Environmental Finance's Sustainable Debt Awards 2024

Personality of the year: Irina Likhachova, IFC

Starting her career in political campaigns and communications, Irina Likhachova says this formative experience shaped her approach to achieving impact in her current role as International Finance Corporation's (IFC) global biodiversity finance lead.

"You can have the best idea, but if you want to achieve impact, you must persuade other people to share your vision and, most importantly, to take action," she told Environmental Finance.

She describes her career in IFC as somewhat "atypical and non-linear", starting with roles across various regional and global advisory and investment operational teams.

Irina Likhachova"I have worked across a range of thematic areas: financial leasing, agribusiness value chains, ESG policies, risk management and disclosures, impact investing, climate policy, green buildings and materials, battery storage for renewable energy, and now biodiversity finance.

"In most cases, each new job felt like a startup operation as I stepped into completely new roles that I had to shape and grow. In each case, building partnerships within my new teams across IFC and with central market players was key," she said.

She currently sits within the IFC Climate Business team, having started her work on biodiversity finance five years ago.

During her tenure, she has led the creation of a biodiversity finance business line at IFC, which seeks to expand investment opportunities in the private sector in developing countries.

Recognising the need for guidance on eligible biodiversity finance investments, Likhachova collaborated across IFC's operations and engaged with various market players to develop the first-ever biodiversity investment guidance in the market, the IFC's Biodiversity Finance Reference Guide.

The guide provides an indicative taxonomy of investment opportunities that focus on protecting and rehabilitating biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as adopting nature-based solutions in infrastructure projects.

It enables investors and companies to scale private capital for the transition to nature-smart economies, aligning with the specific targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework - leveraging frameworks such as the Green Bond Principles and Green Loan Principles.

She said the guide has also been "well received in the market by other investors and companies looking to grow their nature finance focus."

"It is also gaining attention from financial policymakers in emerging markets who are looking to integrate biodiversity and nature finance into their green taxonomies. I am thrilled to see the impact this work has had in the market," she said.

To raise awareness within IFC and the broader market, Likhachova also led the development of a Catalogue of Nature-based Solutions for Infrastructure Projects. This resource aims to promote the adoption of nature-based solutions in privately financed infrastructure projects, offering alternatives to traditional grey infrastructure.

One Sustainable Debt Awards judge called her thought leadership and contributions to biodiversity finance "groundbreaking". Another said the work she and her team had undertaken "has the potential to be hugely influential for sustainable debt in future years."

"This substantial contribution and ongoing engagement will likely have a lasting legacy that could prove transformational to the protection and restoration of our planet's ecosystems," the judge added.

Likhachova represents IFC as part of initiatives such as The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures and the World Economic Forum's Biodiversity Credit Initiative and has served as a peer reviewer for market publications on the biodiversity credit market. She also serves as a member of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Advisory Committee on Resource Mobilization.

"I feel fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. IFC's strength is to lead the market by doing. By focusing on developing approaches to address biodiversity loss and climate crises that work for IFC as an investor in emerging markets, it's possible to have a far-reaching impact in the broader market," she said.

Likhachova is currently collaborating with partners and the International Capital Market Association (ICMA) to develop further market guidance for nature finance.

She is also working across different parts of IFC business to mobilise private sector resources to protect and restore forests by focusing on developing forest-based economies that can deliver jobs and deforestation-free supply chains, sustainably produced renewable products for circular bio economies, and grow local processing and manufacturing for sustainably produced forest products, she said.

"I seek to work with people who are driven to find solutions to difficult problems, who think big, who take risks to see their vision through and who love what they do," she added.

"In a sea of bad news on climate and biodiversity, keeping the focus on developing and putting in place impactful solutions and working with other like-minded colleagues and partners is what keeps me motivated and gives me energy."