Category Archives: impact investments

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.

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.

Impact Investment update: GIIN’s annual survey 2017

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The key highlights of the GIIN’s 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey are shown below;

• In aggregate, 205 respondents invested USD 22.1 billion into nearly 8,000 impact investments in 2016 and plan to increase capital invested by 17% to USD 25.9 billion in 2017.
• In total, 208 respondents currently manage USD 114 billion in impact investing assets.1
• Nearly universally, respondents measure their social and/or environmental performance, using a mix of proprietary metrics, qualitative information, and IRIS-aligned metrics.
• The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that their investments have either met or exceeded their expectations for both impact (98%) and financial performance (91%).
• While two out of three respondents principally target risk-adjusted, market rates of return, there is widespread acknowledgement of the important role played by below-market-rate-seeking capital in the market.

Innovations in impact measurement

innovations-in-impact-measurement-coverLast November, I attended an inspiring presentation by Acumen where I heard for the first time about their Lean Data Initiative for impact measurement. The main advantages of this approach are: collecting meaningful data through lean surveys in less time and with less cost by using low cost mobile technology. In addition, it can be used as an interactive tool, to not only measure, but manage impact as key data is collected efficiently providing a fast and clear insight of the social performance achieved. This is quite a revolution from the traditional impact measurement that was designed primarily for the use of donors and investors. This puts the customer/beneficiary first and it becomes a management tool for the service/product providers to improve their ongoing operations in order to deliver even higher social impact. Another pioneering organization that has been developing new tools and methodologies leveraging technology for measuring social and environmental impact is Root Capital. Root Capital is an agricultural impact investor that grows rural prosperity in Africa and Latin America by providing loans and training to agricultural enterprises that are reaching small-scale farmers. Root Capital’s Client-Centric Mobile Measurement aims to generate the data needed about impact on small-scale farmers, while creating value both for the farmers and for the agricultural enterprises. These innovations are significant as it will improve and increase positive social and environmental impact and also accelerate and increase investments for impact.
Learn more.

Skoll World Forum 2017 Fault Lines: Creating Common Ground


The 14th Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship took place on April 4-7. This year’s theme was Fault Lines: Creating Common Ground. As boldly described in their welcome message;

Globally, rifts are emerging along cultural, class, and political lines as globalization and the digital revolution have benefited some, and left some behind. The divide grows in how people perceive-and experience-the world which represents a threat to a peaceful and prosperous future. Can we design a world where our common humanity outshines our ideological, cultural, and political differences? Together we’ll rise to new ideas, new perspectives, and ultimately, new relationships built on trust and a mutual desire for human progress. We’ll highlight innovators around the world creating common ground through their drive, creativity and leadership.

It was not only an inspiring forum but a very rich and powerful gathering with bold and innovative ideas and exchanges happening, one of the best that I have attended in the past 11 years.
Highly recommended videos to watch… and if you would like to see more here is the entire playlist.
-Jeff Skoll talks with Jim Kim, President of World Bank Group (29min)

-Jess Search talks to Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani (22min)

-A chilling and fascinating analysis by Michael Porter of HBS on what is the problem in the USA: Porter on Populism (90min)

Meet the Skoll Awardees of 2017 (link includes a 5 min intro to all 4 Awardees)
-Kola Masha: Babban Gona is an investor-owned social enterprise serving networks of smallholder farmers in Nigeria with a model created specifically to attract youth. The first for-profit company to receive the Skoll Award
-Elizabeth Hauser: Build Change trains homeowners, local builders, engineers, and government officials to construct or retrofit disaster-resistant houses and schools in emerging nations vulnerable to earthquakes and typhoons.
-Rajesh Panjabi: Last Mile Health partners with government to deploy, support, and manage networks of community health professionals and to integrate them into the public health system. Working in Liberia.
-Bradley Myles: Polaris systematically disrupts human trafficking networks and restores freedom to survivors. With experience and expertise from direct victim services such as hotlines and resource centers, to policy advocacy, Polaris provides a data backbone for the sector.

A big thanks to Jeff Skoll, Sally Osberg, Stephan Chambers, the Skoll team and the Saiid Business School for their awesome work.

Takeaways from the seif Impact Investing Congress 2017

IMG_8675The 2nd Impact Investing Congress organized by seif took place in Zurich on Jan 24th.
Some takeaways and highlights
-The space continues to grow rapidly and somewhat chaotically as new players from all segments with different aspirations and products enter and push for mainstreaming impact investment. Growth is great and as a result you can’t avoid some growing pains. Some big banks such as BBVA and Barclays are becoming more active in this field.
-Rod Schwarz, CEO of ClearlySo introduced the recently launched ClearlySo Atlas, an impact assessment solution for private equity investors and venture capital investors. Atlas asseses the impact of portfolio holdings enabling investors to map, track and report on their impact and sustainability. What is great about this tool is that it targets the mainstream investments managers/portfolios (not only the impact investments) to improve on its impact. This goes along with Rod’s and ClearlySo’s belief that we are moving from the two dimensional investment criteria (return vs risk) towards a three dimensional one adding impact as a feature to all investments.
-Antoni Ballabriga , Global Head of Responsible Business at BBVA made an impressive presentation on how this large bank has recently gone through a transformation involving 28,000 of their employees around the globe to (re)define their purpose. The bank’s purpose is now “To bring the age of opportunity to everyone” and thus their new tagline is “Creating Opportunities”. With the WHY being cleared, the WHAT and HOW follows. These opportunities will be offered through: financial products that meet individual customer needs; financial education programs; transparent, clear and responsible communication; commitment with the environment; support to entrepreneurship; and promotion of culture and science, among other initiatives in favor of society. Let’s see how the initiatives of another large financial player reshape the universe – for the time being let’s give them the benefit of doubt.
-Phyllis Costanza, CEO of UBS Optimus Foundation updated us on the positive results so far of their first Development Impact Bond, an innovative instrument which brings in new money and cross sector partnerships for development. They are working on a new DIB and hopefully many other DIBs would be launched by other institutions in the future.
-The closing was a very interesting panel that debated on the now and future of impact investments in Switzerland which gave us much hope but equally cautions as the industry grows and mainstreams with differing views on the extent of the impact (improving some things vs solving the real problems) that the organizations would like to create.
Thanks seif for organizing this productive Congress.

