Ten years on, impact investing leader uses Oxford learning to innovate solutions

4 minute read

Impact investing is an increasingly important part of global finance and Fumi Sugeno, has been involved from the very start.

I was one of the first participants to attend the Oxford Impact Investing Programme in 2012. 

Impact investing has come a long way in a relatively short time. Back in the mid-2000s, the term was beginning to be used at specialist conferences but was very niche in the banking community, never mind business schools. Oxford was ahead of the curve in launching the programme and it could see that this would become a very important financial activity.

Potential in emerging markets

At the time, I was a consultant with the Japan Research Institute, where my role was supporting multinational corporations to launch sustainable and inclusive businesses in emerging markets, especially in inland China.

My background is in international development and my experience working in China fuelled my interest in impact investing and the opportunity for businesses to drive beneficial change. I was witnessing the rise of all these innovative ventures not just in China, but in emerging markets such as India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. It was all very inspiring. So I could see the potential for large corporations to invest in these ventures.

Acceptance in mainstream finance?

At the same time as seeing the potential, I was very aware that there was a long way to go for impact investing to be accepted by established banks and investors. 

The major challenge back then was convincing banks and businesses what was in it for them. Thankfully, over the years that challenge has receded to some extent. However, it was one of my main motivations to invest in my education and deepen my skills. The UK has always had one of the most established impact investing sectors and the Oxford programme stood out to me very clearly as a great development route.

Deepening knowledge and long-term mindset

Ahead of the Oxford programme, I had three clear objectives. First, was to deepen my knowledge of the latest research and thinking on impact investing. The second, was to engage with impact investing professionals from different countries and sectors to share and compare experiences. The third, was to build my global network of peers and partners.

The benefit of development like the Oxford Impact Investing Programme is that it not only gives you knowledge but provides reassurance and confidence about your practice. Working with your fellow participants is so beneficial – you are able to provide value to others with your insights and conversely, it opens your eyes to new ways of doing things. Knowledge and networking is a very powerful combination.

Ultimately, the value of any programme is the ease at which its lessons and insights can be applied professionally. The programme’s focus on practical learning and topical case studies gave me insights that I have applied in my career. It has been 10 years since Oxford but I continue to use what I first learned on the programme. It is not necessarily technical knowledge per se, but about having a mindset that helps you to think about the long term in a broad, deep, and meaningful way.

Future of impact investing 

Since 2017, I have worked with SIIF, first as a Senior Officer and most recently as the Chief of the Impact Economy Lab. The organisation’s vision is to build the foundation for a society in which the resolution of social problems and the creation of value take place autonomously and sustainably. It works with companies, local governments, NPOs, and educational and research institutions. 

I joined the foundation right at the beginning - we now have over 20 employees. I look after the impact economy lab and am a partner of an impact investing fund, Hataraku, which was established jointly between Japanese banking groups and SIIF. It seeks to help solve the challenges of an ageing population and a shrinking working population through the creation of diverse ways of working and living. It is a great honour to work here and see the positive impact that we can make together with our partners.

From small beginnings, impact investing is now a very fast-moving and dynamic industry. Oxford gave me the springboard to follow my passion and professional path in this sector.

It is a testament to the programme that I still communicate regularly with some of the Oxford faculty and fellow participants. There is a sense of belonging to a global community of leaders who are building this exciting financial sector. That is a very important value to me as we collectively develop initiatives and ways of working that will benefit society and help solve the various problems we all face.

Oxford Impact Investing Programme