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“The planet will only be safe if we involve the entire population”


“Diversity and inclusion are prerequisites if we are to solve the environmental issue. Today, more than half of the world’s population is not sufficiently involved in the solutions, when it is precisely this group that will suffer the most from extreme weather conditions,” said Thembeka Stemela Dagbo, fund manager at British firm M&G Investments.

As manager of the M&G (Lux) Diversity and Inclusion fund, Stemela Dagbo is mainly interested in the social component of ESG (Environment, Society and Governance) criteria. Many decision-makers and asset managers still approach these three criteria separately, but they are mistaken, believes Stemela Dagbo. “It is a mistake to separate the E and the S, because they are inseparably linked”she says.



“The most fragile populations do not have the necessary infrastructure to protect themselves against natural disasters.

According to Stemela Dagbo, the most fragile populations do not have the necessary infrastructure to protect themselves against natural disasters. “Look at what is happening in developing countries. These people – who represent half of the world’s population – are disproportionately affected by climate problems.. If we want to make progress at the environmental level, we must absolutely involve this part of the population. We cannot save the planet if half the population is not involved in the discussions. To solve one, you have to solve the other.”

You manage a fund focused on diversity and social inclusion. Is it easy to find companies that contribute their stone to the building?

We manage our fund following a dual approach. On the one hand, we rely on companies that are making progress on diversity. These are companies whose board of directors, management and staff are striving to improve in terms of diversity, both gender and ethnic origin. On the other hand, we are interested in companies that want to have an impact on diversitysuch as those active in products and services that contribute to greater social equality.

Can you cite some examples?

This is, for example,companies active in microfinance. They offer loans in developing countries to small entrepreneurs who, without them, would not have access to financing. Or telecommunications companies that install antennas to increase Internet accessibility for the population of these countries.

Where are companies on diversity and inclusion?

A study by index provider MSCI reveals that on the boards of the 1,500 largest companies in the world (MSCI World), 29% of directors are women. That’s it, but we can do better. Reporting can also improve, even if thehe European social taxonomy – i.e. the reporting rules that European companies must comply with – speeds up the process.

Do companies tend to pretend to improve when it comes to diversity?

Definitely. We still notice a lot of “greenwashing” in diversity reporting.



Boards of directors are often quite diverse, but if you dig in, you notice that this is not the case in companies as a whole.”

Boards of directors are often sufficiently diverse, but if you dig deeper, you notice that this is not the case in companies taken as a whole. That’s why we look beyond boards.

We also take management and staff into account. And we are not content with numbers. We also examine the extent to which the company’s philosophy places importance on diversity. For example, do companies have a strategy to close the wage gap? By combining all these facets, we get a more holistic view of diversity in business.

Can you quantify business progress?

Hard. But initially, our investment universe consisted of companies targeting at least 33% ethnic and gender diversity, or 1,600 companies. If we dig deeper and limit ourselves to companies where diversity applies beyond the board, there are only 400 companies left.

Do you see big differences between sectors?

We find, for example, that the consumer goods industry places greater emphasis on diversity. This is partly because these companies are active all over the world, including in Africa. We also see a greater ethnic diversity in the tech sector. In the financial sector, the potential for improvement is greater.

Including in the investment fund industry?



“Diversity and inclusion should be a higher priority for the fund industry.”

Absolutely. The fund industry still has a long way to go.

Diversity and inclusion should be a higher priority. We are making progress, but it will take time.

Are there regional differences?

If we focus only on highly diversified companies, it is very difficult to find in Asia, especially in Japan and China, where diversity is not yet very developed. But we also consider companies that provide products and services that enhance diversity. In this regard, Asia is well positioned. The regional composition of our fund is in line with that of the MSCI World index, i.e. a global distribution, with almost 60% for the United States.

Is it easy to measure the impact of your fund?

It is easier to measure the environmental impact, but we find that more and more companies are thinking about their social impact. For example, we invest in a telecommunications company which indicates the area and the number of additional people covered by the construction of an antenna, often in underdeveloped areas in Africa.

In addition to impact, is there also a link between diversity and financial performance?

Thembeka Stemela Dagbo: “We only invest in companies whose fundamentals are strong enough.”
©Wouter Van Vooren

We must get rid of the preconceived idea that funds that focus on the “S” of ESG criteria are charitable funds that do not provide additional returns. Because this is the main mistake when it comes to social impact. It is possible to invest in solid companies, with a solid balance sheet, and which at the same time have a positive impact on society. There are enoughstudies that demonstrate the benefits of diversity for bottom line.

We also emphasize the quality of the companies we select. We only invest in companies with sufficiently strong fundamentals. And these companies also have growth potential. We see women’s purchasing power increasing, as well as average incomes in developing countries, representing growth potential for many businesses.

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  • Born in 1989.
  • Manager of the M&G (Lux) Diversity and Inclusion Fund since the end of 2021. Is also
  • involved in the management of the M&G Positive Impact Fund since 2018.
  • Between 2012 and 2018, held the position of Vice-President, European Insurance Team at Credit Suisse.

Funds

  • 7 young shoots to straighten out a devastated portfolio
  • Interview of Thembeka Stemela Dagbo (M&G): “We will not save the planet if half the population is not involved”
  • The favorite funds of Levi Sarens (Nagelmackers Bank)

The supplement FundsWednesday 15/6, free with L’Echo.



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