, estimating that 31 million people fell into extreme poverty during the pandemic.

A country’s pre-pandemic wealth stands as the greatest indicator for post-pandemic recovery. For countries with advanced economies, the report posits that 90% will regain pre-pandemic per capita income levels. That figure dives to a mere third for low- and middle-income countries.

ESG investors may consider tailoring current and future holdings toward greater investment in lower-income countries. A report by ODI suggests that investors can have a deeper impact in these countries by focusing investments on values rather than financial value and by improving data infrastructure in lower-income economies. Investing in disaster insurance offers another way to address the roots of poverty.

The 2021 Goalkeepers report shows a tremendous backslide.

Health Systems

The report also demonstrated just how far there remains to go toward strengthening developing nations’ capacity to manage global health crises, a key part of SDG 3. Only 1% of vaccine doses were administered in low-income countries, while wealthy countries administered 80% of doses and stockpiled far beyond their populations’ needs.

Vaccine technology works best when it is widely accessible. ESG investors concerned with the global status of vaccinations can look to the Immunization Agenda 2030 as well as the Access to Medicine Index, which ranks pharmaceutical companies on how they distribute medications to lower-income countries. Organizations have also stepped up to promote broader vaccination, such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s vaccine equity program for communities of color and Gavi’s work to vaccinate the world’s poorest children.

Gender Equity

The pandemic’s outsized impact on women cannot be ignored: the report states that women’s global employment figures in 2020 measure 13 million below 2019 figures. A March 2021 article in McKinsey underscores this, with data showing that women with children in particular opted out of the workforce at record rates during the pandemic. This slide greatly imperils progress on SDG 5’s goals for gender equity

Domestic-minded ESG investors can look to lists like Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Women report and the Human Rights Coalition’s annual Best Places to Work report centering on LGBTQ equality. For investors with a more global lens, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommends looking toward opportunities that encourage women’s economic participation, keep girls in school, and promote health education and support for family planning. Microfinancing offers yet another path to empowering women.

The pandemic is far from over, especially from a global perspective. However, ESG investors can start conversations with their advisors to lessen the endurance of the pandemic’s impact. Setting a plan for short- and long-term ESG goals can help investors make the most of their role in developing the necessary global resources to restore progress and move forward again on critical global goals.

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