“Finance can play a key role in advancing development processes… I have come to understand how much money there is in the world that could be put to better use”
Hey Lievijne, thanks for sitting down with me! Let’s dive right in: you graduated from LUC in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in International Development, with a focus on gender. How do you go from there to Sustainable Investment & Finance?
I think it’s interesting that you say that! After pursuing that major, I realized that I found the economic and institutional sides of International Development most interesting, rather than the humanitarian or ethical dimensions. As such, I decided pursue the MSc in Development Management at the LSE, which focused on the role of institutions and on development economics.
However, I am also still very interested in the gender angle—I wrote both of my theses about it. I think women play a big role in development; there’s a large potential market in the women who are currently financially, economically or politically excluded.
So did you ever consider pursuing a master’s degree in Gender Studies?
I debated for a long time whether I wanted to pursue such a degree. The first master’s degree I got into at LSE was actually Gender and Development, but I ended up letting that go to take the broader degree instead. Why, you might ask? I admit that the fear of not getting a job in gender played a role too. Something I think is good for current students to know is that it is okay to consider these things. A degree from LSE is very expensive and you do want to get out of it with a jobthat can help you make that money back! Choosing a more general topic still gave me many of the same opportunities without limiting myself as much.
And your interest in finance, where did that come from?
My interest in development finance grew through taking courses on microfinance and institutions like the World Bank, IMF and the WTO. I realized that finance can play a key role in advancing development processes. At that point in time I had a vision in mind of myself working at the World Bank, because it seemed to me like the place to beif you’re interested in development finance.
But that’s not where you ended up. So what came next?
It’s really hard to start your career at such a large international organization. Luckily, I got the opportunity to work at FMO, the Dutch Development Bank for half a year, which was really nice. I like the way they work: they finance companies in developing countries but also accompany this with technical assistance to help these companies put the money to good use. The project I worked on was developing a gender finance strategy, so I got to work on the intersection of gender and finance, which I really enjoyed. What we did for example was think about ways in which financial institutions could develop specific products for female entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs often have a hard time, as they oftentimes do not have proper access to finance, as they might be lacking collateral (as this is often legally obliged to be on their husband’s name) or are not legally allowed to open a bank account on their own name.
My time at FMO really rose my interest in the financial sector even more, because it helped me understand just how much money there is in the world that could be put to better use. But… I also realized I didn’t really know anything about finance. So I started looking at traineeships at banks, and ended up finding one at the Dutch Central Bank (DNB).
The traineeship at DNB lets you explore different departments. In my second rotation I worked on climate issues and during my third rotation, I got to go to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and live there for eight months, to work on sustainable finance. There, I realized there is a lot of space to make an impact when it comes to sustainable finance, so after my traineeship I chose to focus on that.
And are any of the things you learned from other jobs or from your classes helpful in your current job?
I think they are. For example, a set of factors for sustainability that we use a lot, are ESG (Environmental, Social Governance) factors. These factors cover underlying challenges, like climate change, biodiversity loss and gender inequality, which I have studied at LUC and LSE. I think I therefore might have a clearer idea than people who have been studying and working in traditional finance about what ESG is all about. The fact that the understanding of sustainability is still quite limited in the finance world, makes me extra keen to further advance the topic.
But not just at your job right? I saw you’ve also taught a course at LUC. Going full circle, in a way!
Back in 2017, I got in touch with Paul Behrens at LUC when I was working on climate change related risks at the Central Bank in 2017. He came to DNB to present on research he had done, learned about some of the work that DNB was doing and afterwards invited me to present on this work in one of his classes for a few years in a row. Last year, they needed an extra lecturer for the GC Sustainability course, and Paul reached out to me. That caught me a bit off guard, since I feel like I really just graduated! It was, however, a very nice experience: I learned a lot from the course material and discussions with the students.
How do you think LUC has changed?
It is really amazing how the curriculum has evolved. There are many courses I wish that would have been there when I was studying there. It’s so much more elaborate and yet the majors have more of a focus too. And it is not just the classes, I think the entire support system is much stronger now than it used to be. When it comes to the students, I think they’re a lot like my cohort. And I mean that in a good way: they’re passionate, they want to improve the world, and they’re still trying to figure out what they want. Some of them would come to me for advice: “What should I do? What do you think is best? How can I get a job like yours with my major?”.
It was fun to experience all of it ‘from the other side’.
That’s so great to hear. Are there any lessons you find yourself repeating now, that you were taught seven-plus years ago when you were at LUC?
Definitely! At the beginning, I really struggled to find a good balance between studying and staying sane. I got really carried away, and I think many students experience the same thing. I would get carried away by the heavy topics and it would really wear me down. So take good care of yourself! Now, sometimes when I catch myself not taking good care of myself, working too hard, I think back to LUC and how I struggled there in the beginning and it really helps me to put things into perspective and continue on the right path.
A second thing is that, once you start working, there’s a lot of things you have learned about that you cannot apply immediately. Maybe it was worse for me because I went into finance, but I think it also applies to other fields. A lot of things you learned might seem hard to translate to practice at first. But once you work for a bit longer, you realize that a lot of concepts or general understandings from your past can help you. Especially the multidisciplinarity: it’s quite rare to be able to look at a problem from multiple perspectives. The people that I have worked with that did one particular field of study, like economics, or law, or finance, seem to struggle a lot more with this than UC-graduates that I have worked with.
Thank you for these answers! A final question. I saw you were active at a network for women in financial services. Could you tell a little bit about this?
It’s called Women in Financial Services: a network for and by women in the financial sector who are aiming to create balanced leadership in this sector. I became part of this network because I’m still really interested in gender as a topic. Even though I opted not to pursue it as a career, I still wanted to do something with it. I joined this network around the time I started at DNB, and it is industry wide. There’s not a lot of women in the industry, especially not in management positions. Finance and economics have been dominated by men for a very long time and I thinkit is important for the women in the sector to connect and share experiences, so we can advance our careers. I really recommend other alumni to join industry-wide groups in their own industries, outside of their companies, because it can really help you expand your network and familiarize yourself with other fields of work, which is especially useful at the start of your career.
Editor’s note: Since this interview, Lievijne has moved to the European Banking Authority in Paris, where she is working on the integration of sustainability risks and opportunities into financial regulation.
 Lievijne: “For those of you who don’t know what the Dutch central bank does: they have three main tasks: it is the national supervisor for financial institutions in the Netherlands, to make sure that no shady business happens with the money that people have stored there, it monitors the financial system and financial markets and implements monetary policy, and it is an independent economic advisor and researcher, advising the government.”