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The Italian Strategic Fund -CDP Equity: Structure and Future

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The “Italian Strategic Fund” (FSI) was established on July 28, 2011, with the then Economy Minister, Giulio Tremonti, and with the collaboration of the Treasury Director General, Vittorio Grilli, under the chairmanship of Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), led at the time by Franco Bassanini, as well as with the support of CDP’s CEO, Giovanni GornoTempini.

 From the outset, like many but not all the several Strategic Funds existing in the world, the FSI has been a holding company with the primary aim of supporting strategic Italian companies.

 Strategic companies in terms of products, important for processes, decisive for technologies, essential for Italy’s cutting-edge technologies, like the Defence companies.

In this case, what does it really mean to be a “strategic company”?

The various schools of thought diverge on this point, but we could find a good definition by recalling that strategic companies are those essential for the medium-long term planning of the major and most promising sector of Italy’s industrial system.

 The idea of the FSI was also to favour the maximum efficiency of some companies and, in particular, to stimulate the enhancement  of their ability to “compete” at international level.

Initially, the FSI share capital was ridiculously low, i.e. one billion Euros, which rose almost immediately to 4 billion Euros.

However, in the initial projects and still today, the company’s endowment could have reached 7 billion Euros. Probably still too little.

Like all the similar funds currently operating in the world today, the Italian Strategic Fund is targeted to sound companies which, however, need a new capital injection.

Certainly, unlike before the great technological revolution of the Web and of logistic telecommunications, it is currently hard to speak about “national champions” as we had at the time of Renault or Fiat or, possibly, Autostrade.

Nowadays, with the Global Value Chains (GVCs), it is even hard to identify the direct nationality of products that we all consider characteristic and typical of a given nation.

With a view to understanding GVCs, we need to think above all about the geographical distribution of companies. All small and medium-sized enterprises. The other less known side of Schumacher’s “small is beautiful”.

 In the classic model of “delayed development”, which was generally accepted until the 1970s, the shift of the global production centre from the EU and the USA to Asia was interpreted only as the creation of a structural dependence of the non-Western peripheries on the Eurasian production centre.

The Marxist derivation of this model was Arghiri Emmanuel’s brilliant theory of unequal exchange, also developed in the early 1960s.

That was the origin of the theory of the world division between “rich” and “poor” countries. Currently, however, with the evident presence of world overproduction (and of financial securities to cover it) at the origin of the present economic crisis, since 2016there has been a tendency to think, instead, that there is an even more heuristic model, called “compressed development”.

Compressed development would be a criterion that puts at the centre of its interest the heterogeneity of the individual countries participating in the Global Value Chains, thus also taking into account the extraordinary difference in power of the large multinational companies compared to the infinite “peripheral” and often non-Western SMEs.

Hence the SMEs as essential factors of the new international division of labour, but depending on a higher system of GVC managers that is a cartel in individual sectors and a political and industrial agreement between different sectors.

Hence, while it is true that the highest value-added segments tend to still remain in the old Euro-American centre – although China is currently showing us a different strategy – it is equally true that a model explaining Global Value Chains with the old criterion of “comparative advantages” and asymmetry between centre and periphery no longer stands the test of time.

Hence what is the national economic interest? It is currently hard to answer this question.

 We are partially helped by Hecksler-Ohlin’s theory stating that a “nation mainly exports goods requiring factors of production it has in abundance (labour, specialized technology, capital) and that it can most efficiently and plentifully produce”.

Therefore, the share of comparative advantages stems from the composition of its primary production formula, which is selected by the global competition of SMEs compared to those who monopolistically control global chains. It also stems from the  national governments’ ability to create temporary advantages in GVCs, resulting from the definition of specific strategies and the “joint” approach of private companies.

This is currently Italy’s productive point.

 To bring some of Italy’s big national champions into the  geopolitical rather than economic oligopoly of the global companies leading the main Global Value Chains, so as to later organize the “voluntary” mechanisms that permit the hegemony of Italian SMEs in the various sectoral markets.

Recently my friend Paolo Savona has spoken about the “return of the  State as master”, but the future will enable us to have only two real forms of control of global value chains: either with a top-down approach, by producing universal enterprises that lead the chains, or with a bottom-up approach, by organizing the groups of SMEs that prevail – with public and private support – over their competitors in the division created by GVCs.

