“I contribute in my small way to sustainable finance research”

Mikail Durrani - 2024 EPFL / Alain Herzog - CC BY-SA 4.0

Mikail Durrani - 2024 EPFL / Alain Herzog - CC BY-SA 4.0

Mikail Durrani, a Financial Engineering Master's student at EPFL, is passionate about sustainable finance. He founded the "Swiss Sustainability Initiative" and recently won the "Realstone Sustainable Finance Scholarship 2023-2025".

When asked to introduce himself, Mikail Durrani describes his background as “American by birth, Pakistani by heritage, and Swiss by choice.” Durrani was born in Chicago and moved frequently during childhood. His parents were drawn to Pakistan on account of their roots, but the family also lived in various locations in the Middle East, Switzerland and the United States. “We eventually came back to Switzerland because we loved the country for its linguistic and cultural diversity,” he says. “I completed most of my schooling here and, when the time came, applying for Swiss nationality seemed like a natural choice.” Durrani therefore boasts a rich multicultural and multinational background. “I thought that was normal, but as time passed, I came to realize it was actually quite rare,” he says.

Finance and sustainability: the perfect combo

After completing his compulsory schooling, Durrani took a gap year to hone his German-language skills, spending time in Zurich, Munich and Berlin. He then enrolled in a Bachelor’s program in international relations at the University of Geneva, majoring in international economics. Based on his outstanding grades, he was selected to participate in the Institute of Economics and Econometrics’ Honors Program. “I attended research seminars given by amazing professors from all over the world” he says.

As an Honors Program student, Durrani also had the chance to work as a research assistant: “I spent a year alongside assistant professor Julien Daubanes and doctoral students conducting quantitative research on green bonds – (ndlr financial instruments that fund energy-transition and climate-mitigation projects). The research topic aligned perfectly with my career aspirations. That’s where I got to learn about and contribute in my small way to sustainable finance research.”

In parallel to his studies, Durrani is working toward the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification, which is awarded by the US-based CFA Institute. He passed the Level I CFA exam in the summer after completing his Bachelor’s degree.

In September 2023, Durrani enrolled in the Master’s program at EPFL. “The School offers a combination of quantitative courses and finance, two of my favorite subjects.” he says. “Several professors also have a strong interest in sustainable finance. The unique blend of specialized skills and the professorial corps makes this master the ideal program for me. That’s why I chose EPFL.”

Shortly afterwards, he was awarded the "Realstone Sustainable Finance Scholarship 2023-2025". Awarded since 2022 by the Realstone real estate fund in collaboration with EPFL's Swiss Finance Institute, it aims to promote innovation in sustainable finance and encourage young professionals to become agents of change in the financial sector.

Championing sustainability as a career path

During his Bachelor’s program, Durrani and his friends founded a non-profit organization called the Swiss Sustainability Initiative. The idea came to them after attending the event Building Bridges and taking part in a hackathon where participants were asked to design ways for getting young people involved in sustainable finance. “We were interested in sustainability, but didn’t know what the career opportunities were,” he says. “Of course, there are some obvious ones like working in a corporate sustainability department – but it’s not always clear what these kinds of jobs entail or the skills they demand. So we founded the Swiss Sustainability Initiative as a way to encourage and empower students considering a career in sustainability.”

One of the association’s goals is to empower young people to build knowledge and expertise in their chosen discipline. “Sustainability covers a broad spectrum of issues such as decarbonization, the energy transition and water scarcity, each of which encompasses a specific set of financial, economic, political and social considerations.” says Durrani. “People will naturally find some areas of sustainability more interesting than others. Our aim is to encourage information-seeking and analytical thinking. The idea is to provide people with a set of tools to gather data about a complex problem, digest the information, come up with a solution, and share it with others.”

The Swiss Sustainability Initiative also holds workshops where young people interested in careers in sustainability can get help building their professional profile. Members from different disciplines can also share expertise and insights at networking sessions run by the organization. “It’s a community that people can turn to for support,” says Durrani. “When someone comes to us wanting to learn more about a subject or needing help applying for a job, we can connect them with the right people in our personal networks.”

Durrani knows from personal experience how much there is to gain from talking to other people, especially professionals working in the field: “We live in a golden age of information. Between social media and scientific journals, it’s never been easier to find information and connect with experts who are only too willing to share their expertise. I’d encourage everyone to do research. Find a complex issue and analyze it. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons and open up new career opportunities. And it’s incredibly rewarding on a personal level.”

Author: Nathalie Jollien

Source: People

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