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Three reasons why social investing will be a driver of long-term sustainability

commuters in big city, business people

Written by Anne Tolmunen, portfolio manager, AXA Investment Managers

As well as being a tragedy for the local population and the sombre geopolitical ramifications, the war in Ukraine is likely to have a significant impact on the European economy, jeopardising its recovery just as it was finally extricating itself from the pandemic.

Social inequality is on the rise and so are the potential effects on economies, corporations, and ultimately, investment portfolios.

Economic inequality has cut the income of 99% of the global population, and forced over 160 million more people into poverty, according to Oxfam International.i It is no surprise that governments, companies, consumers and investment groups are taking action in a bid to level up society’s inequalities.

We have seen a surge in new products which target social impact as well as the emergence of social bonds as a means to finance a wide variety of social projects. ‘Social’ investing should be about addressing unmet needs and in a way that can potentially deliver returns for responsible investors.

Below, we examine three key themes being addressed via social impact investment strategies.

Education

Education improves livelihoods – and even life expectancy. At a country level, it contributes to social stability and stimulates long-term economic growth. However, some 57 million primary-school aged children remain out of school while 60% of children and adolescents are not even achieving a minimum level of proficiency in reading and mathematics.ii

The challenge in education is twofold. First, to widen access and draw in everyone in an equitable and continuous manner. Second, to develop quality and effective learning methods. New players, particularly in education technologies, are emerging, offering students low-cost solutions for more effective and personalised learning.

Some businesses are trying to tap into this theme. Online student support platform Chegg, which aims to offer affordable services, has 5.3 million subscribers; another example is IDP Education – it has operations in more than 50 countries and helps students in emerging markets learn English and places them in universities around the world.iii iv

Healthcare

One of the main priorities for governments worldwide is to get better access to quality medical cover, and to limit the cost to society.

There are numerous firms delivering ever-evolving solutions to the planet’s healthcare challenges. For example, biotechnology firm Regeneron creates and develops medicines for those with serious conditions such as degenerative eye disease leading to blindness as well as infectious and other rare diseases.

Global life sciences and consumer care firm Croda, which has operations across 39 countries, is providing key solutions such as speciality chemicals and drug delivery systems for the healthcare industry.v

Technological progress now makes it possible to envisage medicine that is more accessible, more effective, and even more personalised. The so-called telehealth phenomenon – where services and information are distributed and managed electronically – can help relieve congested medical systems, reduce health costs and strengthen preventive medicine by lowering barriers to access.

Financial and digital inclusion

More than one-third of the world’s population is still totally offline. vi

Not having access to the internet can have serious implications for education, finding a job, healthcare, entrepreneurship and more. Ensuring the internet is accessible to the majority of people within the next five years will need $2.1 trillion of investment.vii

At the heart of the issue is access to technology and the infrastructure needed to create connectivity. While the cost of smartphones and digital devices is becoming lower in real terms, getting online is still expensive in some developing economies. UK-based telecoms company Helios Towers is trying to address that by building and operating telecommunication towers in African countries, providing much-needed voice and data services to people and businesses in areas with little or no fixed line infrastructure.

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