Jessica Robinson is the author of Financial Feminism: A Woman’s Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future and founder of Moxie Future, the world’s first education, insights and community platform empowering women as sustainable investors and financial feminists.
Robinson is a leading global voice on sustainable finance – formerly Head of Asia for the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, CEO of the Association for Responsible Investment in Asia and a leader in the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. She is now a strategic advisor to institutional investors, think tanks and governments on all things relating to green finance, sustainability, responsible investment and gender.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I grew up in the UK but have spent most of my adult life living and working all over the world – totally by design. I left London to move to New York in my early 20s, knowing no one but full of excitement and adventure. I then caught the China buzz and spent many years in Beijing and Hong Kong, before feeling I was missing exposure to the Middle East and subsequently moved to Dubai four years ago. In all honesty, I pride myself in being a global citizen and am raising my children the same way.
On the career front, it has been eclectic – also by design! I have worked in politics, communications, management consulting and the non-profit sector. But it was about fifteen years ago that I decided to go back to school to study environmental economics (my third degree!) because I felt this huge need to change tack. I knew I needed to do more professionally, given the impending environmental and climate crisis, and I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem. I then refocused on sustainable finance, working like a trouper to push forward on the cause. It was hard, it was exhausting but I now have the privilege of working as an advisor to governments, investors and NGOs on all things relating to sustainable finance, ESG, climate and gender.
Somewhat as a hobby I also set up Moxie Future, a platform and blog engaging with women who want to do more on sustainable and impact investing. Oh, and I published my first book earlier this year – Financial Feminism: A Woman’s Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future – the purpose of which is really to provide women with an accessible and enjoyable read on how to become a sustainable investor.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
God no! But I have always followed my values and my passions, using these as my guiding light. I kicked off my career working for a politician because I wanted to be one myself. But shifted career path when my desire to be a global citizen became impossible to supress. Now my work is all about maximising impact – I take on work because I believe I can positively contribute to genuine change. I am not interested in projects that are all about marketing and PR – unfortunately, increasingly sustainability seems to be more about perception than reality. I don’t want to be part of that game.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Many. As a woman in male-dominated domains, it has not always been easy. As a management consultant in the financial industry, there have been many instances of prejudice and harassment that would not be tolerated today. When I tell my teenage daughters of how it used to be, they are horrified – at least their generation is better positioned to take a stand knowing that they will be supported and listened to. It certainly wasn’t like that 20 years ago.
Working in sustainable finance in the early days was also tough – there weren’t many of us and it was a hard slog getting people, governments and companies to understand how critical it is that we wake up to the urgency of climate change and sustainable development. But more than that – we need to redirect capital in ways that not only avoids harm (think fossil fuels for example), but helps build a cleaner, more sustainable, more equitable world. I will admit, it was hard being an outlier but the tide is now turning so I enjoy the collective sense of achievement.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I am a single mother of three children and, in the rare moments that I allow some self-congratulation, I am amazed that I have held my sh*t together … raising them to be happy and self-confident, while pursuing an unconventional yet authentic career path, while living all over the world. Also publishing my book was a pretty big deal to me – it was a true labour of love.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I love mentoring and have done much mentoring over the years, both formal and informal. It gives me a real buzz to be able to support someone else. In fact, I am in the process of setting up a mentoring programme for women who want to work in sustainable finance.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Achieving gender equality sits at the core of my book, Financial Feminism. As the wonderful Gloria Steinem said, “We’ll never solve the feminization of power until we solve the masculinity of wealth.” We have our work cut out to get to there. But my core argument is that financial feminism is not simply financial equality, with women earning and investing on a par with men. In fact, it is much more than this – it is about empowering women to use their wealth to drive positive societal and environmental change. Money is a lever of change and I want to help women access this lever and use it to express their values and help build the world in which they want to live.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t listen to the negative voices, both inside and outside your head.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The climate change clock is ticking very loudly, and I worry incessantly that we are simply not doing enough. So, I see this as a priority for where I want to use my time and energy. I have quite a unique perspective in that I understand global and regional dynamics, having experienced so many different countries and cultures. I want to use this to help progress the climate conversation, particularly in the Middle East, utilising my knowledge and expertise in the finance and investing space. To get to where we need, we must move trillions of dollars towards supporting the low carbon transition – this is a huge challenge, but I am totally game!
And of course, I want to continue my work on financial feminism, working more and more with women who want to invest sustainably. We are really gathering momentum, building a movement that brings together a sisterhood of passionate and daring women who are calling on the finance industry to do better.
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