 However, all the latest statistical analyses show us that in the Euro area countries there have been massive and now excessive share transfers of State entities, as well as liberalisations, often of goods and services which are – even in the free-trade and liberal economic tradition – “natural monopolies”, but with a significant slowdown in share transfers and divestments, which in Italy, France and Germany started as early as the early 2000s.

Furthermore, Ronald Reagan – the politician epitomizing the free-trade and liberal revival – had not at all cut public spending in general, but had cut the traditional spending for civilian Welfare, with a view to favouring his specific military Welfare.

  A deficit military spending, which had no immediate inflationary repercussions, but rather acted as a technological stimulus for innovation, also in civilian enterprises.

Without “inclusive institutions”, however, i.e. without stable public organizations enabling sufficient segments of the population to have access to some wealth, all modern States tend to be relegated to be failed States, thus becoming easy prey for their structural and global geoeconomic opponents – and even at the lowest possible cost.

 This is what – inter alia – Sovereign Funds are for.

 In fact, they ensure the public or semi-public ownership of the enterprises that a State and a society choose – moment by moment – to guide their economic and social future in the medium-long term.

Hence the Sovereign Funds must be protected from the raids of possible and real competitors. Raids are continuous, while growth projects are temporary.

It should be recalled that in Gilpin’s opinion, the “aim of economic activities is to provide benefits to consumers, not to strengthen the State security”.

 But the State security is also a primary asset, which allows to quickly eliminate adverse geoeconomic actions and hence avoid  the immediate colonization of the development potential of a State and of a society.

Edward Luttwakhas also rigthly said that any economic globalization is always strategically dangerous, since it inevitably leads to what he calls “paroxysmal competition”, which is an inevitable feature of turbo-capitalism: a very rapid increase in the size and speed of trade, always combined with post-Cold War globalization, which does not accept any geographical limit to its expansion.

 If turbo-capitalism stops, it immediately melts away under the sun of value realization.

The excessive trade speed mimics its actual productivity and the size of trade sometimes masks its very low value which, however, is maintained thanks to excessive speed, which does not allow the rational and technical assessment of risks.

Hence, against the Hobbesian state of bellum omnium contra omnes typical of turbo-capitalism, which usually does not sufficiently invest in product or process innovation, we need to  think of two solutions, called the State of Economic Intelligence or the Geoeconomic State.

 Paolo Savona and Carlo Jean have spoken of the ever-increasing role of economic intelligence, which should become the axis of every modern State’s economic, financial and productive choices.

 Without Sovereign Funds, however, there is no economic intelligence.

Hence we need to firmly keep a sector, at least one, which is comparatively very advanced,  but above all export-led, and which is also protected with all the non-tariff mechanisms that are now commonly used in everyday economic warfare.

This is the reason why, for at least five years all the major Western countries have been rethinking their old deindustrialization and delocalization policies, which often deprive societies and States of the necessary systems for controlling global, financial and productive flows. Not to mention the fiscal deprivation and over-costs for maintaining structural unemployment.

In the evolution of the most recent international trade theory, we have even gone so far as to develop a Strategic Trade Theory, a model underlining the companies’ and State’s ability to improve the trade balance by working strategically -i.e. in the medium-long term – in imperfect global markets.

The oligopolistic markets are always those where leading products or services are developed, usually with public investment in Research and Development.

 This is the true nature of the Keynesian model: the State funds  what is not yet profitable, but the private sector deals mainly with “mature” or growing companies, which have already found their market.

 Hence we also need the theory of the Innovating State, i.e. the Entrepreneurial State, recently developed by Mariana Mazzuccato.

 The State imagined by Mazzuccato explores the whole scenario of business risk, thus creating above all new markets. In particular, the State creates the markets in which we need to have strong investment in situations of maximum uncertainty, thus acting as a risk taker and hence later as a market shaper.

 The “Administrative State” is a public administration “serving” private individuals, but the Entrepreneurial-Innovating State is the one that does not make the unemployed people dig the classic Keynesian holes, in the inevitable periods of production contraction, which is above all – Marxistically – tendential over-production.

 But, if anything, the Entrepreneurial-Innovating State invests in new high-quality technologies, which create original markets where, in fact, the Entrepreneurial State controls the future oligopoly. Another role of Sovereign Funds.

