Consider the following quotes, factoids, and projections:
- "Nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere. The frustration is that we can’t seem to replicate (those solutions) anywhere else.” President Bill Clinton
- “Deploying solutions we have already invented represents the greatest wealth-creation opportunity of our lifetime and does not require government money, just government leadership.” Jiggar Shah
- “More than 60 per cent of the total area that is expected to be urban in 2030 remains to be built.” Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Vice President of Sustainability, Ericsson
- To accommodate the projected growth in emerging market urban population over the next 30 years, the equivalent of 60 new New York Cities will have to be built from scratch.
- According to a recent World Bank report, “[f]inancing the long-term needs of cities in a rapidly urbanizing world” will require $1 trillion a year “to bridge the infrastructure gap between what is needed and what is being built today in eveloping countries."
- 75% of the urban infrastructure that will be in place by 2050 does not yet exist.
What does all of this mean for your work as impact investors?
Over the next 30 years, the relentless march of urbanization and emergence of new disruptive technologies will radically transform the shape of the global economy and the drivers of global growth. Most of the global population growth, purchasing power growth, GDP growth, and growth of urban and peri-urban areas will be concentrated in cities, especially in emerging markets. Meeting the ensuing demands for water, energy, food, health care, energy efficient buildings, and climate resilient investment in an economically and ecologically sustainable fashion will be a daunting challenge. But it can also be a dazzling opportunity -- an unparalleled business opportunity that can generate high returns for investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs in both developed and developing countries.
A peek over the technology horizon suggests we will not satisfy these demands by deploying the same technologies that were in vogue 20, 50, or 100 years ago. On the contrary, the exponential growth of disruptive technologies is likely to give rise to a wide range of unprecedented leapfrogging and retrofitting opportunities. Just as cell phone technology leapfrogged land line telephony, new proven technologies for off-grid, distributed power generation and drinking water purification, construction technology, and urban transportation will have profound effects on how urban services are supplied, financed, and organized into viable businesses.
Of course, the really interesting opportunities will emerge when leapfrogging and retrofitting opportunities inherent in disruptive, exponential technologies collide with the rapid growth of cities to generate the possibility of smart cities, the internet of things, 3D printing of buildings, water filters, and numerous other devices, big data, the cloud, etc.
The guiding questions for today’s discussion are:
- How can we organize and finance the profitable deployment at scale of existing, proven, disruptive technologies that can both retrofit older urban areas to make them more sustainable and help new rapidly growing areas develop sustainably by leapfrogging older generations of technology; and
- How can we make a profit (doing well) by financing sustainable urban development (doing good) in older urban areas and new, rapidly growing urban settlements in emerging markets?