Author Archives: microfinance

B Corp Summit 2019: Driving a new agenda for capitalism

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IMG_5318 (1)The 4th European B Corp Summit took place on Sept 23-24 in Amsterdam. Great energy as this community drives a new agenda for capitalism and it feels that we are close to the tipping point! The B Corp movement using business as a force of good is growing steadily. Today there are 3000 B Corps in 70 countries and 600 in Europe while 100,000 companies are using the B Impact Assessment to improve their businesses. Two main topics were highlighted throughout the summit; 1) the shift from shareholder primacy to a commitment to all stakeholders, and 2) the emergency of the climate change crisis.
John Elkington, world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development introduced his new concept and book for tomorrow’s capitalism “Green Swans”. The global agenda is changing exponentially, from responsibility and resilience to regeneration. If exponential problems are known as Black Swans, exponential regeneration calls for Green Swans. So, he calls B Corps the ugly ducklings that would likely become the Green Swans.
Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, stressed the urgency of system change. First, recognize the system failure then fix it: change from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism, from a culture of more to one of enough. Jay also shared the draft of B Lab’s Declaration of Climate Emergency and System Failure to be launched soon, committing further this community to tackle climate as a business strategy.
News: In January 2020, B Lab is launching the SDG Action Manager in partnership with the UN Global Compact. Using this free tool, one can 1) get a clear view of how your operations, supply chain, and business model create positive impact, 2) take action and track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals 2) New B Corps announced at the summit: Bodyshop, Danone Belgium, Danone Netherlands.

Key actions: collaborate, let’s get working together, B the change!

Paradigm shift? From shareholder primacy towards commitment to all stakeholders

1080x360_BcorpOn August 19th, 2019 the Business Roundtable (the association of CEOs of America’s leading companies) released a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. This new statement was signed by 181 CEOs who commit to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders-customers, employees, suppliers, communities and stakeholders. This is a significant move away from their stance since 1978 as principles issued until now endorsed shareholder primacy (that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders).
The long-awaited paradigm shift! Or shall we be sceptical that these changes will be implemented?
In the days following this announcement, we have seen debates shaping and many cautionary but constructive articles being published. There was an immediate critical response announced by the Council of Institutional Investors raising outdated concerns that the statement undercuts notions of managerial accountability to shareholders. The B Corporation movement founders, who have been in the forefront of redefining the role of businesses into one that delivers value to all stakeholders, published an excellent article “Don’t Believe the Business Roundtable has changed until the CEOs’ action match their words” This title sounds a bit harsh but it is important to hold the CEOs accountable and a full-page ad “Let’s get to work” was posted in the Sunday New York Times urging them to get to work (together).
In addition to the B Corporation movement, there has been in the past few years some signs of this impending paradigm shift as witnessed by the letters to the CEOs written by Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock “linking purpose and profits”. Another powerful movement that is growing is lead by Singularity University which is shaping leaders and organizations by using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all. This latest statement by the Business Roundtable is a gigantic step forward and although it might take some time until their action matches their words, slowly but surely we are getting aligned and moving in the right direction. No turning back.

Future of Learning Graphic Novel now Live (Singularity U)

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The output of the workshop, the graphic novel of the Future of Learning is now live! Also SU has created the Exponential Guide to the Future of Learning, which provides valuable content and resources on this topic.
From SU website;

The Future of Learning SciFi DI workshop brought together more than 50 participants, including SU Faculty and staff, startups, mentors, and alumni, as well as local teachers, students, nonprofits and foundations all connected to the field of learning innovation. We explored trends in exponential technologies, took a deep dive into augmented reality and virtual reality, discussed the future of learning and work. Identifying current challenges in the global education system, we tried to re-imagine these challenges after assuming a number of technological and social advances that could occur within fifteen years. Then the participants were led through a process of capturing the life and story of an individual living fifteen years into the future, which artists and writers in the room transformed into the graphic novel. Through the characters of the novel we explore central questions about the future purpose of learning, what it will mean to be a student or teacher in the future, what a school might look like in the future, what a curriculum might look like, and what life might feel like in general. In particular, we imagined a world where a school could follow the student instead of the student attending a school, where today’s learning curriculum and grading system is replaced by students advancing in their learning by solving real-life problems, where the boundary between being a student and teacher blurs, and where adults and children often learn together.
While we hope you’ll enjoy immersing yourself in this particular version of the future, we encourage you to design your own. What will a student, teacher, school, and curriculum look like? What technologies would you incorporate, and how would they help bring about a world where everyone could be inspired to learn and teach, solve real-world problems, and find opportunities to contribute to their community?