Technically, however, the Funds are investment funds which manage financial asset portfolios denominated in foreign currencies, according to the global rules of what we currently call the grey economy.

In theory, the Funds are divided between those which invest resources coming from raw materials or oil and gas (SWF Commodity) and all the others which, instead, invest surpluses coming from the currency surpluses of the trade balances.

 This is clearly our case.

 According to the “Santiago Principles”, a code for Sovereign Funds developed based on the International Monetary Fund’s indications, the Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) are “special purpose” investment funds owned by national governments.

 Therefore, SWFs have five primary characteristics: a) they are always held by a Sovereign State; b) they make investment in foreign currency; c) they carry out their activities over a long term, with low indebtedness and without withdrawals or distribution of profit to participants; d) their accounting is strictly separate from that of Central Banks and Finance Ministries; e) they carry out research for investment with returns above the risk-free rate.

 The first real Sovereign Funds were the Kuwait Investment Authority, created in 1953, to obviously invest the capital originating from the extraction and sale of local oil, as well as the old Revenue Equalization Reverse Fund, set up by the British administration of the then colony of the Gilbert Islands, the current Republic of Kiribati, to invest the surplus from the sale of phosphates.

 The secret agreement between Kissinger and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, after the Yom Kippur war, later channelled the extraordinary surpluses stemming from the very significant increase in the OPEC oil barrel price into US government bonds. Hence petrodollars were created.

 In the phase following the booming prices of some fundamental raw materials when, in fact, oil prices plunged, namely in the 1980s, the Sovereign Funds became the primary instrument for diversifying investment and hence for the financial stability of the countries producing raw materials (or commercial surpluses) which had already adopted them.

From then until 2005, the Sovereign Funds became the main instrument, for Asian countries in particular, to accumulate and use the foreign currency reserves arriving in the Asian countries which were more export-led and more linked to the US dollar cycle.

 To avoid having to resort to the often dangerous therapies of the International Monetary Fund, especially when the global reference currency fell, the top Asian export-led countries combined their industrial expansion policies with specific exchange rate policies, which tended to accumulate very large foreign currency funds.

 Obviously that happened only to avoid the manipulation of  currency markets in a condition of objective weakness created by an exclusively export-oriented economy – with exports to countries having a very strong currency.

In 1978 the SWF Temasek, the “historic” Singapore investment fund, came up with the idea of using Sovereign Funds for that purpose.

Temasek invested its considerable surpluses in the acquisition of companies and financial holdings in the Asian area directly bordering on Singapore, thus making the city-State – which was also the first model for Deng Xiaping’s Four Modernizations –  overcome its structural limits, thus protecting it from enemy and adverse operations on its exchange rates and on its productive system.

 Finally, from the beginning of the great subprime crisis, the Funds have spread mainly in the so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and also in some “First World” countries, especially to acquire minority shareholdings or to carry out hostile takeover operations towards competitors or potential penetrators of their national markets, possibly even with dumping actions –  and it would not be the first time.

 In 2020 SWFs are supposed to reach, worldwide, an amount of managed assets of approximately 15 trillion US dollars.

 75% of the capital managed by the Funds is currently concentrated on the top 10 operators. Obviously the SWF market is highly oligopolistic and the top 10 operators are now all Middle East or Asian entities.

The history of modern European Sovereign Funds began with  Sarkozy’s Presidency in France.

As early as 2008, the French centre-right leader set up the Fond Strategiqued’ Investissement (Strategic Investment Fund), based on two already existing financial structures, namely the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations(the State Bank handling official deposits, which is the equivalent of the prominent Italian investment bank known as Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) and the Fond de Réserve pour les Retraites(Pension Reserve Fund), with capitalisations – at the time – of 80 and 33.8 billion Euros respectively.

However, 51% of the new French Sovereign Fund was owned by the Caisse des Dépôts and the remaining 49% by the Agence des Participations d’État (Government Shareholding Agency).

 The aim of the Fund created by Sarkozy was to invest mainly in French and foreign small and medium-sized enterprises, characterized by strong growth but having no longer access to standard market financing (although we do not know why).

The French Fund also set in when the company was overtly  threatened by a hostile takeover, or any acquisition, by foreign companies.

 The French Fund could also intervene directly in the capital of innovative industries.

 As early as 2008, however, the Italian intelligence Services have focused on the very strong need to protect the national know-how, considering that the operational plans of other Sovereign Funds interested in Italy could be useful for acquiring specific technologies.

