RI Interview: Caisse des Depots and its Action Plan on Education

Helena Charrier explains how the French investment body is working to support SDG4

The 2030 Agenda requires governments to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into national plans and policies through “cohesive, nationally-owned sustainable development strategies, supported by integrated national financing frameworks.”

That means that Caisse des Depots, the investment arm of the French state, has had to think especially hard about supporting the SDGs. 

“We have been involved in discussions with the French Government about how a national SDG roadmap could look, and how we can make sure that our SDG strategies feed into that in the best way,” explains Helena Charrier, Deputy for Group Sustainability.

The first step has been for Caisse des Depots to identify “priority” SDGs, where the group can accelerate progress the most. One of those priorities is SDG4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (SDGs 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 13 are also covered).

“We are in the process of developing an action plan for each priority Goal,” she says. “It’s a two-year process, but it started with thinking about the impact we currently have on that SDG – at target level – and then working out with teams how we can improve that impact. [Then] we identified and formalised a list of priorities for each goal and developed a robust monitoring process to make sure that we are actually implementing the Action Plan within a reasonable timeframe.”

Charrier explains that all of the SDG Action Plans address four dimensions: 1) How the SDG can be better considered in investment decision making; 2) How it can be dealt with in shareholder engagement work; 3) How to increase thematic allocation to the Goal; and 4) How the internal functions of Caisse des Depots – HR, communications etc – can support it.

‘You can invest in companies that operate in education, you can finance real estate that supports the goal, and you can invest in your own, in-house training’

SDG4 is addressed through a number of Caisse des Depots’ divisions including banking, asset management and HR, looking at three areas: buildings, people and access to education.

“We start with buildings – with universities in particular needing renovations in France, in order to improve the working conditions of students,” says Charrier. As part of this, Caisse des Depots’ local banking division has been given a target to increase its lending to such projects to €2bn by 2024, “notably through dedicated loan products,” she explains, adding that “rates will be more attractive and accesses made simpler” for eligible borrowers.

Helena CharrierThe ‘people’ component of the group’s SDG4 action plan centres on training. Firstly, the Group’s pension and solidarity division operates a free platform, Moncompteformation, offering a wide variety of training to help France’s workforce develop or maintain professional skills. And in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19, which is likely to include higher unemployment among under 25s with no training, Caisse des Depots also plans to provide that demographic with access to 100,000 courses financed by the public system as part of the Action Plan.

And then there is its own workforce.  

“We have developed a target to train our workforce on ESG issues and the SDGs, in a collaboration between our asset management team, HR and our in-house CSR department,” says Charrier. The entire asset management team had two days of training dedicated to the SDGs and their integration into investment activities, for example, she explains.

Caisse des Depots is looking at access to education more widely, too. “This part is more comparable to what other institutional investors might be doing,” observes Charrier. “We will be increasing our asset allocation to French companies that operate in digital education, through our subsidiary, the French public investment bank, and to local digital education projects through the local bank division.”

Investments will target companies and projects that develop resilient and adaptable digital education tools, among others. The specifics will be agreed by the end of the year.

On external mandates, Charrier concedes that Caisse des Depots has less control over SDG alignment, but says that there is still a clear responsibility to promote the goals and to raise awareness with clients.

“A lot of what we are doing on education makes sense because we are a public body, so we have mandates and divisions that a lot of asset managers don’t have,” she says. “But this roadmap shows that SDG4 is relevant for the broader financial community too, because you can invest in companies that operate in education, you can finance real estate that supports the goal, and you can invest in your own, in-house training.”

All criteria and targets for Caisse des Depots SDG action plans are due to be published early next year.