Schroders acquire majority stake in BlueOrchard Finance

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A milestone and another example of the mainstreaming of impact investing.
BlueOrchard Finance is a pioneer in microfinance and impact investing. Founded in 2001, the company launched the world’s first commercial microfinance debt investments. As of May 2019, the company had circa USD 3.5bn in assets under management.
From their news release:

Schroders’ partnership with BlueOrchard supports the expansion of its sustainability capabilities. This will help to better serve clients who are increasingly seeking investments which have a beneficial impact on society and the environment, as well as generating positive financial returns. It also accelerates the growth of Schroders in private debt and private equity investments in emerging markets.
Partnering with Schroders enables BlueOrchard to further drive innovation and growth and increase its impact across emerging and frontier markets. Schroders’ stable ownership structure and heritage is aligned with BlueOrchard’s longterm investment philosophy. Sharing values and the desire to generate substantial impact together, Schroders is BlueOrchard’s preferred strategic partner.
There will be no changes to the management team, processes or strategies that BlueOrchard manage

What’s new on Impact Investing

1. The Global Impact Investing Network’s Sizing the Impact Investing Market report, published on April 1, provides an in-depth analysis of the current size and composition of the impact investing market. The GIIN estimates the current size of the global impact investing market to be $502 billion.
2. In view of the rapid growth of funds in the area of impact investing The GIIN has made “scaling the market with integrity” a key focus and have released a useful sheet titled CORE CHARACTERISTICS OF IMPACT INVESTING which defines 4 tenets/practices of impact investing: 1) Intentionality 2) Use Evidence and Impact Data in Investment Design 3) Manage Impact Performance 4) Contribute to the Growth of the Industry
3. Impact Management Project is a forum for building global consensus on how to measure, report, compare and improve impact performance. IMP convenes a Practitioner Community of over 2,000 organisations to debate and find consensus (norms) on technical topics, as well as share best practices.
4. BlueOrchard publishes it’s Impact Report 2019/2020 on April 1.

Science Fiction Design Intelligence workshop “The Future of Learning” at Singularity University

IMG_3411 (002)The Future of Learning was an exhilarating two-day workshop (Feb 28-March 1) at Singularity University (SU) that I was fortunate to be part of. The methodology SciFi-DI developed by SU is a compelling unique approach to innovation. It is used to design future visions by leveraging science fiction to look 15 years into the future and then retrocast to redefine what we could build today. See here a great example of a SciFi-DI workshop that SU conducted in the past “The Future of Home”

We were a very diverse group of 50 including a number of SU faculty and staff as well as talented artists and storytellers. The workshop started with “deep immersion” to exponential thinking and technologies and how these would affect the future. Then we worked in groups of 3-5 using 7-8 worksheets.
1) Frame the problem, a potential solution, define what issues must be addressed, the challenges in each area (Societal, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political or in short STEEP)
2) Select from a list of predictions which ones we think will become true by 2034 (STEEP Framework)
3) Retrocast by working backwards from 2034 noting key activities, partnerships and milestones required to develop this solution using STEEP segments
4) Character development: create a person/robot through whom we would be illustrating the problem and the solution
5) Brainstorm: the worst and best ideas to solve this problem
6) Develop a key concept worksheet
7) Write a scenario/storyline using the character (setting the scene, normal day… until one day, solution and result) At this point we got help from the artists.

All 12 groups presented their problems/solutions. We all got 4 votes each to cast on the favourite story/solution. The winner was the story of Nuni, an AI empathy and an educational bot and Yabi a 9 year-old kid living in Chad. Nuni checks Yabi’s individualized educational plans, creates digital content and most importantly, facilitates interaction with other children (real and virtual) by directing Yabi to interactive collaboration spaces. It also interacts with other Nuni’s to create a happy, healthy and safe learning environment. So using technology to increase human interaction.

The beauty is that SU will make a comic book out of this and will be distributed to the public for free!
Thank you SU team!

Takeaways from The GIIN Forum 2018

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Over 1300 delegates attended the GIIN Forum 2018 which took place in Paris on Oct 30-31st. A strong opening message from Amit Bouri, Co-founder and CEO of the GIIN;

We need a new financial system that is accountable for its effects on people and the planet. I believe that impact investing presents a real alternative to the status quo….. 3 priorities for impact investments: mobilize more capital, ensure impact integrity and build the movement…..I hope that every one of you views this movement not just as an opportunity but as a responsibility to lead, to change expectations, & to build a just and sustainable world where everyone uses the full power of their investment capital as a force for good!