 It has already happened: in the machine tools, agri-food,  specialized pharmaceutics and fine mechanics sectors, Italy’s top large SMEs have already been acquired by French, German and Chinese companies.

In their report to Parliament in 2010, the Italian intelligence Services already spoke of a “liquidity threat” to Italy’s companies.

The foreign private equity funds, in fact, are mainly targeted to banking, biotechnology, energy, entertainment and even online gaming companies.

Currently, however, the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti has two instruments to support companies, especially the technologically advanced ones: the Italian Strategic Fund – now CDP Private Equity – and the Italian Investment Fund.

The latter was launched in 2010, with the collaboration of some private banks, and – as usual – it is targeted primarily to small and medium-sized enterprises.

It has two operating structures: the Venture Capital Fund for innovative start-ups and the Minibond Fund, which supports the bond issues of small and medium-sized enterprises.

 The Italian Strategic Fund – 90% of which is held by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti(CDP) and the remaining 10% by FINTECNA, which is in any case fully owned by CDP – was launched in 2011 with a capital of 4.4 billion Euros and, as already mentioned, rose to 7 billion Euros.

However, why setting limits?

The Italian Strategic Fund was born with a negative experience to be made good, considering that those were the years of the takeovers for Parmalat, which had just been redressed financially, and for Bulgari, not to mention the future and possible “friendly” sales – well hyped by the Italian media- of Alitalia and Edison.

 The Italian Strategic Fund dealt mainly with medium-large companies having “significant national interest”, while, from the beginning, it created strong ties with Qatar Holding, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Korea Investment Corporation.

 Moreover, in 2012 the Italian Strategic Fund signed an agreement with Qatar Holding LLC for the creation of a joint venture, called IQ Made in Italy Venture, to invest in the typical Made in Italy companies.

 The idea, which has not yet fully materialized, was to create a “luxury district”.

 The Maastricht restrictions on the so-called “State aid” always make it difficult for the Italian Strategic Fund to operate. It would possibly need an arm abroad, capable of operating on our companies without EU constraints. It would also be necessary to deem it legitimate for the Italian Strategic Fund to invest in companies of significant national interest, but regardless of the average return on the capital invested in the medium term.

 Therefore, unlike the old twentieth century economic statism, the Italian Strategic Fund invests in healthy companies and it plays -quietly and without nervousness – the role of minority shareholder. It also follows the private criteria of investment profitability and efficiency and does not follow the natural distortions, often originated by public entities, but also by powerful private entities, to manipulate production formulas and intermediate markets.

 Hence rethinking and expanding the Fund’s operations, or possibly creating specific areas of intervention for the Fund,  would be an excellent evolution of the fundamental policy lines on which the Italian Strategic Fund was conceived.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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2022: Rise of Economic Power of Small Medium Businesses across the World

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Why mirrors of the Wall: To fight obesity a life-sized mirror required, to uplift the national economy a simple calculator is a critical necessity. Only, right amounts in right columns, correctly totaled show a balanced picture. In the coming days, pandemic will become endemic; the same day, all over the world, nations will suddenly start announcing economic pandemic. Observe, lingering global economic chaos still masked hiding a troubled face.  As a proof, observe the absence of bold open economic strategies or real action plans.

Why lead, follow or get out of the way: Our hyper-digitized world has now openly exposed; meritocracy-centric and mediocrity-driven nations. In this global race, no nations are the same; but rules of engagement on productivity, performance and profitability and entrepreneurial behaviors are almost identical. If economic survival to save nations is critical, still why in most nations the tasks of economic development mandated to teams critically lacking the required entrepreneurial and job creator mindsets. Nations with mastery on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism will lead; others may follow or get out of the way.

Why the two wheels: What will it take for nations to immediately start upskilling their front line economic development teams on a fast track basis. How can they create real SME growth, teach the teams on real tactical battlefields to wrestle, and harness real entrepreneurialism. Otherwise, repeating already broken models under crypto-illusions speaks volume on core competency. A great future is unfolding for job seeker and job creator minds must come together as two wheels of the same cart on national economic development.

