A postcard from Almedalen

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Maria Mähl (pictured right), Director, Sustainable Investing at Arabesque Asset Management is a Swede expatriated in New York, where she works by the side of Georg Kell (pictured second from the left), co-founder of the UN Global Compact and Chairman of Arabesque. This summer, she came back to her home country and spent a few busy days at the Swedish political festival at Almedalen. Back in the office, she reflects on the highlights and shares her thoughts with NordSIP on a postcard she sends this week.

It was striking to see how sustainability was among the most addressed theme altogether this year. While sustainability has been high on the agenda for the past couple of years, it’s now part of every stakeholders’ programme and also being integrated across value chains, such as a municipality or union addressing how RFPs usually lack sustainability evaluation metrics. The 2030 agenda was also very present across the public and private sector and civil society events. The corporate and financial sectors might still be figuring out how we can deliver on and communicate our progress on the 17 goals, but at least the conversation is underway.

Digitalization and artificial intelligence were other hot topics. In our seminar, together with SPP/Storebrand, we pushed our panellists on how AI will change the future of finance, for example how in not too distant a future we’ll see truly customised pension portfolios aligned with peoples’ values such as the SDGs.

Almedalen is a great place to meet and discuss with your industry peers and colleagues, and to listen to people that might, at first sight, seem unrelated to your own business. However, those are precisely the encounters that can generate great opportunities. Over the past couple of years, in particular, technology has grown as a topic on the agenda. Tech influences us all – in our professional role, as citizens, and as consumers.

I found Doberman and Google’s collaboration on the Open Mic concept exciting. Inspiring speakers and international stars such as the innovator and architect Indy Johar shared how big data, artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) can change how we tackle some of our most significant challenges of today, such as corruption, water shortages, and mental health issues. The growing presence of the start-up community at Almedalen is not only reinvigorating but it also serves as a reminder that innovation and tech cycles are faster and shorter today and how the financial sector is facing significant transformations in the future.

One of my main takeaways was on the topic of AI and big data. Several speakers called Swedes into action: Sweden as a nation needs to start investing in and learning about AI. Given where we are right now and the pace at which we are currently progressing, we need to catch up fast. The circular economy was also a concept that was brought forward, and how it presents opportunities and challenges for business models. It was great to see that it’s now a conversation beyond fashion only.

Some people complain that Almedalen has become too commercial. Compared to similar, international gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Clinton Global Initiative -where I have worked myself- which is open to the very few, by invitation only and surrounded by security perimeters, we should remember that Almedalen still represents a place where different people and ideas come together. Such a convening power is especially important as we live in times of global and regional political turmoil.

Back to the office, I feel inpired and energised. I’m excited about the new sustainability data metrics we’ll launch for our Arabesque S-Ray analytics tool after the summer. I also look forward to being able to offer more products on our asset management side, where we’re launching an AI-fund.

Yours truly,

Maria

Pictures courtesy of Maria Mähl, Arabesque Asset Management

On the featured picture from left to right: Elisabet Dahlin, Save the Children and the next Barnombudsman, Georg Kell, Fredrik Nilzen, Swedbank and Maria Mähl.

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