As the movement grows and starts mainstreaming there are different forces at play. As my colleague quite cleverly pointed out, there are a few camps looking at impact investment from different perspectives: impact fundamentalists, risk mitigators and impact washers. Thanks to GIIN members, and the thought leaders like Jed Emerson and Sir Roland Cohen there is a strong push to ensure impact integrity.

Sir Cohen commented on “the steps to reach the impact tipping point 2020″ that
1) we should start seeing by 2020 the equivalent of impact accounts under GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) so that companies can publish alongside their financial accounts their impact financial accounts and 2) Measurable means dependable, not 100% accountable… if 20% of companies measure their impact, that’s a paradigm shift and the rest will follow.

“We need to have a conversation about what value we really want to create. We will stay where we are if we just stay focused on making money with money.” were strong words by Jed Emerson who has recently published “The Purpose of Capital” (the book is free to download!), a very important literature that reminds us to stop and reflect as we are thinking and talking too much about the “how” and getting blurred on the “why”.

Dq1ALNEWsAAdjqP (3)Omydiar Network presented the outstanding series “Beyond Trade-offs” covering perspectives of leading investors who have moved beyond the trade-off debate to invest across the returns continuum.
“We need to move beyond the binary debate of commercial returns vs concessionary – in reality, it’s a continuum.” Roopa Kudva, Partner Omydiar Network

A topic which is appearing more is the role of Blockchain in impact. There were two presentations both moderated by Shaun Conway, President of ixoFoundation. ixo is building the Blockchain for Impact, transforming all measurable changes that have an impact into Verified Impact Data with crypto-economic Proof of Impact. A lot of exciting learnings to come from this area!

ixo: The Blockchain for Impact from ixo foundation on Vimeo.

Digesting and expanding on the learnings from Singularity U. We are just getting started….

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8 weeks have passed since the intense week at Singularity U, where 92 curious and fun minds were exposed to and learned from the awesome experts in the field of exponential technologies as well as from each other.
Some of the phrases that stuck and continue to sink in:

-unlearn, be bold
-be adaptable
-the biggest risk is not thinking big enough
-make a note to my future self
-ask good questions
-data integrity… screen for the truth
-machine learning, cloud robotics
-blockchain, a new way to consider trust
-abundance: rising income, lifespan, food and water availability
-massive cost reduction: energy, VR, human genome sequencing, in-vitro meat, 3D printing
-digital manufacturing in space
-XR (extended reality) will accelerate dematerialization (spaces & experience)
-inclusive abundance: imperative for human survival (is it possible?)
-longevity escape velocity
-nanobots in our brains in 2030?
-quantum/blockchain/solar/AI supremacy converging in 2025?
-reframe strategy: zoom in (6-12m) zoom out (10-20 years)
-technology will allow us to do everything… exciting and a bit scary if used badly
-importance of ethics and moral enhancement

We did learn a lot then, but now it feels that the executive program was just the beginning. We are sharing great stories and news, asking better questions, so we continue to accelerate our learning journey. We are also connecting people from our networks and aiming to scale the positive impact that we can create while finding solutions to the great challenges. How exciting it is imagining what we can achieve collectively over time! Thank you SU and SU colleagues!

Orb Media, a new kind of journalism that we truly need

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OjY19iZt_400x400On June 26th, I was fortunate to attend an exclusive event where Molly Bingham, the founder of Orb Media, philanthropist, filmmaker, photographer and journalist, shared with us her amazing journey. This event was organized by Women and Philanthropy (thank you Kecia Barkawi!).

Molly is Founder and CEO of Orb Media, which produces a new kind of journalism that challenges the way we see our world and brings us together around the things we share. At a time when we most need to see the full picture of our planet, today’s journalism is showing us only fragments of it. As people, we have our differences, but we share a core that profoundly outweighs them.
Orb Media is a nonprofit journalism organization that reports on issues that matter to billions of people around the globe. Fusing original research, data analysis, on the ground reporting, and an engaged public, Orb Media produces agenda-setting stories about the challenges we face together as one world.
Rather than bombarding the public with breaking news while providing little in the way of context, Orb practices proactive journalism. Orb asks how events may (or may not) fit into a meaningful, global trend by covering 8 topics (linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals) that affect each of us every day: Food, Water, Energy, Health, Education, Environment, Trade and Governance. Orb produces professional and fact-based journalism exploring these topics that touch billions of people across national, cultural and linguistic differences. Orb delivers each story in four versions – text, audio, multimedia and data – in the world’s most widely spoken languages. The stories are designed to be accessible on any internet connected phone, tablet or computer. The stories are distributed through The Orb Media Network (OMN) which is composed of agenda-setting media brands from around the world who simultaneously publish stories researched and reported by Orb in order to present their audiences with fact-based, quality information on global issues. By working in this way Orb and the OMN catalyze global dialogue on critical issues, focusing the attention of government, industry, researchers, civil society, and the public. (source: orbmedia.org)