Why the wrong building: Study, why are ‘population-rich-nations’ growing in economic prosperity much faster than ‘knowledge rich nations’?  Why, if you bifurcate ‘developed nations’ and ‘emerging-nations’ the emerging nations are advancing much faster. Now, when you apply a basic calculator, the ‘SME of any nation’ in the world will save the national economies but not the ‘big-business of the nation’. Study more on Google, discover the reasons, and acquire your own knowledge on such new affairs. Most importantly, if these topics still not openly discussed in your surroundings you are already in the wrong building.

Why the triangulation: To triangulate, the mastery of ‘national mobilization of entrepreneurialism’ with national SME verticals and exportability will outline the blueprints to save national economies.  How will the rise of the small medium business economy not only create local grassroots prosperity but also make national citizenry happy and stable.

Why the needed adjustments: Understanding of local economic landscape; traditionally, despite being a small tax contributor, big business is allowed to stomp all over its own government, while the SME sector, the largest tax contributor of any nation, is crushed and neglected. Technology is changing this fast, SME of the world now have the tools once only available to large empires, global access reserved for large scale maneuvers now a new digitized world of micro-trade, micro-manufacturer and micro-exports will create a new tidal wave of global commerce.

Why the absence of calculator: What is stopping any political leadership to declare national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and identify IK to 1000K SME with USD$1 million to USD$10 million in annual turnover, on digital platforms of upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers and double or quadruple their growth in 1-2 years. Is it the absence of a calculator, domination of job seekers and non-entrepreneurial mindsets, or hidden fears of big business not allowing such massive uplift? The near future calls for digitized economies and upskilled citizenry, as basic perquisites for any functioning nation.

Why fears of the pie: Hence, the tremors in the global boardrooms and still little or no response on uplifting the tides of SME in various corresponding verticals around the world, for fears of upsetting the top leaders. Ask the big forbidden questions; why will super big players ever allow the emergence of many millions sleek, technologically advanced and global-age skilled SME to grow to only chip away their own power play and half of their pie? It may be true in some regions, but there are grassroots benefits in such advancements provided there are right mindsets and matching vision of the nation.

Why the two new forces: Hence, there exists the low-level mediocre SME economic development across the world, where lip service fills the gaps and academic studies create colorful charts and circles to point confusion and trade groups comply to remain in deep silence. The SME of the world will rise in economic power, across the world as a new world dawns. The power is already hidden in two unstoppable forces; first the technology and second the global connectivity of opinions and knowledge. Both combined now allows some 500 million SME to organize and billions displaced rejecting cubical slavery drawn into out the box entrepreneurialism. It is the easiest time across the world to dance on entrepreneurial platforms.

Why history repeats: On the course of history, no other experiment of human journey is as successful as that of Americans and how when some 100K entrepreneurs carved the image-supremacy of entrepreneurialism to last well over a century. During the same period in Europe and Asia followers of such out of the box thinkers were not only rejected by society, but also jailed as a liability to society. Nations must identify and create an ‘umbrella of entrepreneurialism’ to preserve and respect the drivers and proponents of such intellectualism and avoid such notions caught in fakery. Today Asia alone has created 500 million new entrepreneurs during the last decade. Ignoring this by any nation in the world  will simply sink them.

Why the alpha dreamers: The five billion connected alpha dreamers have learned new lessons during the last 500 days; they witnessed the handling of pandemic and are now ready to study the unfolding of global economic pandemic. They realize the serious limitations of old style administrations, the inequalities, the injustice and lack of skills to cope with futurism. Covidians, the survivors of the pandemic, now vote in some 100 national elections scheduled over the next 500 days. A new way of thinking is emerging. Every day the global news increasingly focused on self-inflicted disasters and absence of corrective new measures to advance for better grassroots prosperity.

Why the next elections: Any naivety on ignoring this post pandemic metamorphism will backfire during next national elections. The national public opinion has now turned into global opinion; the populace of one country supporting the populace of another country for being under influences of the populace in a third or fourth country. Last decade our local streets molded public opinion; today global streets are doing just that. Deeply study how five billion connected slowly are forming the largest mindshare ever assembled. How all this does translates to local/global issues and what level of expertise needed to tackle bigger issues.

Why the soft power assets: The biggest losses of the nations of today are not at all their accumulated debts but continuously having greater losses of missed opportunities on the global stage. The lack of inability to recognize the soft power of a nation today is way above just the notion of culture, politics and foreign policy; it is far more extended and about nation-building, upskilling citizenry and pursuing common good.

