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Ivona Milić: Embracing ESG principles in business is the cornerstone of Serbia’s green agenda

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Ivona Milić is a senior ESG specialist at Raiffeisen Bank devoted to sustainability in the banking industry. Her job responsibilities include mitigating climate change, promoting sustainable resource use, and preserving natural resources. According to Milić, each individual’s contributions are essential for a sustainable future.

Ivona Milić is a member of the Advisory Board of the WISE Serbia women’s network. She holds a PhD in economics and specializes in sustainability and ESG within the banking industry. In a conversation with Ivona Milić, we explore the complexity of the ESG concept, its importance in the banking sector and beyond, as well as the role of women in promoting sustainability and green business.

Ivona Milić has spent most of her career in the banking sector, where she has primarily worked in the corporate lending segment. “I have been actively dealing with sustainability and the ESG concept within the banking industry for the last four years and I am currently working as a senior ESG specialist for corporate clients at Raiffeisen Bank Serbia,” she points out.

Milić: I always wanted to do a job that would allow me to directly contribute to a higher goal

She defended her doctoral thesis, Serbia’s positioning on the world market in the conditions of the global financial crisis, in 2013 at the Faculty of Economics in Niš. She has also completed several specializations in the field of financing renewable energy and climate change adaptation projects.

“I always wanted to do a job that would allow me to directly contribute to a higher goal. That’s why I embraced the increasing interest in ESG as the best possible way to put my knowledge, qualities, and experience at the service of a goal that implies a sustainable future for all of us,” Milić says.

ESG implies responsibility towards society, the environment, and future generations

ESG, a term that has gained a lot of traction recently, stands for environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria. We asked Ivona Milić to explain the concept in more detail.

“In essence, ESG is a complex term that covers a wide range of impacts in all three areas, with the environmental aspect referring to issues of environmental impacts and available opportunities to mitigate associated risks. The social aspect refers to relations with the local community where business is done in terms of attitudes towards diversity, human and labor rights, and health. And finally, the corporate governance aspect includes transparency in business, governance, and compliance with legal and ethical norms,” ​​she explained.

All these factors, according to her, are complex, dynamic, and highly volatile and it is therefore necessary, but also very challenging, for all companies to consider and include them in their business and development strategies.

Banks have always taken these issues into account

“ESG implies responsibility towards society, the environment, and future generations, which of course is not new to banks. Banks have always been mindful of these issues. The emergence of the ESG concept has only introduced a new approach to structuring the efforts in this area, making it easier to prepare strategies and continuously monitor activities that fall within the scope of ESG,” Milić said.

Investors target companies that promote sustainable development

ESG principles imply the strengthening of corporate culture and business reputation. Consumers prefer products and services that come from companies that care about the environment. Investors choose companies that are active in the field of sustainable development.

A company’s ESG score, a concept different from credit rating, is becoming an increasingly significant comparative advantage in business. At the same time, regulatory changes in this area are undoubtedly making ESG more relevant, according to her. “And last, but certainly not least, employees prefer working in companies that do business transparently and ethically,” she pointed out.

Responsibilities of the ESG specialist in a bank include a wide range of activities

Since ESG is a multidisciplinary concept, the responsibilities of the ESG specialist in a bank include a wide range of activities. Banks finance investments that, among other things, are evaluated based on ESG criteria. Therefore, they also offer advisory services, helping clients to choose suitable financing models while taking an individualized approach tailored to clients who have already embraced sustainable business models, as well as those in transition.

“One of my important duties at Raiffeisen Bank is to define procedures and implement rules for identifying acceptable ESG transactions that comply with the internal procedures of Raiffeisen Group, which, again, are based on internationally recognized rules and regulations in this area. These regulations, among other things, set out rules for identifying green processes and products, thus eliminating opportunities for the so-called greenwashing,” says Milić.

All activities that fall within her job description are aimed at climate change mitigation, sustainable use and protection of natural resources, pollution control, and ecosystem protection.

Energy is a feminine noun

Ivona Milić is a member of the Advisory Board of the WISE network. “At one of our WISE consultations, a great truth was said, namely that the word energy is a grammatically feminine noun, which means these two concepts are essentially linked,” Milić pointed out.

The green agenda is a prerequisite for a sustainable future

Milić believes that every individual holds great power. “If everyone were to initiate changes in their microcosm – in their family, but also their business environment – we could make a great difference and achieve a lot. The Green Agenda is inevitable – it’s a sine qua non of a sustainable future for all of us and for our planet,” she stressed.

Embracing ESG principles in business is the cornerstone of Serbia’s green agenda

Embracing ESG principles in business is the cornerstone of the green agenda. Since ESG is a relatively novel concept in Serbia, education plays a key role, both internally and externally, according to her. Personal involvement in advocating for ESG is of critical importance, she said.

“As a member of the Advisory Board, I view my role as an incentive to work further on enhancing public understanding of the ESG concept and strengthening the role of women in the green economy and energy transition. I will also support and organize a mentoring program for our members because today women carry a heavy burden of balancing their private and business responsibilities. In that regard, support is valuable and necessary,” Milić said.

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Ivona Milić: Embracing ESG principles in business is the cornerstone of Serbia’s green agenda

Ivona Milić is a member of the Advisory Board of the WISE Serbia women’s network. She holds a PhD in economics