Morgan Stanley
  • Institute for Sustainable Investing

Refugee ETF Wins 2020 Sustainable Investing Challenge

The team from NYU’s Stern School of Business and Wagner School of Public Service proposed a novel ETF designed to facilitate the economic integration of refugees.

The Refugee ETF team secured the top prize with their proposal to help drive the economic integration of refugees, while the SWEEPCO Bonds team finished a close second with their municipal green bond proposal that would upgrade material recovery facilities to help increase recycling rates and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The SeaLess Plastic team won a special award for their proposal for a private debt and equity fund to help reduce plastic waste.

The 2020 Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge represents a special moment in the competition’s history. Not only does it celebrate 10 years of capacity-building and financial innovation, but it also marks the first-ever all-virtual Challenge finals. Despite the unprecedented public-health measures adopted to fight the pandemic, all of our finalists persevered, delivering some of the most ambitious sustainable investing proposals yet.

“This year’s Sustainable Investing Challenge winners embodied the very essence of what the competition is all about,” said Audrey Choi, CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Investing at Morgan Stanley and a judge of the Challenge. “As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clearer than ever before that innovative financial solutions like Refugee ETF and SeaLess Plastic have an essential role to play in addressing our most difficult global challenges.”

Refugee ETF Wins the Day

The winning team of graduate students from New York University’s Stern School of Business and Wagner School of Public Service, respectively, captivated the judges with their Refugee ETF proposal. The team presented their exchange-traded fund as the first retail investment product designed to help drive the economic integration of refugees by creating an investable global index comprising listed companies with robust refugee-focused policies and initiatives. The team explained that the ETF would screen for companies that support refugees through hiring and supply chains policies, support for entrepreneurs and education and skills development practices.

The SWEEPCO Bonds team from Columbia Business School put up stiff competition, winning the runner-up prize for its innovative municipal green proposal. SWEEPCO Bonds proposed tapping the municipal green bond market to help upgrade material recovery facilities, increase plastic recycling rates and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We knew we were on to something special when we launched the Challenge in 2011, but we never could have imagined how far we’d come in the last 10 years,” said David Chen, Professor of Finance at the Kellogg School of Management, CEO of Equilibrium Capital and founder of the Sustainable Investing Challenge. “This year’s finalists were undaunted by the exceptional circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and rose to the occasion with truly inspiring proposals. These students are the financial leaders of the future. Their ingenuity, ambition and optimism provides sorely needed hope in such uncertain times.”

Seaweed to Reduce Plastic Waste

Judges also praised the SeaLess Plastic team for its proposal to help reduce plastic waste through investments in the seaweed-based bioplastics value chain. The team of graduate students from the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree Program received the inaugural “plastic prize” for its innovative private debt and equity fund. Morgan Stanley provided the additional prize in support of the firm’s Plastic Waste Resolution to help prevent, reduce and remove 50 million metric tons of plastic waste from entering rivers, oceans, landscapes and landfills by 2030.

This year, 308 students from 56 different countries participated in the Challenge. They represent 74 graduate schools, with projects targeting impact in 34 countries. Volunteers from across the sustainable investing community participated as mentors and judges to help identify 12 teams to advance to the finals.

Judges reviewed finalists’ video presentations and participated in Q&A video calls with each team to winnow the field. Four teams advanced to the grand finale where they presented their proposals and took questions from judges over live video conference. After all four teams presented, judges reconnected over a separate video call to determine the winner, first runner up and plastics winner.