Why broken systems: When tax laws are universally broken,universally criticized but universally remain unchanged; when there is no single supreme power left as all deemed declared useless, therefore, this calls for a major change but not from the very top rather grows from the very bottom. When economic progress remains as number one priority, why is it that only job seekers drive such economic development programs while job creator mindsets are critically ignored? Bringing both mindsets closer as a mandated agenda will bring hidden magic to the goals.

Why the deep silence: Quick test on your local economic resilience: right now, what parts of such narratives are your local governments openly engaging and deploying?  What types and styles of small medium business mobilization are on the go?  What level of entrepreneurialism drives ever created under what agenda?  What is happening to upskilling and reskilling including women entrepreneurial drives? What level of authoritative analysis on the table to upskill current economic development teams?  If most of these issues are often not new funding dependent but mobilization hungry and execution starved, why are economic development teams so scared? Is your local economy prospering? Maybe you are already far ahead. Study on Google how Expothon is gaining global attention and tabling Cabinet Level workshops and virtual events on revival of the SME power as an immediately deployable strategy to save and uplift national economies. 

Why fears of facing clarity: Is this why economic development teams are so afraid?  Will such ideas alter government agencies and their mandates in the future? Is this how Meritocracy will drive out Bureaucracies? Is this where the new future of economic prosperity hidden? Is this how we will advance to catch up with lost time and opportunities?  Is this how nations will finally optimize already hidden talents in their national trade groups, chambers and governments to full capacity? Is this how we will eventually open new bold discussions on distribution of right intellectualism to fit the right needs of humankind?

Suddenly, how far has our world moved on; bandaged, stitched and altered in thinking, psyche damaged but still aware of common sense. Our understanding of humanity is perhaps now in search of common good. To liberate itself from strangle of old thinking, the SME economic development world urgently needs major adjustments to bring balance between job seeker mindsets with job creator mindsets. Start immediately with a quick test across the economic development departments and measure such imbalances. Study more on Google. The rest is easy.

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Can e-commerce help save the planet?

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If you have logged onto Google Flights recently, you might have noticed a small change in the page’s layout. Alongside the usual sortable categories, like price, duration, and departure time, there is a new field: CO2 emissions.

Launched in October 2021, the column gives would-be travellers an estimate of how much carbon dioxide they will be responsible for emitting.

“When you’re choosing among flights of similar cost or timing, you can also factor carbon emissions into your decision,” wrote Google’s Vice President of Travel Products, Richard Holden.

Google is part of a wave of digital companies, including Amazon, and Ant Financial, encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices by offering eco-friendly filter options, outlining the environmental impact of products, and leveraging engagement strategies used in video games.

Experts say these digital nudges can help increase awareness about environmental threats and the uptake of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   

“Our consumption practices are putting tremendous pressure on the planet, driving climate change, stoking pollution and pushing species towards extinction,” says David Jensen, Digital Transformation Coordinator with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“We need to make better decisions about the things we buy and trips we take,” he added. “These green digital nudges help consumers make better decisions as well as collectively drive businesses to adopt sustainable practices through consumer pressure.”

Global reach

At least 1.5 billion people consume products and services through e-commerce platforms, and global e-commerce sales reached US$26.7 trillion in 2019, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report.

Meanwhile, 4.5 billion people are on social media and 2.5 billion play online games. These tallies mean digital platforms could influence green behaviors at a planetary scale, says Jensen.

One example is UNEP-led Playing for the Planet Alliance, which places green activations in games. UNEP’s Little Book of Green Nudges has also led to more than 130 universities piloting 40 different nudges to shift behaviour.

A 2020 study by Globescan involving many of the world’s largest retailers found that seven out of 10 consumers want to become more sustainable. However, only three out of 10 have been able to change their lifestyles.

E-commerce providers can help close this gap.

“The algorithms and filters that underpin e-commerce platforms must begin to nudge sustainable and net-zero products and services by default,” said Jensen. “Sustainable consumption should be a core part of the shopping experience empowering people to make choices that align with their values.”

Embedding sustainability in tech

Many groups are trying to leverage this opportunity to make the world a more sustainable place.

The Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA), launched by Ant Group and UNEP, aims to enhance financing for sustainable development through digital platforms and fintech applications. It launched the Every Action Counts Coalition, a global network of digital, financial, retail investment, e-commerce and consumer goods companies. The coalition aims to help 1 billion people make greener choices and take action for the planet by 2025 through online tools and platforms.

