Stockholm (NordSIP) – At the beginning of February, Triodos Investment Management (Triodos IM) hired a new Business Development & Investor Relations Manager for the Nordics, Shawn Westcott (pictured), most recently the Head of Business Development for the Nordics at Swiss-based impact investment boutique Blue Orchard.
In his previous role, Wescott primarily focused on emerging markets strategies in private debt (microfinance), public debt, and private equity. “It was great to work with a well-respected asset manager, and also great to meet so many investors and institutions in different stages of their impact investing journey. Being in a business development role is a great way to be a guide on that learning journey, and to hopefully see assets flow toward impact,” says Westcott.
“It’s funny; I got into this industry a bit by accident,” Westcott recalls. “As a university student, I was a social entrepreneur working on poverty and environmental issues in the US. I then spent eight years of my career in US politics, having started as an idealistic young staff member on Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000. I later moved to Sweden to study for a Masters degree in sustainability, after which I assumed I would move back to the US and eventually be a politician myself. Instead, I stayed in Sweden, first for work, then for love. While working with a sustainability consultancy, I joined the board of a non-profit, Social Entrepreneurship Forum. I eventually led the development of the first social business incubator and accelerator in the Nordics, with support from Sida [the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency].”
“It was during this period that I started looking for ways to finance social entrepreneurs, both in our program and otherwise,” Westcott continues. “I also wanted to align my own investing with my values, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to do so. A friend who was a researcher in Gothenburg introduced me to the term ‘impact investing’, as well as to the founder of SOCAP, the largest and most diverse impact investing community in the world. This led to a trip to the Netherlands to attend the SOCAP conference and learn about impact investing. Then a return to Sweden where I hosted what, I believe, was the first impact investor roundtable in Sweden. Shortly after that, I convinced Toniic – an impact investor network – to let me initiate a Toniic “satellite network” in the Nordics, and then it just kept going. Eventually, I was hired by BlueOrchard.”
After three and a half years, it was time for a new adventure. “As I began looking for a new career in the impact investing space, I was looking for a values-driven company working on impact areas that included some closer to home. A friend informed me that Triodos IM was looking to hire someone in the Nordics. I had long known about Triodos IM, which is a true pioneer in the impact investment world. So, when I heard they were looking, I was very excited at the prospect to work with the organisation,” Westcott says.
Westcott was not disappointed. “Triodos IM is full of people who really ‘walk the talk’ in terms of ethics and impact, and proposes some strong investment strategies to go with those values,” he comments. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to focus on topics that are also of interest to me personally. For example, we have some exciting strategies covering food transition, renewable energy, and impact equities and bonds. Emerging markets continue to be important to me, and it is a real plus to be able to propose several respected strategies, including financial inclusion and renewable energy. This product offering, combined with a chance to work with a terrific team of impact-oriented professionals, really gets me excited for this new role!”
Positive market dynamics also contributes to Westcott’s optimism. “Impact investing is catching on nicely in the Nordics,” he says. “Of course, it needs to happen here – and everywhere else – quicker, but the transition I’ve seen over the past nine years has been convincing. Some institutions have been leading the way for some time, like the Church of Sweden, SEB, and Merkur Bank. Several others are also increasing their commitment to impact, like Handelsbanken. Norrsken Foundation’s impact VC fund could also be a gamechanger, and these are just some examples. The Nordic region differs from other geographies because the language of impact is inherent in every discussion, every conference, and every meeting. People here get it, and they’re working hard to align investment policies with the new reality. This takes some time, of course, but I see momentum in every country. It’s a promising time to be in the impact investing space!”
Amidst these strong undercurrents, one of the main challenges facing Triodos IM is competition, Westcott believes. “We’re quickly becoming victims of our own success,” he says. “With commitments from asset owners to focus on ESG, the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change, there’s a lot more competition in the market. Larger asset managers are now also promoting sustainable investments – even if they’re not yet always embracing the correct methodology. These firms are also becoming active in the impact space, sometimes buying up boutique impact firms. These larger firms, with their large established sales team, can easily get the attention of asset owners. The increased capital flows toward impact is a positive, of course, but it also puts pressure on smaller teams to compete.”
Nevertheless, Westcott is not concerned about the ability of Triodos IM to stand out from the crowd. “I think Triodos IM and the Nordic region are a great fit for each other! This is why sharing our quality impact investment strategies, backed by good teams and good research, and building on good relationships with investors will be so important. We will spend a lot of time at events and meetings, getting to know the community, hearing their needs, and helping them to learn more about Triodos IM. I think that, together, we will do some good work.”
Picture © NordSIP