Banking on Social Innovation

07 July 2016 - Banking on Social Innovation

Caroline Anstey, Global Head of UBS and Society at UBS and former Managing Director of the World Bank spoke to Adam Lent, European Director of Research and Innovation at Ashoka, about the revolution in finance driving social change.

When someone who has worked for the World Bank for eighteen years tells you that the problems the world faces are too big to be solved by international organisations it is probably worth listening.

In her time at the Bank, Caroline Anstey used the formidable resources of that organisation to solve some pretty big problems herself. These included helping support Haiti after the collapse of the government in 2004 and creating an insurance scheme for Caribbean nations hit by natural disasters.

But now she is happy to admit that bodies like her former employer can’t drive the real change that is needed if we are to meet the challenges laid out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, she is more than happy – she is decidedly chipper. The reason being that other forces are rushing in to find solutions: private investment and social innovators.

It used to be the case, says Anstey, that public money flowing into the very low income countries dwarfed private funds. But no more. There is a historical shift underway. Now Global Head of UBS and Society at the Swiss Bank UBS, Anstey is enthused by the way her clients increasingly seek out a social as well as a financial return on their investments. It’s a transformation in mind-set. The old myth that by doing good you could not do well financially has been junked. Investors now recognise, as she puts it pithily, that they need a “social licence to succeed as well as a financial licence”.

The money from those investors is also flowing to the second new force: innovators. In her early days at the World Bank the focus was on the big infrastructure projects for which the Bank became famous and often controversial. Today development is being democratised. Big challenges like improving girls’ education or creating effective healthcare systems are being addressed and solved by imaginative and tireless entrepreneurs looking at new models such as "pay for success".

The daughter of Oscar-winning documentary film-maker, Edgar Anstey, Caroline grew up in London, gained a PhD in history before deciding against an academic career. Instead she was thrust into the more dynamic world of politics and journalism working first as an assistant to the former Prime Minister James Callaghan and then on BBC Radio’s flagship current affairs show Analysis.

She had a hugely influential career at the World Bank starting out on external affairs but then taking up the role of Chief of Staff to the President before becoming Managing Director. Anstey was a major force in the modernisation of the Bank driving through a change agenda designed to make an organisation often seen as closed and monolithic more open and accountable.

It’s an ethos she carries with her to the work she does at UBS. The innovators that are so crucial to the new way of addressing social challenges need help to scale. That is where she feels the financial sector can really drive change by directing investors and expertise to the great ideas ready to go from local to global impact.

But the sort of openness she drove at the World Bank plays a big role too. Anstey recounts with enthusiasm how a programme by the Kenyan Government to allow open access to its data accelerated a huge range of innovative initiatives designed to drive financial inclusion, transform healthcare and improve education. 

And this is where governments, big public organisations and banks can really make a difference, Anstey contends. Not by imposing their authority and resources on the people trying to solve problems but by giving those people the resources and the freedom they need to find and scale solutions that could never be dreamed up in a corporate hierarchy.