Is Impact Investing financial returns or non-financial returns quantified?

From Huffington Post (HT: @AcumenFund):

Investors in these companies will look for a commensurate financial return, as well as measurable social impact on the ground. While some prefer the terms venture philanthropy or social investment, impact investing represents a distinct style of responsible capitalism which has become particularly popular among foundations, endowments and high net worth individual investors.

Industry pioneers, such as the $3 billion Rockefeller Foundation in New York, see impact investing as a way to find solutions to poverty reduction and other social problems; but more importantly to access the private sector capital markets that ultimately hold the wealth required to scale up these solutions globally. While charitable donations by high net worth individuals were down 35 per cent in 2010, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Indiana University, the impact investing sector is expecting steady growth.

In 2010, JP Morgan forecast potential impact investment capital of $400 billion to $1 trillion globally over the next ten years. Much recent activity in impact investing has been effectively direct investing, with the typical venture capital approach sometimes supplemented by grants and capacity building. The Omidyar Network, for example, launched in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, "has invested $450 million in equity and grants to promote microfinance, entrepreneurship, technology and government transparency, mostly in developing countries."

Investment managers such as the Acumen Fund and the Capricorn Investment Group, which manages the Skoll Foundation’s multi-billion dollar portfolio, are active in emerging markets across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Impact investing does present significant challenges to investors. It can be difficult to obtain basic investment information in emerging markets, and equally hard to monitor and track the performance of small companies and projects. This is compounded by the complexity of trying to quantify the non-financial "impact" of investments: it is not that simple to compare the social benefits of investing in, for example, vaccinations in Ghana versus cleaner burning cooking stoves in India.To help donors and investors tackle this issue, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), a non-profit company supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, has worked with B Lab to develop industry infrastructure aimed at improving information flow and creating a more efficient marketplace.

For me a clear definition is still lacking. Is impact investing expecting financial returns from the investment or will accept non-financial returns expressed in financial terms. I cannot imagine pension funds (reponsible to support employees when retired through pension) investing in areas where they will not get a financial return. What happens to the pensioner?

This is a troubling development like "social innovation". It’s ok if social innovation is confused but "impact investing" will effect real dollars and can put projects on the wrong path.

Recently, I looked at a grant from a prominent foundation in Australia and their definition of social enterprise was any for-profit that does good or a not for profit which has a percentage of its revenues coming from sale or business. Is this the best definition that will filter the right organisations to be funded?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s