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Has Impact Investing Been Inflated?

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Rareș Pamfil, Oxford MBA Candidate at the Saïd Business School, shares insight on the Skoll World Forum debate, “Has Impact Investing Been Inflated?”

Participating at this panel were:

  • Julia Sze, Director of Impact Investing at Arabella Advisors
  • Chris West, Partner, Sumerian Partners (formerly Director of Shell Foundation)
  • Mara Bolis – Senior Advisor, Private Sector Department, Oxfam America
  • Cathy Clark – Director of CASE i3, Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University
  • Lisa Kleissner, Co-Founder, Toniic

This was a special session at the Skoll World Forum, because it centered around an Oxford-style debate on the motion “Has impact investing been inflated?” Chris West and Mara Bolis argued for the motion, Cathy Clark and Lisa Kleissner argued against, and Julia Sze moderated.

It should be noted that speakers on both sides of the debate are active in developing the impact investing space, with neither of them opposed to the practice. Nonetheless, today they took a firm position either for or against the motion being debated, for the sake of creating a more thought-provoking debate.

The argument from Chris West and Mara Bolis broadly followed the one made in their recently launched report: “Impact Investing: Who are we Serving” (blog by Mara Bolis). Their key concern with the field as it stands today is that there is a mismatch between the type of capital supplied and the type of capital needed. “Because this sector is trying to behave differently, this money should behave differently”, pleads Mara Bolis. Too frequently, the social entrepreneurs who are knowledgeable about the financing needs of enterprises which serve the poor in developing countries, are left out the conversation when impact funds and other investment vehicles are designed. This has lead to unrealistic expectations about returns, and risks undermining the sector.

What can be done? Chris West argues that more patient capital is required, as well as more realistic expectations about returns. Entrepreneurs also need to ensure that they accept investment only at the right time, from the right people, and under the appropriate terms. Otherwise, enterprises can end up with “schizophrenic boards”, which cannot agree on whether to prioritize financial growth of social impact. Participants from all sides agreed that social investment finance intermediaries have a key role to play in helping entrepreneurs raise the right kind of capital, as do resources developed for entrepreneurs seeking investment, such as the CASE Smart Impact Capital toolkit.

Nigel Kershaw, OBE Chair of The Big Issue Group, addresses the panel of speakers.

On the other side of the debate, Cathy Clark and Lisa Kleissner spoke about the progress that has been made in developing this field, emphasising that there is genuine commitment to social impact among many of the funders have in the field. For instance, in the Toniic 100% impact network, over 130 individuals have pledged to use 100% of their assets for positive social and environmental impact, amounting to a total of over $4.5 billion in assets. Lisa Kleissner, who is a member of the network, shared her personal perspective: “The money that we [received] was more than we had hoped for, so we were willing to take a risk.” Her approach has been to work closely with entrepreneurs, understand their business model, and provide a combination of grants, loans, and other investments as needed.

The T100 project will provide other personal journeys and insight from 50 Toniic 100% impact members. The early findings are that 83% met or outperformed financial return expectations (in a sample of 40 portfolios), and 87% of all respondents met or exceeded their impact return expectations. However, what constitutes an annualised market rate of return varies considerably among respondents, leading 53% of respondents to state that the discussion around financial returns needs to be re-framed.

What can we conclude from this this debate? By one metric, the side against the motion won. The small group of 7 audience members who felt that impact investing had not been inflated grew to over 15 after the speakers finished their remarks. But they remained a minority in the room. Nonetheless, many audience members commented that “Has [the promise of] impact investing been inflated?” was the wrong question to ask. Inflated according to whom? And is it not too early to tell? What is clear is that the field has developed substantially in the last 15 years. Regardless of whether early results meet or defy expectations, the recently created sector infrastructure (funds, advisors, measurement experts, and other intermediaries) will enable growth, better capital placement, and better impact outcomes in the coming years.

 

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More in Common

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA Candidate 2016-17, Alex Shapland-Howes, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Mobalizing a Movement: More in Common”.

How many articles have you read over the last year about the rise of populist politicians? How Brexit and Trump were caused by a great divide within our societies? How xenophobia so easily becomes the go-to response?

Almost all the articles end with something like “…and we must start acting now to fix this”.

But perhaps the thing that’s been most alarming is the lack of ideas as to how we should go about tackling these issues. Lamenting their existence is an important start – few of us had appreciated the scale of the problem until recently – yet of course without deliberate, concrete actions, it’s hard to see the situation changing.

