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Students Pitch Best Ideas for Sustainable Finance Innovation

Meet the 12 finalist teams who will pitch their financial solutions to urgent social and environmental problems in the 2024 Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge finals. 

Teams of graduate students chosen as finalists in the 2024 Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge are proposing a rich set of financial solutions to address critical needs and opportunities. From unlocking clean energy for the steel industry in ASEAN countries - to tackling grid instability in the US – to strengthening agriculture in the Caatinga Biome in Brazil – this year’s teams have brought creative financial innovation to some of the planet’s most pressing impact and sustainability challenges.

Hosted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Morgan Stanley's Institute for Sustainable Investing, the Challenge this year saw 290 students from 44 countries submit proposals for projects in 27 countries. 

2024 Sustainable Investing Challenge Snapshots

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Twelve teams are advancing to the final round of the competition, and the graduate students will present their proposals on April 19th to a group of sustainable investing professionals. Judges will choose winners with financially innovative ideas that can drive sustainability impact at scale.

Meet the 12 finalist teams proposing innovative ways to use finance as a force for good:

ASEAN Green Steel Fund

  • Proposal: This team proposes a creative linking of agricultural waste with the clean fuel needs of the steel industry in ASEAN countries to significantly decrease GHG emissions from both industries.  The proposed pilot in Vietnam would drive investment returns by layering capital leveraging efficiencies to scale the replacement of coal with biochar.

  • Schools: University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of Technology Sydney

Blue Roots Fund

  • Proposal: Increased demand for shrimp farms is driving staggering losses of mangroves, vital carbon-capturing ecosystems and crucial habitats for biodiversity. This fund aims to finance the sustainability transition of the shrimp industry, protect mangroves, and unlock blue carbon credits in Indonesia, paving the way for expansion across the shrimp industry globally.

  • School: University of St. Gallen

Caatinga Bank

  • Proposal: With a goal of strengthening the stability and competitiveness of small farms in the Caatinga Biome in Brazil, this group proposes to provide working capital loans, technical assistance and inputs while securing stable futures contracts for agricultural outputs.

  • School: IESE Business School, University of Navarra

Clean Ascent Fund

  • Proposal: The EU's coal phase-out threatens significant employment losses while labor shortages rise in the green economy. This team would seek to accelerate the green transition by engaging new industries and players to drive resources into upskilling in affected communities, green project acceleration, and an adherence to just transition principles.

  • School: University College London

Climate Change Resilience REIT

  • Proposal: Climate-related natural hazards are on the rise, along with their impact on homes in many U.S. regions. This team has identified a creative path to support financially distressed homeowners, increase climate resilience measures, and decrease climate and financial risk exposure for investors through strategic diversification.

  • School: University of St. Gallen

Community 4 Resilience Fund

  • Proposal: Power outages and instability increase with the impacts of climate change and realities of aging transmission infrastructure in the U.S. This proposed approach would finance decentralized microgrid development, leveraging renewable energy certifications and carbon credits, and an investment approach that combines higher- and lower-risk investment phases and harnesses HOAs as residential hubs.

  • School: Anderson School of Management, University of California Los Angeles

Diaspora Fund For Sustainable Energy

  • Proposal: Poor electricity supply and reliability in Nigeria results in harmful emissions from generators and decreased economic opportunity and productivity. This novel financial approach would harness diaspora investments to fund community solar farm development through a blended finance approach and a lease model for transferred ownership.

  • Schools: Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, University of Colorado Boulder

Nearshore Manufacturing ESOP Fund 

  • Proposal: Income inequality in emerging and middle-income economies has persisted despite their strength in key global industries such as manufacturing. This proposed solution would spur wealth transfer to workers in Mexico’s manufacturing sector through a creative ESOP fund structure to attract outside capital.

  • School: Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Prickly Power Fund

  • Proposal: Kenya's grazing lands have an invasive cactus problem. At the same time, these cacti represent biomass potential for fuel and protein potential for livestock. This team proposes to overcome capital constraints through equipment leasing and offtake agreements to scale up biofuel and feed projects while simultaneously restoring grazing lands.

  • School: Schulich School of Business, York University

Renewable Backed Securities (RBS Capital)

  • Proposal: Focusing on the need for increased access to capital for clean and renewable energy in southern and central Africa and in the United States, this proposal would create asset-backed securities with geographic diversification to securitize and mobilize private capital for project development with a risk-adjusted return.

  • School: Columbia Business School, Columbia University

Resilient Waters Fund

  • Proposal: The Great Salt Lake is in danger of drying up as a result of climate change and poor resource protection, including inefficient agricultural irrigation practices. This proposed fund solution would catalyze federal, state, and investment funds through a creative land trust mechanism that would utilize “water shares” to spur irrigation efficiency, responsible cropping, and water savings.

  • School: David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah

The Green Inset+ Fund

  • Proposal: Scope III emissions represent the largest share of industrial emissions and a challenge for many companies to address. This student team proposes to move beyond carbon offsetting by increasing corporate value chain “insetting” projects by enabling co-investment from institutional investors.

  • School: Tufts University

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