> Posted by Iftin Fatah, Investment Officer, Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Embed from Getty Images

The 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey from the GIIN showed that respondents, which make up a diverse and active group of impact investors, committed more than $21 billion to impact investments in 2016 and planned to commit 17 percent more capital than that in 2017. Geographically, however, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) only makes up 2 percent of assets under management.

Islamic finance is largely concentrated in three markets – Iran, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia – but it spans nearly every part of the world, including MENA, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. For its part, Islamic finance has grown over the past two decades, with total assets reportedly totaling roughly $2 trillion. Despite this growth, Islamic finance still makes up a small share of the global financial market. These two areas of Islamic finance and impact investing are ripe for potential collaboration. Out of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, 650 million are living on less than 2 dollars a day.

For starters, for those who aren’t familiar, let’s quickly go over how Islamic finance works. Islamic finance is derived from principles rooted in the rulings of Sharia law. The key principles of Islamic finance include: prohibition of interest, profit and loss sharing, and prohibition of gharar (excessive uncertainty, deception and risk). At its core, Islamic finance is centered around mutual well-being for banks and clients. The most notable difference between Islamic finance and Western finance is that interest or riba is forbidden. Rather, banks sustain themselves by sharing in the risk of their financial services with clients, operating on a profit-loss basis. For example, one of the most common Islamic finance products is murabaha, which is a cost-plus-mark-up (non-interest-bearing) loan. Financers bear the cost of the loan, and instead of charging clients interest, clients are charged a mark-up. Accordingly, banks act as investors rather than creditors.

Globally there are largely untapped markets that show immense potential for Islamic finance, such as sub-Saharan Africa, which is the world’s fastest-growing population and has a large Muslim contingent. According to a 2015 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report entitled Mapping Africa’s Islamic Economy, to date, Islamic finance has a presence in 21 African countries. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the EIU report notes that while Sharia-compliant goods and services appeal to the values of Muslims, majority Muslim populations are not essential for a vibrant Islamic economy sector.

In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the primary drivers of the region’s Islamic economy is the need for quality infrastructure. An inadequate supply of roads, railways and ports, and insufficient energy supplies and housing shortages are among the challenges facing the continent. Further, an urbanizing population will drive demand for even more infrastructure. Sukuk, Islamic bonds structured in such a way to generate returns to investors without infringing upon Islamic law, are of growing interest to governments trying to raise capital for such projects. For example, the Nigerian government, recently announced the sale of a N100 billion ($326 million) debt sovereign sukuk on the local market, meant to fund road infrastructure in the country.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) rightly recognizes the potential of this untapped market and in May 2017 collaborated with the Islamic Research and Training Institute (a member of the Islamic Development Bank Group) and the Istanbul International Center for Private Sector in Development in producing a joint report entitled I for Impact. The report focuses on recommendations for growing Islamic impact investing. Among these recommendations include creating an environment that promotes Islamic finance alongside the larger ecosystems of inclusive finance and responsible investing. Support should be offered to the creation and functioning of an effective capital market system for Islamic finance impact investing, including supporting existing and new actors in this space.

To further these recommendations, UNDP and the IDB established the Global Islamic Finance and Impact Investing Platform (GIFIIP) in 2016. The GIFIIP serves as a hub for Islamic finance impact investing actors. The aim of the GIFIIP is to be a collaborative working space that: supports the development of Sharia-compliant impact investing tools; serves as a forum for knowledge-sharing, policy dialogue and advocacy; and functions as a marketplace for deal sourcing and matchmaking. The GIFIIP strives to position Islamic finance impact investing as one of the leading enablers of Sustainable Development Goals implementation around the world, through private sector engagement.

With their rigorous moral and social criteria and emphasis on business-society relations, the principles of Islamic finance and impact investing have many areas of overlap. Bridging the two sectors and leveraging their ideological similarities is a natural response to the growing challenges related to development financing, particularly in Muslim-majority countries. Islamic finance can be a strong and virtually untapped source to finance sustainable development in many areas around the world.

Have you read?

Sharia and Savings: Islamic Microfinance

Continuing the Conversation on Inclusion in the Arab World

Islamic Finance Advances and Converges with Fintech