Monthly Archives: March 2017

DEVELOPMENT OF AN IMPACT INVESTING INDUSTRY

These are issues that I believe impact investment professionals will grapple with for the foreseeable future:

Impact Measurement. There is still no clear consensus on how to measure the social impact of impact investments. A number of methodologies have been developed, each seeking to create a standard that can be used across a wide range of investments.

  • IRIS is a catalog of impact metrics managed by the Global Impact Investor Network. IRIS is intended to provide a common language for measuring social, environmental and finance performance.
  • GIIRS ratings, developed by B Analytics uses the B Impact Assessment to rate the impact of a given investment or portfolio. The GIIRS rating includes an Overall Impact Business Model Rating, Overall Operations Rating and a Fund Manager Assessment.
  • The UN Global Compact measures companies’ performance in meeting universally recognized standards of human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption. The Global Compact also encourages alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In addition, several organizations have their own impact measurement methods tailored to suit their specific circumstances. Impact investors and social enterprises will need people who can sort through these methodologies, and understand how to apply them to their organizations.

Mainstreaming” of Impact Investments. When will impact investing become the norm? Will companies ever report social results alongside financial results as a matter of course?

Based on my experience at the IBL workshop, much of impact investing mirrors the startup world, involving relatively young and small companies whose value proposition includes some form of groundbreaking innovation. One sign of mainstreaming will be when we see larger, institution-sized impact investments. In addition, one wonders if we will see established, Fortune 500 companies reporting social impact results. These are companies that have tremendous influence on the global economy, the global workforce, and on communities and municipalities. They usually discuss their interactions with stakeholders in their annual reports, but that is not the same as an objective measurement of impact. How will impact influence executive compensation? Firm value? Corporate governance? Professional recruitment? These questions are being asked and discussed but the answers are still some distance away.

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IMPACT INVESTING IN EMERGING MARKETS

Recently, I along with a group of mid career professionals participated in a 3 day workshop entitled “Break into Impact Investing.”

The workshop consisted of seminars from leading practitioners in the field. They represented organizations such as Village Capital, Accion Venture Lab, Infodev (World Bank), and the Calvert Foundation.

Impact investing is a broad category that addresses many topics of concern around the globe. This workshop devoted much attention go early stage ventures in the developing world.

  • The Village Capital seminar for example focused on a case study featuring an a successful entrepreneur turned investor who need to allocate investment dollars between two mission driven startups, and Village capital’s own investment fund and a donation to Village Capital’s non-profit entity.
  • Infodev provides funding and support to entrepreneurs in the developing world. The seminar featured a startup in Kenya and dealt with several issues faced by impact investment funds such as how to define success, fund structure, and governance.
  • The Accion Venture Lab presentation offered insights on assessing a social venture at its earliest stage.
  • The Calvert Foundation discussed fixed income investments in the impact investment context, using vehicles such as the Community Investment Note to fund several kinds of loans to social enterprises, and the Ours to Own campaign to raise capital to revitalize urban centers including Denver, Baltimore, and the Gateway Cities of Massachusetts. The Calvert Foundation is a bit of a departure in that it uses debt instruments for impact investing.

All the presenters gave us frameworks to guide the process of impact investing. They had in common the identification of a value proposition or unmet need, development of a business model, and building a strong management team. It seem the elements of a promising startup are the same regardless of whether or not social impact is a factor.

It is also interesting to note that most of the cases and enterprises discussed were in Asia and East Africa. It was pointed out that Kenya is considered one of the more attractive countries for impact investing. East Africa’s popularity among the impact investment community is largely due to the advanced startup ecosystem in East Africa compared to other parts of the continent. The concerted effort to make Nairobi an African technology hub, plus the impressive regional integration efforts of the East African Community have attracted investment of all kinds including impact investment.

Careers in Impact Investing

In addition to learning about the industry, the workshop included insights on career options in impact investing.

The workshop organizer, Impact Business Leaders is in the talent development business, so the workshop was very much about career development and creating the talent pool for the impact investment industry.

Throughout the weekend career paths were revealed both implicitly and explicitly. Some of them include:

  • Portfolio manager – working with financial statements, managing relationships with portfolio companies.
  • Analyst/CFO – Overseeing accounting and financial analysis, being a resource to management for understanding financial issues.
  • Adviser/Consultant – working directly with entrepreneurs providing advice and technical assistance.
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