Some of their recent stories include Invisibles- The plastic inside us, a story revealing how plastic fibers have contaminated tap water around the world, this was followed by the alarming story Plus Plastic – Microplastics found in global bottled water and the most recent one is Age Well – attitudes matter in a graying world. All these stories are important to all of us in the interconnected world. Orb is remaking journalism to one that the world truly needs.

I was also hugely impressed and inspired by Molly, her courage, dedication, passion, and her journey. Molly comes from generations of pioneering journalists, in fact, she is the 4th generation. She is an award-winning journalist, photojournalist and filmmaker. In 1994 she started as a photographer traveling to Rwanda to cover events after the genocide she continued to cover war areas such as Burundi, Zaire, Chiapas, Russia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the Gaza and Iraq. She has worked with Human Rights Watch for three projects and also worked as the official photographer of Vice President Al Gore at the White House. In 2003, she survived a 7-day captivity at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. As co-director of the documentary film “Meeting Resistance” she was awarded the “Golden Award” at the 2007 Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival. Her passion and commitment to journalism which was tested through her experience in the prison in Baghdad has lead her to remake journalism to catalyze global dialogue and create massive positive change. Thank you Molly! Watch her powerful TEDxtalk. Molly Bingham at TEDxSMU.

What does sustainable investments, ESGs, SDGs and impact investments mean?

Sustainable investing, SRI, impact investing, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are words that we are exposed daily as it is used by investors, banks, asset managers, corporations, consultants as well as the media. It is great that this movement is mainstreaming, however, how can we make sense of figures like $23 trillion in SRI assets on one hand and a much smaller figure of $144bn in impact investment assets? It is important to understand the differences so that we can compare apples with apples and gain clarity on this growth area. This article uses the definitions by the two resources that are most established in this area; the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) and the Global Impact Investment Network(GIIN)

Sustainable investing is an approach to investment where environmental, social or governance (ESG) factors, in combination with financial considerations, guide the selection and management of investments.
Sustainable investing is the umbrella term that incorporates social responsible investing, SRI, impact investing and it encompasses the different strategies/activities. According to GSIA, global SRI assets in early 2016 reached $22.89 trillion, a growth of 25% compared to 2014. The strategies and activities under sustainable investments are shown below.

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THe top 3 strategies; negative and exclusionary screening (15 tn), ESG integration (10.3 tn) and corporate engagement/shareholder action (8.3 tn) are very large established strategies while impact/community investment (248 bn) and sustainability themed investing (331 bn) are growing fast but still very small.

ESG (Environmental, social and governance) refers to sustainable investment criteria used alongside traditional financial criteria in managing and selecting investments. ESG is a criterion, the word is also used as ESG factors, ESG metrics and ESG integration, which is one of the largest strategies within sustainable investments.
The use of ESG by institutional investors has been rising over the past 15 years as a result of increasing evidence that integrating ESG factors in the investment process can actually improve the risk/reward of investment portfolios.

Impact Investments – Investments made into companies, organizations and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return (source: GIIN)
Impact investment is an approach to investments and is a fast growing but the smallest subset and strategy within sustainable investments. The differentiator of this approach is the intentionality to generate positive social and environmental impact and the commitment to measure it. In terms of market size there are two benchmarks: 1) GIIN’s $144bn based on their annual survey of assets aggregated by their respondents in 2017, and 2) GSIA 2016 Review which shows the assets of the category Impact and Community investments at $248bn.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The SDGs, a set of 17 goals was adopted in Sept 2015 by the UN “to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all “. The goals have specific targets to be achieved by 2030. The development of indicators and monitoring framework for the SDGs which followed has attracted many investors and asset managers to commit to invest in these goals. The SDGs are now being adopted as a framework in many of the sustainable investment strategies including impact investment funds.