We will bring like-minded members together to experiment with new innovative business models that empower everyone to become a green digital champion,” says Marianne Haahr, GDFA Executive Director.

In one example, GDFA member Mastercard, in collaboration with the fintech company Doconomy, provides shoppers with a personalized carbon footprint tracker to inform their spending decisions.

In the UK, Mastercard is partnering with HELPFUL to offer incentives for purchasing products from a list of over 150 sustainable brands.

Mobile apps like Ant Forest, by Ant Group, are also using a combination of incentives and digital engagement models to urge 600 million people make sustainable choices. Users are rewarded for low-carbon decisions through green energy points they can use to plant real trees. So far, the Ant Forest app has resulted in 122 million trees being planted, reducing carbon emissions by over 6 million tons.

Three e-commerce titans are also aiming to support greener lifestyles. Amazon has adopted the Climate Pledge Friendly initiative to help at least 100 million people find climate-friendly products that carry at least one of 32 different environmental certifications.

SAP’s Ariba platform is the largest digital business-to-business network on the planet. It has also embraced the idea of “procuring with purpose,” offering a detailed look at corporate supply chains so potential partners can assess the social, economic and environmental impact of transactions.

“Digital transformation is an opportunity to rethink how our business models can contribute to sustainability and how we can achieve full environmental transparency and accountability across our entire value chain,” said SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Daniel Schmid.

UNEP’s Jensen says a crucial next step would be for mobile phone operating systems to adopt standards that would allow apps to share environment and carbon footprint information.

“This would enable people to seamlessly calculate their footprints across all applications to develop insights and change behaviours,” Jensen said. “Everyone needs access to an individual’ environmental dashboard’ to truly understand their impact and options for more sustainable living.”

Need for common standards

As platforms begin to encode sustainability into their algorithms and product recommendations, common standards are needed to ensure reliability and public trust, say experts. 

Indeed, many online retailers are claiming to do more for the environment than they actually are. A January analysis by the European Commission and European national consumer authorities found that in 42 per cent, sustainability claims were exaggerated or false.

To help change that, UNEP serves as the secretariat of the One Planet network, a global community of practitioners, policymakers and experts that encourages sustainable consumption and production.

In November, the One Planet network issued guidance material for e-commerce platforms that outlines how to better inform consumers and enable more sustainable consumption, based on 10 principles from UNEP and the International Trade Centre.

The European Union is also pioneering core standards for digital sustainability through digital product passports that contain relevant information on a product’s origin, composition, environmental and carbon performance.

“Digital product passports will be an essential tool to strengthen consumer protection and increase the level of trust and rigour to environmental performance claims,” says Jensen. “They are the next frontier on the pathway to planetary sustainability in the digital age.”

UNEP

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2022: Small Medium Business & Economic Development Errors

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Calling Michelangelo: would Michelangelo erect a skyscraper or can an architect liberate David from a rock of marble? When visibly damaged are the global economies, already drowning their citizenry, how can their economic development departments in hands of those who never ever created a single SME or ran a business, expect anything else from them other than lingering economic agonies?

The day pandemic ends; immediately, on the next day, the panic on the center stage would be the struggling economies across the world.  On the small medium business economic fronts, despite, already accepted globally, as the largest tax contributor to any nation. Visible worldwide, already abandoned and ignored without any specific solutions, there is something strategically wrong with upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers or the building growth of small medium business economies. The SME sectors in most nations are in serious trouble but are their economic development rightly balanced?   

Matching Mindsets: Across the world, hard working citizens across the world pursue their goals and some end up with a job seeker mindset and some job creator mindset; both are good. Here is a globally proven fact; job seekers help build enterprises but job creators are the ones who create that enterprise in the first place. Study in your neighborhoods anywhere across the world and discover the difference.

Visible on LinkedIn: Today, on the SME economic development fronts of the world, clearly visible on their LinkedIn profiles, the related Ministries, mandated government departments, trade-groups, chambers, trade associations and export promotion agencies are primarily led by job seeker mindsets and academic or bureaucratic mentality. Check all this on LinkedIn profiles of economic development teams anywhere across the world.

