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WCS 2021 Session: Investing in a Sustainable and Equitable Recovery

21 June 2021 (Thursday), 11.00am – 12.10pm

Hybrid Broadcasting Studio 1, Sands Expo & Conference Centre / WCS Virtual Platform


  • Indranee Rajah, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for National Development and Finance, Singapore


  • Alfonso Garcia Mora, Regional Vice President, Asia and Pacific, International Finance Corporation
  • Anies Baswedan, Governor, Jakarta
  • Gareth Wong, CEO, Mitbana
  • Tan Su Shan, Group Head of Institutional Banking, DBS


  • Seth Tan, Executive Director, Infrastructure Asia

Going on the GRID - Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development

Disruptions such as the climate crisis and now pandemics have challenged stakeholders to rethink how to build liveable cities. Speakers at the WCS Session on Investing in a Sustainable and Equitable Recovery discuss how cities can invest in sustainability, resilience and inclusivity, by rethinking frameworks, collaborating and displaying “ambidextrous leadership”.

Session Takeaways:

Going on the GRID - Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development

Mr Alfonso Garcia Mora, Regional Vice President, Asia and Pacific, International Finance Corporation, introduced the IFC’s GRID framework, urging cities to focus on green, resilient and inclusive development. According to him, such shifts are necessary to achieve the climate goals under the Paris Agreement, and ensure that cities are sufficiently prepared for climate adaptation.

Mr Gareth Wong, CEO of Mitbana, agreed, pointing out that transportation is the largest energy-related carbon emissions source, and three quarters of that come from road vehicles. He shared Mitbana’s aim to redefine urban planning by creating smart and sustainable townships and Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs), and influencing private sector capital to be creative about ensuring long term sustainability and resiliency.

Ms Tan Su Shan, Group Head of Institutional Banking at DBS, asserted how “profitability and sustainability are no longer exclusive”, noting that the global clean energy exchange traded funds or ETF has outperformed the fossil fuel ETF by 200 percent for the last three years. With 96 billion raised in infrastructure funds in 2020, Ms Tan stressed that projects should tap on sustainable financing to lower their costs.

Investing in Inclusivity

Minister Indranee Rajah, Singapore’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, stressed that “cities must invest in a recovery that does not leave people behind”, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic exemplified inequalities that gravely affect vulnerable populations around the world. It is, thus, important that cities improve access to basic urban infrastructure, such as public transport and parks.

Mr Wong affirmed Minister Indranee’s sentiments, underscoring the need for projects to be “from the ground up" to be “acceptable to the people”. He shared how Mitbana seeks to provide quality affordable housing in economic centers and champion multi-modal transit hubs that integrate public and private transportation. Anies Baswedan, Governor of Jakarta, also shared how Jakarta aims to boost employment and infrastructure development through large-scale projects such as the Jakarta International Stadium, and by streamlining permit approval processes, as part of the city’s recovery programme from COVID-19.

Sustainable smart solutions

Governor Anies shared how Jakarta’s one-stop app, JAKI, allows residents to obtain information such as news and prices of commodities. This facilitates public engagement and gathers input for policy making. Mr Wong highlighted how digital technology can aid planning and development processes, from forecasting and scheduling to green monitoring. However, he also pointed out that the “human touch” and gathering of like-minded parties is important in ensuring success.

Mr Garcia Mora agreed that technology can help make urban infrastructure and systems more efficient, stressing that a systematic framework is essential in allowing cities to borrow from the private sector to finance such investments.

A balancing act

However, cities face the difficult task of balancing short-term needs and long-term visions while managing expectations. Governor Anies shared that while sustainability may not be top priority in light of COVID-19, the Jakarta government has nonetheless signaled its willingness to further the green movement by building green infrastructure in strategic locations in the city.

Mr Garcia Mora also noted that few emerging markets in Asia have the capacity to borrow from the private sector. He highlighted how cities need to structure projects to be economically attractive, while achieving social and environmental objectives. He suggested that a framework of “standards, capacity, incentives, requirements, a budget and prioritisation that goes beyond the short-term” needs to be developed for cities to undertake responsible financing, and that the framework will help cities optimise the capital structure.

Ms Tan agreed that while funds are available, projects need to be “structured right” for cities to successfully invest in sustainable infrastructure. She highlighted that the transition from “brown to green” is not immediate, but gradual, and that the long tenure of projects and how disruptions such as new technologies or even pandemics such as COVID-19 can quickly render the projects obsolete or untenable. Projects thus need to be mindfully structured, with careful consideration of risk-returns, economic viability and flexibility.

Ambidextrous leadership

Governor Anies shared how the government needs to lead the way towards sustainable cities. He noted that Jarkarta’s adoption of permanent bike lanes in the heart of the city has sparked a lot of discussion and signaled the government’s commitment to sustainability issues. Jakarta has also identified youth groups as allies and begun to work with them to further the green movement. Finally, Governor Anies also highlighted that collaboration between government, private sector, academics and thinktanks is encouraged in Jakarta, facilitating the growth of sustainable efforts like active mobility and urban farming.

Mr Garcia Mora noted how the complexity of projects would hamper investment, pointing out that governments need to do a “triage” of the city’s objectives, long term commitments and shorter-term responses is fundamental. He also noted that as the needs of each city are unique, cities would need to figure out what their optimal design would look like.

Ms Tan noted how leaders now need to display “ambidextrous leadership”, or the ability to balance short-term urgent issues such as COVID-19 and vaccinations, versus the long-term issues such as sustainability. She shared that the community should come together to develop a “playbook”, to ensure viable projects that are accessible, inclusive and profitable.

Session Recording: