Helene Van Caenegem
Studying MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance
Why did you choose to study your programme and why specifically at Imperial College Business School?
While working at VITALITE Senegal, a solar-home-systems distributor in Thiès, I discovered that the rural population in Senegal was extremely dependant on the rain season, which was notably delayed that year. At the same time, I had been studying business engineering for 5 years, whereby only one course slightly touched upon climate change and sustainability. I felt there was a major disconnect between the subjects we were taught and what could be done from a finance and management perspective to adapt to and mitigate climate change, especially in developing countries. Therefore, applying to the MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance was a no brainer. It was a perfect fit with my background and had the necessary focus on green finance and sustainability.
What was the most important thing/learning point you took with you from the Business School?
The curriculum was a true value add to my previous Masters. However, the most important learning point for me were the guest lectures where experts from different industries, with a focus on green finance and sustainability, were invited. These gave me a great insight on the current trends in different industries from asset management to environmental and sustainability consulting. In those lectures I discovered what a role in ESG analytics and impact investing exactly entailed.
What was the most surprising thing about the programme?
Not only did I learn a lot from the course materials, I also really enjoyed working together with such a motivated and experienced group of students. Coming from different nationalities, academic and professional backgrounds I learned a lot from my peer students. This was particularly true during the group projects. The amount of detail we were able to go into while working on an adaptation plan for a county in Kenya would have never been possible without the insights and connections of one of the group members. Overall, it was this group of truly engaged students that motivated me most to get the best possible out of my time at the Business School.
How do you view your experience of studying at Imperial since you left?
The Masters at Imperial led me to an opportunity of working in my current role. Looking back, I realised the programme gave me the necessary exposure and foundations to work in green finance – a sector I had not considered before joining the course.
How has the programme changed you?
Through the programme I gained valuable knowledge from climate change science to mitigation and adaptation potential through technology and investment opportunities. Moreover, through the programme I was able to extend my professional network and secured a job in climate finance.
Can you recall a favourite memory from your time on the programme?
A personal highlight was the business and climate leadership forum hosted by the Grantham Institute, where we enjoyed key note speakers like Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and Lord Nicholas Stern, author and former Senior Vice-President of the World Bank. On another note, I really enjoyed the social activities with the cohort, such as the summer ball and Welcome Reception at the Natural History Museum.
Career & professional development
How was your career transformed following your programme?
As a climate finance analyst my role is especially aligned with the clean technology and innovation (Cleantech) module and the climate finance module. The content as well as the passion with which these modules were taught, convinced me to pursue a career in Climate Finance. Furthermore, I was initially introduced to the Climate Policy Initiative through the readings from the Cleantech module.
What did you take away from your learning experience that has been most applicable to your current role?
The groupwork from the Cleantech module, whereby we had to pitch a renewable energy project to a board of investors, prepared me well for the work I am doing at the Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance (The Lab). The Lab is a public-private network that accelerates well-designed, innovative financial instruments that can drive investment for energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable transport, climate-smart agriculture, and curbing deforestation, while also reducing private investors’ risks and improving their financial returns. The financial modelling aspect and risk assessment from the Cleantech module are particularly useful, as well as the introduction to blended finance.
What is your current role like?
At CPI, I work on GNI+, which focuses on implementing Kenya’s Nationally Determined Contributions in partnership with the Kenyan government. In addition, I am supporting the development of the Blockchain Climate Risk Crop Insurance instrument from the Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance, as part of the smart agriculture in West and Central Africa stream.
What do you enjoy most about your current work and what are the main challenges that you face?
I enjoy the fact that I am working on innovative financial instruments that have a potential to mobilise millions of dollars in climate finance. The type of work is extremely varied, and I am learning a lot of new skills from financial modelling to risk assessments.
Furthermore, I really enjoy working with developing countries, which sometimes brings along some challenges as well.
The alumni network
In what way is remaining connected to your alumni network important to you?
I think it is important to stay connected with the imperial alumni, especially with the alumni from my cohort. Most of the latter secured a job in sustainability and it is always very interesting to engage and keep up with the the latest trends in different sectors.
Advice for future students
What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying the same Business School programme as you?
I would advise to make the most out of your year by going to the many events organised by the Business School and Grantham Institute, and joining clubs and initiatives that align with your ambitions and interests. I joined the Green Minds team, a project focused on creating awareness around the impacts of climate change and sustainability-led career opportunities within the business school. The true value add of the programme to me were the opportunities outside the classroom that created the link between the academic courses and professional opportunities in sustainability.