Will jumbo-pilots do heart transplant, after all, economic performance depends on matching right competency; Needed today, post pandemic economic recovery demands skilled warriors with mastery of national mobilization to decipher SME creation and scalability of diversified SME verticals on digital platforms of upskilling for global age exportability. This fact has hindered any serious progress on such fronts during the last decade. The absence of any significant progress on digitization, national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of exportability are clear proofs of a tragically one-sided mindset.

Is it a cruise holiday, or what? Today, the estimated numbers of all frontline economic development team members across 200 nations are roughly enough to fill the world-largest-cruise-ship Symphony that holds 6200 guests. If 99.9% of them are job-seeker mindsets, how can the global economic development fraternity sleep tonight? As many billion people already rely on their performances, some two billion in a critical economic crisis, plus one billion starving and fighting deep poverty. If this is what is holding grassroots prosperity for the last decade, when will be the best time to push the red panic button? 

The Big Fallacy of “Access to Finance” Notion: The goals of banking and every major institution on over-fanaticized notions of intricate banking, taxation are of little or no value as SME of the world are not primarily looking for “Access to Capital” they are rather seeking answers and dialogue with entrepreneurial job creator mindsets. SME management and economic development is not about fancy PDF studies of recycled data and extra rubber stamps to convince that lip service is working. No, it is not working right across the world.

SME are also not looking for government loans. They do not require expensive programs offered on Tax relief, as they make no profit, they do not require free financial audits, as they already know what their financial problems are and they also do that require mechanical surveys created by bureaucracies asking the wrong questions. This is the state of SME recovery and economic development outputs and lingering of sufferings.

SME development teams across the world now require mandatory direct SME ownership experiences

The New Hypothesis 2022: The new hypothesis challenges any program on the small medium business development fronts unless in the right hands and right mindsets they are only damaging the national economy. Upon satisfactory research and study, create right equilibrium and bring job seeker and job creator mindsets to collaborate for desired results. As a start 50-50, balances are good targets, however, anything less than 10% active participation of the job creator mindset at any frontline mandated SME Ministry, department, agency or trade groups automatically raises red flags and is deemed ineffective and irrelevant. 

The accidental economists: The hypothesis, further challenges, around the world, economic institutes of sorts, already, focused on past, present and future of local and global economy. Although brilliant in their own rights and great job seekers, they too lack the entrepreneurial job creator mindsets and have no experience of creating enterprises at large. Brilliantly tabulating data creating colorful illustrative charts, but seriously void of specific solutions, justifiably as their profession rejects speculations, however, such bodies never ready to bring such disruptive issues in fear of creating conflicts amongst their own job seeker fraternities. The March of Displaced cometh, the cries of the replaced by automation get louder, the anger of talented misplaced by wrong mindsets becomes visible. Act accordingly

The trail of silence: Academia will neither, as they know well their own myopic job seeker mindset. In a world where facial recognition used to select desired groups, pronouns to right gatherings, social media to isolate voting, but on economic survival fronts where, either print currency or buy riot gears or both, a new norm; unforgiveable is the treatment of small medium business economies and mishmash support of growth. Last century, laborious and procedural skills were precious, this century surrounded by extreme automation; mindsets are now very precious.  

Global-age of national mobilization: Start with a constructive open-minded collaborative narrative, demonstrate open courage to allow entrepreneurial points of views heard and critically analyze ideas on mobilization of small mid size business economies. Applying the same new hypotheses across all high potential contributors to SME growth, like national trade groups, associations and chambers as their frontline economic developers must also balance with the job creator mindset otherwise they too become irrelevant. Such ideas are not just criticism rather survival strategies. Across the world, this is a new revolution to arm SME with the right skills to become masters of trade and exports, something abandoned by their economic policies. To further discuss or debate at Cabinet Level explore how Expothon is making footprints on new SME thinking and tabling new deployment strategies. Expothon is also planning a global series of virtual events to uplift SME economies in dozens of selected nations.

Two wheels of the same cart: Silence on such matters is not a good sign. Address candidly; allow both mindsets to debate on how and why as the future becomes workless and how and why small medium business sectors can become the driving engine of new economic progress. Job seekers and job creators are two wheels of the same cart; right assembly will take us far on this economic growth passage. Face the new global age with new confidence. Let the nation witness leadership on mobilization of entrepreneurialism and see a tide of SME growth rise. The rest is easy.

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