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  • Writer's pictureImpact Investing Network

Impact Professionals Spotlight: Jackson Rowland

An interview with Jackson Rowland, Director of the Aotearoa New Zealand Stewardship Code, Australian Sustainable Finance Institute Program Manager and Obama Scholar.


We have incredible impact investment and sustainable finance professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand. We're spotlighting some of these great people to learn from their insights, hear about the trends they are seeing in their mahi, and understand how they got to where they are now.


This time we had the pleasure of having a kōrero with Jackson Rowland. Jackson has been in impact focused roles for a long time. His career in impact investment started when he joined The Ākina Foundation as a Venture Manager. He later worked for the Impact Enterprise Fund, has been a Sustainable Finance Advisor, and now holds key roles at the Aotearoa New Zealand Stewardship Code, and the Australian Sustainable Finance Institute.




Our kōrero with Jackson:


You hold roles with the Aotearoa New Zealand Stewardship Code and the Australian Sustainable Finance Institute, where you have visibility over what's happening in the impact investment and sustainable finance space in both countries. Please explain the similarities and differences in how Aotearoa and Australia approach impact/sustainable investing?


I started working in impact investing in Aotearoa many years ago now. At that time, I often said that the Australian impact investing market was about 5 years ahead of ours, with much more funds, deals and general experience in the sector. I think New Zealand has done an impressive job at catching up, with the NZ market now also having several funds, various deals, and a growing appetite to explore how to continue maximising the impact of investments.


From a broader sustainable finance perspective, both markets are at a pretty similar stage. The interest in, and adoption of, sustainable finance products is rapidly growing, as is the understanding of the importance of this. Both sides of the Tasman are also seeing real growth in stewardship, with it now being the most common responsible investment strategy in New Zealand.


While this momentum is promising, I would also say a similarity is that we’re both still playing catch up to the rest of the world. After spending time studying in New York recently, I saw just how normal and expected sustainable finance is, in many of the leading global economies. The opportunities presented by the transition, and the ways to realise these, were what the finance sector was increasingly orienting around. But back ‘down under’, the conversation of whether we even need to do anything differently is far too common.

In addition to your roles in Aotearoa and Australia, you’ve completed graduate study as an Obama Scholar at Columbia University in the City of New York, studying sustainable finance (Congratulations!). Could you please tell us a little bit about this program and some examples of projects you may have worked on? Was there anything eye opening for you about the United States sustainable / impact investing market?


It was an amazing programme that enabled me to study graduate sustainable finance at Columbia University, while also completing a variety of broader leadership development workshops with the Obama Foundation. I was also able to meet with many of the leading investors, particularly in private equity, to understand their sustainability practices and how these were evolving.


One of the eye-opening learnings was that while the anti-ESG rhetoric within the US is what we often see in the headlines, I was still seeing pretty advanced responsible investment strategies within the firms I met with. This was because they know that 1) the world is increasingly transitioning to a low carbon, sustainable economy, and 2) factoring the risks and opportunities that this transition, and other sustainability related issues, create into investment decision making is just good investment practice.


While it’s disappointing that ESG has been misunderstood and politicised over there, I was pleased to see that that doesn’t mean US asset managers are any less responsible than others around the world, and most I spoke to were demonstrating global best practice.


Are there any areas you think Aotearoa is leading or lagging in with respect to sustainable / impact investing? For the areas that may be lagging, what would you think would be needed to address the gap?


An area Aotearoa is increasingly strong in is in our consideration of Māori perspectives as part of sustainability activity. I think there’s the recognition that it’s a crucial consideration, and a willingness to figure out how to recognise risks and opportunities relating to Māori through the investment process. What we need to see now is this intent turn into action, with methods and disclosures built into investment decision making to ensure Māori perspectives are considered through the process.


I think we’re lagging in most other aspects of sustainable finance, largely due to our isolation and the false sense of security it creates. We live in a beautiful corner of the world, with a great quality of life, so why would we do anything differently?


We don’t have to look far, however, to see the net zero commitments leading companies and economies have made, and the increasingly fast progress they’re making to implement these. This means they’re decarbonising their activities at growing speed, from the money they invest to the customers they buy from.


If New Zealand wants to be a part of this activity in the coming decades we simply need to de-risk our businesses and economies now.


Doing so means transition plans. It means climate disclosures. It means eradicating modern slavery. It means avoiding the risks that the world is increasingly conscious of. And it means doing this now, rather than kicking the can down the road again.


For our audience and followers within our network earlier in their impact investment career, what advice helped you develop your career in this space?


I’d say two key things:


  • Experiment as much as you can. Try different jobs, volunteering, study etc, to figure out what you enjoy, what you don’t, and most importantly, what you care about. Then do whatever you need to get a job relating to that.


  • Think long into the future. At least 10 years. What global trends are affecting the areas you’re interested in? How can you prepare yourself to be a part of that emerging trend? Make time to think about changes in areas you’re interested in, and how you can prepare for any opportunities they present.

Lastly, and looking ahead, are there any exciting developments happening within Aotearoa New Zealand Stewardship Code and the Australian Sustainable Finance Institutes that you can share with us? What should the IIN community keep an ear and eye out for?


It’s tough to choose with the amount that’s going on at the moment. In New Zealand, we’ve already seen a rapid growth in stewardship practices in the past couple of years, and it’s showing no sign of stopping. We’re expecting to release New Zealand’s first ‘Stewardship Review’ very soon, which will summarise the activity and provide some guidance for strengthening stewardship activity even further.


We’re also welcoming new signatories right now, so if you’re an asset owner or manager and looking to strengthen your responsible investment practices, visit stewardshipcode.nz for more information.


Across the ditch, we’re in the final stages of releasing Australia’s first sustainable finance capability framework, which aims to summarise the key skills required to work in sustainable finance. There’s a significant shortage of sustainable finance capability currently, which is holding back the transition in both Australia and New Zealand. It’s hoped this framework will clarify what skills are required to enable greater standardisation of training and faster development of key skills across the sector.


Thank you to Jackson for sharing the trends he's noticed, giving advice to others, and for making a big impact on progressing sustainable finance within Aotearoa.


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