ACUMEN: boldly changing the way the world tackles poverty

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Acumen started operations in 2001 with a pioneering concept, a non-profit venture capital for the poor, using philanthropic (patient) capital to invest in entrepreneurs that would be capable to create sustainable solutions to big problems in poverty. For the past 15 years, they have been helping to build companies, developing leaders and sharing ideas. Their impact to date: $103m invested in 96 companies, 200 million lives impacted, 310 leaders developed, 17 Acumen Chapters, and 320,000 people have signed up to the Acumen leadership courses. Impressive figures! However, why Acumen continues to be one of the leaders/innovators in this field is because they can’t be content on just seeing these figures. They go deeper in trying to understand the real impact (qualitatively) by developing impact measurement/metrics.

Our Impact Framework: We work to understand impact from the moment we begin due diligence on a company throughout the lifetime of the investment. Working closely with our companies, we generate, analyze and use data that enables them to understand and improve their social performance. Our aim is to unlock their full potential and achieve the greatest social change for the customers they serve. (source Acumen)

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As Acumen defines its success as how well their investments are enabling the poor to improve their own lives for the long term, they measure the social performance across 3 dimensions: 1) the focus on the poor 2) the breadth (the number reached) 3) depth (improvements). So they look at impact from all these fronts. They use lean data which has made it much more efficient, faster and cost efficient to understand their impact. Another great contribution of Acumen is how they share their ideas and findings. +Acumen which comprises online free leadership courses and is rapidly becoming “the world’s school of social change”.

Acumen’s Dr. Ambika Sampat spoke about Acumen’s journey on Nov 16 “Zurich Social Investment Breakfast Club” facilitated by Rianta Capital and hosted by RobecoSAM. Thank you all and congratulations to the amazing team of Acumen!
Additional info and suggestions
Jacqueline Novogratz Ted Talks She has delivered 5 TED talks.
Acumen’s manifesto
Writeup on Jacueline Novogratz’s book ” The Blue Sweater”

SOCAP 16

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAdQAAAAJGM1MDEyMWU4LWNkNDctNDlhYi05YWNlLTFkOWVmYjMwOWRkMAThe ninth SOCAP, the conference at the intersection of money and meaning took place Sept 13-16 with 2500 attendants, 10 tracks and 12 parallel meetings. It looked overwhelming how this conference has grown but judging from the plenaries and sessions, it has grown in breadth and depth in a solid remarkable way and whilst expanding keeping its feet on the ground. The Opening Plenary discussions and talks made us reflect that the “why” is as important as the “how” on impact investments was a great way to set the tone for the conference. The sessions on impact evaluation and measurement, mapping the impact investment landscape with collaborative data, gender lens investing, a total portfolio approach on fossil investing and B Corps, show the richness and evolution of this movement. Congratulations to Rosa Lee Harden, Kevin Jones, and Lindsay Smalling for the tremendous work!
There are many talks and sessions you can find of SOCAP16 in youtube. Some of my favourites were:
Jed Emerson, Blended Value
Impact at Scale
Shifting Culture Towards Equity
Also the following three sessions were very interesting but it requires a bit more time to watch.
The Transformative Edge of Impact
Navigating Impact Investing: the Pursuit of Clarity and Simplicity
Evolving Impact Measurement over the next decade

The First European B Corp Summer Summit

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The European B Corp Summit, a celebration for People Using Business as a Force for Good, took place in Rome on June30 & July1. Two energetic days of learning, sharing, networking amongst the rapidly expanding global B Corp community (currently 1809 companies in 50 countries). The focus was on brainstorming and action planning on how can we continue to accelerate this movement. Powerful messages through numerous inspiring speakers including: Pedro Tarak of Sistema B, Lorna Davis of Danone, Thomas Van Craen of Triodos Bank, Bryan Welch of B the Change Media, Mirella Zuidgeest of thermaflex, Corey Lien of DOMI, Pablo Sepulveda & Eloisa Silva of Birus, and Christoph Barman of Loyco. Thanks to the B Lab Europe team and Nativa for organizing such an impactful event!

womeneffect.com – a platform accelerating investments in women and girls

IMG_5016Every year very interesting forums and meetings take place in the second half of January here in Zurich as these are scheduled before and after the WEF forum in Davos. This year we had the seif Congress on Impact Investment and Social Innovation, a nice venue providing an overview of the current state of impact investment in Europe and promoting the building of an ecosystem in Switzerland. Coinciding with this Congress there was a meeting launching the Women Effect.

We believe that investing in women and girls is not only right, it is smart. It leads to positive returns for investors and better social and economic outcomes for everyone. This is the women effect.

– Suzanne Biegel, founder of womeneffect and a pioneer in gender lens investing.

Women Effect is a global community of generous men and women, individuals and institutions (investors, philanthropists and wealth managers) who have come together to accelerate the women effect in the most strategic and efficient way. It is a platform to learn connect and collaborate, accelerating investments in women and girls. Suzanne’s article on this subject.