Just back from the “Partnering for Global Impact” a two day forum by EBD Group in Lugano. Key areas covered were agriculture, education, healthcare housing, financial services and water.This forum facilitates outcomes in impact investing and philanthropy through one to one meetings alongside great keynote addresses (such as Sir Ronald Cohen) and panel discussions. It was a well organized event with very good content and great for networking.
Having attended numerous events on impact investment and philanthropy and having been fortunate to learn from outstanding social enterprises over the past 10 years I believe that one new topic should be added to these events.
These great forums such as Skoll World Forum, SOCAP, TBLI and PGI are playing a critical role in helping to solve the most serious problems we face through bringing together ideas, people, capital and promoting the more efficient use of resources. Find sustainable solutions which are working in emerging economies and scaling it. Funding and capacity building to be provided by impact investors, philanthropists and development finance institutions. It’s great but maybe we could do even better.
One different angle should be added. What could WE in the developed world learn and import from the emerging market innovative models that have been successful? Who has developed or is developing low cost high quality services in education, financial services and healthcare? There are successful education models developed in Latin America that could be used for low income communities in the USA. Perhaps vocational school systems or microfranchising business models that could be useful in reducing youth unemployment in The European Union? The increasing applications of mobile technology for payment systems in Kenya? There is so much innovation happening in emerging economies and we should be pragmatic and maybe a bit humble and change our mindsets to search and learn from the best available solution.
I talked about this idea to some veterans in this field, Suzanne Biegel from Catalyst at Large and ClearlySo, Jed Emerson of ImpactAssets and Blended Value and to Hans Wahl of INSEAD and they all thought it made sense! This topic is worthwhile to dig in further and much more research is needed I hope it will be included in future forums.
A new benchmark to measure the wellbeing and success of countries, the Social Progress Index (SPI), was launched at the 10th Skoll World Forum (April 10-12). This initiative was launched by the Social Progress Imperative and Harvard Business School Prof. Michael Porter (who co-created the business concept of “creating shared value”). This new measure aims to provide a more holistic measurement compared to the one dimensional GDP per capita to assess the progress and standing of countries which shall be useful to policy makers as well as corporations. The SPI measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens by using indicators in the areas of basic human needs (nutrition, water, air, medical care, sanitation, shelter, personal safety), foundations of wellbeing (access to basic knowledge, access to information, health and wellness, ecosystem sustainability), and opportunity (personal rights, access to higher education, personal freedom of choice, equity and inclusion).
“Impact investments aim to solve social or environmental challenges while generating financial profit. Impact investing includes investment that range from producing a return of principal capital to offering market-rate or even above-market financial returns. Although impact investing could be categorized as a type of “social responsible investing” (SRI) it contrasts with negative screening which focuses primarily on avoiding investments in “bad” or “harmful” companies -impact investors actively seek to place capital in businesses and funds that can harness the positive power of enterprise.” (source:based on GIIN)
I first heard this expression in spring 2008 at the Skoll Forum in Oxford described by Antony Bugg-Levine of the Rockefeller Foundation. (I thought I finally found the proper word to describe what I do, I am an impact investment advisor) A year later at the 2009 Skoll Forum, the Monitor Institute presented an excellent report titled Investing for Social and Environmental IMPACT and also A. Bugg-Levine announced that the Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN) was being formed. In Sept at the SOCAP 2009 in San Francisco one could confirm that “impact investing” had become the widely accepted expression by the rapidly growing social capital investment industry. On Sept 25th 2009, GIIN was officially launched and announced its 25 founding members of the GIIN Investor’s Council at the Clinton Global Initiative. A recent article in the Economist also profiles impact investing.
Over the past few years many new expressions have been created to describe investing for social and environmental impact and financial return. These include double or triple bottom line investing, blended value investing and BOP investing. Needless to say microfinance investments is one of the leading and successful examples of this type of investment. All these expressions are valid in their own right; however, it confuses the investors and makes it difficult to build the market mechanisms for this nascent industry to efficiently grow. It is great that we now have a clear terminology and definition and an institution such as GIIN which is dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of impact investing. Other great initiatives in this area include The Global Social Investment Exchange (GSIX) and Nexii, the electronic transactions and communication platform for the social and environmental markets.
A lively debate has been sparked by Mike Edward’s new book “Just Another Emperor-The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism” where he challenges the increasing use of business thinking in philanthropy and the current hype about it. It is in fact a controversial topic but certainly a healthy debate. I got to know about this topic as I follow Nextbillion where now the whole team is writing their comments on this subject.(highly recommended read). Also there is an on-line debate on this subject hosted by Global Philanthropy Forum. Here you can read comments from Matthew Bishop from the Economist who coined the word “philanthrocapitalism” and has written a book with Michael Green titled “Philanthrocapitalism: how the rich can save the world” coming out this fall.
I believe strongly that today there is a powerful movement of making the world a better place (the subject of my latest book) which has been accelerating due to the converging business (for-profit) and social (non-profit) worlds. Both worlds offer principles and methods in different areas that they ought to learn from each other. It is important to sort out what can be used most effectively from each world. I think that this is a timely debate and look forward to see the outcomes.
