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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Sukuk for vaccine fund ushers Islamic finance into ethical sphere

The latest entrant into Islamic finance is leading the industry in the new direction of socially responsible investment - which could even include the fight against Ebola.
Last week an immunisation programme secured a $500 million issuance of Islamic bonds, or sukuk, in the largest debut issue ever by a global non-profit organisation, under a broader trend to use bond markets to fund development and humanitarian projects.
The sukuk from the International Finance Facility for Immunisation Co (IFFIm), for which the World Bank acts as treasury manager, is a break from the predominantly commercial nature of most Islamic finance transactions.
The deal is part of World Bank efforts to adapt sukuk for use in a variety of ethical pursuits, including advising the Dubai government on a funding strategy for the emirate's green investment programme.
IFFIm, backed by nine sovereign donors including Britain and France, will use the proceeds of its sukuk to finance projects for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and is open to using the format again.
"It's a natural market for us. These kind of socially responsible investments are very much aligned with the core principles of Islamic finance," IFFIm Board Chair Rene Karsenti told Reuters.
The sukuk helped IFFIm diversify its investor base and secure competitive pricing, but also helped raise the profile of GAVI activities among Muslim-majority countries.
The sukuk could encourage other non-profits to consider this funding tool, while Gulf countries could be inclined to become GAVI donors themselves, said Paris-based Karsenti, who is also president of the International Capital Market Association.
Founded in 2000, GAVI has financed immunisation efforts in 73 countries, with half of its investment directed to 33 Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen, Mali and Indonesia.
"Sukuk is not new but what is new here is that it is associated with a socially responsible vehicle. We hope we can lead the way for other similar institutions to use the market."
Islamic finance follows religious principles which forbid involvement in businesses connected with gambling, tobacco or alcohol, but has only recently begun to explore wider social responsibility.

Future sukuk from IFFIm could help reinforce that change by financing other high-profile immunisation efforts, and GAVI is actively in discussions over taking a role in fighting Ebola when a vaccine becomes available, Karsenti said.
(Reuters / 05 December 2014)
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