UN Social Impact Investing Initiative opens new office in Helsinki – billion-euro projects will attract private finance to help achieve Sustainable Development Goals

The Social Impact Investing Initiative is an innovative way of channelling finance towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Finland is planning to provide about EUR 20 million in support for the Initiative.

The Social Impact Investing Initiative (S3I) of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is a programme for promoting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in developing countries. Opening its new office in Helsinki, the S3I initiative will focus on major infrastructure projects in three sectors: renewable energy, affordable housing, and health. It will operate as project developer, making projects suitable for investment and attracting private investor finance. Impact investing means responsible investment in which the investor aims not only to make a return but to generate a social impact.

SDGs not achievable without private capital

UN member countries have made a commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the aims of which include eliminating poverty and hunger by 2030. The financing needed to achieve the UN’s objectives for sustainable development is immense. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that the annual investment gap for achieving the goals is USD 2.5 trillion.

“Bringing public and private financing together will provide a new channel for managing the developing country risks and will enable a greater social impact. Public financing will also mobilise private finance for promoting sustainable development. The new office in Helsinki will also assist in building sustainable growth and in establishing new areas of expertise in Finland,” says Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari.

Finland’s innovative and open society is ideal for UNOPS

UNOPS selected Finland as the location of its S3I office because of its attractive environment for innovation and impact investment, the openness of Finnish society and low level of corruption. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra is among those organisations that have long been helping to build a suitable operating environment for impact investing in Finland. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has also been implementing national employment projects financed using impact investment measures.

“We were really impressed with the commitment of the government in supporting new and innovative ways to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. This aligned well with our ambition to build an international social impact investing initiative, helping nations across the world to achieve their goals,” says UNOPS Executive Director Grete Faremo.

The S3I initiative is also important for the City of Helsinki.

“The City is part of this process of enabling UNOPS to move its S3I operations, and in this concrete way we want to foster the image of Helsinki as a city that is internationally networked and provides a great operating environment for global organisations. The S3I initiative is of global importance and also supports Helsinki’s goal of a more significant role for cities in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” says Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori.

The relocation of the UNOPS S3I initiative to Helsinki adds to the UN presence in Finland: Helsinki already has the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), and Otaniemi in Espoo is home to the UN Technology Innovation Labs (UNTIL).

The S3I office will be located in Sofia Future Farm in the heart of Helsinki. An agreement was signed on 12 August by Minister Skinnari and UNOPS Executive Director Grete Faremo.


  • Jarmo Sareva, Ambassador for Innovation, tel. +358 295 350 418 (UNOPS Social Impact Investment Initiative relocation to Helsinki)
  • Tiina Vainio, Special Adviser, tel. +358 50 524 6559 (requests to interview Minister Skinnari and Executive Director Faremo)
  • SannaMari Jäntti, Director of Strategic Projects, tel. +358 400 536 581 (requests to interview Mayor Vapaavuori)

Background material

About UNOPS Social Impact Investment Initiative (S3I)

UNOPS S3I seeks to de-risk and structure infrastructure investment projects in an effort to help attract financing from the private sector to national development agendas. Projects selected are subjected to a rigorous and comprehensive due diligence process that will ensure a positive environmental, social and economic impact, with financial returns for private sector investors.   

More information: https://www.unops.org/about/investing-for-impact(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window)

About Helsinki and the sustainable development goals

Helsinki wants to be a pioneer for local implementation of global responsibilities. In September 2018, the city, being after New York the second city in the world and the first one in Europe to do so, thus made a commitment to report voluntarily to the UN on its implementation of the sustainable development goals.

More information: https://www.hel.fi/helsinki/en/administration/strategy/sustainability/(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window)

Correction 12 August 2019:  Corrected the sentence about Finland's support in the first paragraph