On April 16th, I visited Aravind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry one of the 5 eye hospitals of Aravind Eye Care Systems (AECS). AECS was founded in 1976 by the late Dr. Venkataswamy (Dr. V) with the mission to eliminate needless blindness by providing compassionate and high quality eye care.AECS today is not only the world largest eye care facility but the world leader in eye care delivery. It encompasses 5 hospitals, a manufacturing center for ophthalmic products (Aurolab), an international research foundation (Aravind Medical Research Foundation) and a resource and training center (LAICO). During the 12 month period to March 2007 AECS treated 2.3 million outpatients and performed 270,444 surgeries. AECS is a profitable institutions although only 40% of the patients pay between US$ 50-300 for catarat surgeries while 60% are non-paying patients.
I was taking part on Unltd Learning Journey 2008 visiting social entrepreneurs in Southern India and although this was not part of the official program it was great that I could visit one of the institutions that I respect so much and have featured in my new book (see entry below). Renjith who is a manager for out-patients organized an efficient visit so that we could have an overview of how patients (both paying and non-paying patients) were examined and treated. We also had a chance to talk to Dr. Ravindran (picture above), the Chief Medical Officer about Aravind expansion plans. Aravind is busy expanding and replicating its model due to the many inquiries and requests from many places both in India and abroad. Yunus Muhammad is opening this month the first Grameen Eye Hospital in Bangladesh modeled after the Aravind Eye Hospital.
Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Price winner, in his continuing fight to make poverty history promotes a new type of enterprise which has as its objective to make a difference. These social business enterprises will be self sustainable, in his words “no loss, no dividend enterprises”. He refers to two types of such enterprises one having investors like the latest joint venture between Grameen and Danone, an enterprise providing fortified yoghurt to malnourished children. Investors will get their capital back, but, profits will be injected back to the company to continue to achieve its objective. The second type of social business enterprise is a for-profit model but owned by the poor such as Grameen Bank.This book goes in depth explaining his “Next Big Idea” social businesses and also present some ideas on how corporations and individuals can take part in achieving a “world without poverty”. It is inspirational and of course uplifting. Highly recommended. Past related entry on this topic, “Muhammad Yunus promotes social businesses”http://www.microfinance.ws/microfinance/2006/12/
On January 24th at the WEF in Davos, Bill Gates made a call on “creative capitalism” a new system that “would have a twin mission: making profits and also improving lives for those who don’t fully benefit from market forces.” He pointed out that “To make the system sustainable, we need to use profit incentives whenever we can. At the same time, profits are not always possible when business tries to serve the very poor. In such cases there needs to be another market incentive- and that incentive is recognition… In markets where profits are not possible, recognition is a proxy; where profits are possible, recognition is an added incentive.The challenge is to design a system where market incentives including profits and recognition, drive the change” He cited examples like Bono’s RED Campaign which has generated in 18 months $50mn for the Global Fund to Fitght AIDS TB and Malaria, a Dutch company which holds the rights to a cholera vaccine that retains the rights in the developed world but shares those rights with manufacturers in the developing world, and a new law in the USA whereby drug companies that develop a new treatment for a neglected disease like malaria or TB can get a priority review from the FDA for another product they have made. He called on businesses, governments and the non-profit world on to take up on projects that works both to generate profit and solve the world’s inequities.
This is a great call on what is also referred as BOP businesses and “double or triple bottom line businesses” and the work done by many social entrepreneurs. The new name is good and easy to understand. The best part is the potential impact of this call as it comes from one of the most powerful business leaders and one of the most influential philanthropist of today. The webcast of this speech is available from the WEF site.
The business (corporate sector) and the social worlds are converging. We could call this a megatrend and it continues to gain momentum. One has seen this through microfinance where an effective development tool initially created in the social/NGO/NPO world have given birth to numerous microfinance institutions that have become sustainable and profitable. Microfinance now attracts funding/investment from both capital markets (commercial banks, asset managers, private investors) and foundations. Social entrepreneurs are also another major force behind this and no doubt that Microfranchising also links these two worlds.
One can also see it through the new partnerships between players of these two worlds especially as the multinational corporations and their executives team up with social activists and NGOs to market products to the 4 billion people at the base of the pyramid (BOP). C.K. Prahald, one of the leading advocates of BOP opportunities, has recently co-authored with Jeb Brugmann, a very interesting article in the February Harvard Business Review titled Cocreating Business’s New Social Compact. It is an excellent read (even if you have to pay for the copy to download) for those who are interested in these new partnerships. Many examples are cited including British Petroleum, Healthstore Foundation, and ICICI.
Microfinance or “financial services to the poor” is slowly but surely getting known to the public at large.
When I started promoting microfinance to the financial circles in Zurich back in 2002 it was quite difficult to get people excited about it. That lead to me to write the book Making Sense: Microfinance & Microfinance Investments which got published in 2004 followed by the German and Japanese language publications in 2005.
In February 2006 I attended to a Microfinance conference sponsored by ING in their headquarters in Amsterdam. The topic of this conference was the role of commercial banks in microfinance. Now many banks are getting active in this field. Microfinance is becoming mainstream. Since last year I started promoting MicroFranchising along microfinance and will continue to do so in the future entries.
If there was a phrase to summarize why I started this blog and why I have been immersed in promoting microfinance for the past 4 years and MicroFranchising for the past year is the belief that “we can make the world a better place” by collaborating and by being a bit more efficient. I truly believe that we can make a difference.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful people that have supported me to continue on this path.
Ivo Felder, Yukari Mori, Yuko Wakamatsu, Roselly & Raphael Ramseyer, Ahmed Hakki, Bal Balaji, Isabelle Hupperts, Vincent Dominé and my parents. To all I am truly grateful.