The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Marcene Mitchell of International Finance Corporation
Welcome to our first Common Sense Colloquy, a Q&A with Marcene Mitchell of the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Marcene is Global Head of Strategy and Business Development in the Climate Business Department of IFC. We had the privilege of working with Marcene and her team in 2016 on a partnership program designed to help improve linkages between IFC and key energy and environment constituencies. Last month, we reached out to Marcene to get an update on IFC’s climate work and to seek her advice on communications. Check out her answers below and visit the IFC’s website at www.ifc.org for more information on their work.
Our thanks to Marcene for sharing her time and wisdom with us – and you.
Q: Your principal charge is to build climate business for the International Finance Corporation. What does that mean? And how do you do that?
A: In order to meet the World Bank Group’s goal of 28% climate business by 2020, IFC will have to roughly double its climate-related investments relative to 2015. What we count as climate business includes the usual suspects – renewable energy and resource efficiency – but we are working hard to make it a cross-cutting theme across all the sectors we finance. We engage IFC’s investment teams to identify and incorporate a climate angle as early as possible in the project cycle. For example, if we are financing a mobile network expansion, we ask ourselves and our clients whether the cell towers could be solar-powered. Or in a housing finance deal, whether we could help the bank to design a green mortgage loan for homebuyers.
We also work with partners and stakeholders to develop innovative financing mechanisms and create markets for climate investment. In FY17, our green bond program issued $650 million in six currencies through 19 bonds, bringing our total issuances to $5.8 billion. Our Scaling Solar program addresses systemic barriers to utility-scale solar in Africa, enabling renewable energy to be deployed quickly and economically. In special circumstances, we also co-invest donor funds alongside our own commercial money for high-impact climate projects in high-risk markets.
Q: Your focus is global, rather than on the United States. How are other markets different from the U.S. in terms of the ways you communicate about the value of climate investments?
A: We operate in over a hundred countries, and we have to use our knowledge of the local market, as well as the particular client or partner we’re working with, to figure out what would resonate well. We focus on the opportunities of climate change, not just the risks. For example, more than 140 countries have submitted pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, committing to shift policy environments towards climate action. My colleagues analyzed these pledges and estimated that the related investment opportunities in emerging markets amount to $23 trillion. It’s not surprising to us that more and more companies seem to realize that a low-carbon business strategy can bring bottom-line benefits.
Q: What advice would you offer to communicators working in this space? What's the most compelling argument for climate business?
A: Because we support the private sector, we typically focus on the business case. We look for the combination of cost reductions, performance improvements, revenue growth, or risk management that comes from incorporating climate considerations and improves the overall financial prospects of the deal. We communicate these benefits to our clients, many of whom are keen to understand, track, showcase the climate impacts of their investments.
As for advice to other communicators in this space, I urge them to drive home a call to action. We are past the point of simply sounding alarm bells on climate change. We need to boil the discussion down from “50,000 feet up, 100 years from now” to “what this means here, today, for you”. At IFC, we want to connect our work with people’s lives. For example, our green buildings program certified a hospital wing in Ghana for meeting a standard of at least 20% reduction in energy, water, and materials. As a result, they’re expected to save $23,000 in utility bills per month, which frees up cash flow to purchase better equipment, hire medical professionals, and improve patient care. The message is that taking action to be “climate smart, “also means you can be “business smart.”
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Don’t forget to listen! We tend to think of communications as a one-way stream. Real opportunities can grow in the space we allow for dialogue. It might seem counterintuitive, but this also involves paying attention to what’s being left unsaid.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Keep it simple and don’t forget the “ask.” People are surrounded by information and short on time.