This week at Skoll World Forum, I heard from an amazing group of people who are founding a new organisation to stimulate the changes they want to see. Led by Gemma Mortensen, Tim Dixon and Brendan Cox, More in Common will focus on five key areas:

  1. Public opinion research

It’s easy to make assumptions about the views of individuals or groups across society, but to make deliberative change successfully, we need to listen very carefully to each other. We often hear, for example, that there’s a divide between liberal cosmopolitans and what could be termed ‘angry nationalists’ in our societies. More In Common’s detailed research has found that whilst that divide very much does exist, roughly half the population have mixed views and don’t fall into either camp.

  1. Communications strategy for key influencers

Getting the messages right is critical to winning this battle. Brendan Cox told the audience that what we often call populism is actually just bigotry and hatred. A huge amount of work is needed to get the balance right between appeasing the dangerous views of some and genuinely listening, acting on the valid concerns of others.

  1. Convening and building broader coalitions

This work is inherently political but to succeed, it has to bring people with it across the normal divides. Organisations that normally wouldn’t take a political stance might do so if everybody was part of it. If More In Common can show that the most hate-filled views aren’t part of the same continuum – that they’re another, far more malevolent force – then they will try to get businesses, civil society, the media and more to stand up against it.

  1. Partnerships

Partnerships will also play a key role. We heard the example of how the Jo Cox Foundation has organised The Great Get Together in partnership with everyone from Oxfam and the Women’s Institute to the Premier League and The Sun. Across the UK, 10 million people are expected to get gather with neighbours on 17-18 June to “be part of a national celebration of what we have in common”. Amazing!

  1. Digital activation

We all know the power of social media. We heard less about this but there are plans to mobilise a ‘base’ of supporters to lead a movement from the bottom up too.

More In Common is new. There was little push back from anyone in the room at Skoll World Forum, few in the room who disagreed and this is arguably the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.

But the group running it are incredible. I was sold.

They are thinking, they seem to be listening and they have concrete plans for what to do next.

It felt like the start of the fight back.

Follow Alex: @alexshsh

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Carbon Imperialism or Energy Leapfrogging

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Seth Collins, Oxford MBA Candidate 2016-17 at the Saïd Business School gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Carbon Imperialism or Energy Leapfrogging”.

How to balance the ethics and the economics of energy development?

The opportunity is clear for developing countries to forge their own energy infrastructure path, and the question, then, is whether or not they will be empowered to do so with the support of international capital markets.

You see, the banks were not at COP21. In the plenary, we spoke of capitalism’s amorality, and the need to build the playing field to guide the system; currently, argued the panelists “imperialism” hides behind the notion of risk. The risk of funding a energy infrastructure project in a developing country—something everyone agreed was an easy cash flow win if done right—is the risk of a pension fund trusting an institution in a developing country. The fear is that the opportunity is not being realised from the perception, but not the existence, of risk, leading to the paralysis of passive money instead of productive capital.

Of the $300 billion spent last year on clean technology infrastructure, only $22 billion went to developing countries.  If we really want to meet the energy needs of developing countries and mitigate climate change with an aim to stay below 2 degrees, that $22 billion need to ratchet up to $500 billion, a multiple of 25x.

This requires transformational solutions. At Skoll, we heard World Bank President Jim Kim refer to the Development Finance Institution industry as a “cottage industry” as he explained how the Bank is working to change its internal incentive structure. He spoke of how to leverage money through the Bank at a 5x rate. While a useful vehicle to enable progress, that 5x multiple comes with the bureaucracy that prevents Kim, a trained doctor, from talking about coal, even though overwhelming evidence now shows that coal should not have a future in the 21st century—in climate, we have already built enough coal power plants that, if they run for their lifetime, will alone put us beyond the ambition of 1.5 degrees; in health, we know that the local costs to health alone from the pollution of a coal power plant are triple its economic benefits over 10 years; economically, renewables are now cost competitive in technology-agnostic auctions across the world and will continue to push coal into the uneconomic realms of generation merit order; and, as we see increased variability in heat waves and droughts, coal power plants will shut down under heat duress and compete with local communities for water access. 5x with bureaucracy is not the 25x we need.

We heard Citi’s Global Head of Environmental Finance and Sustainability outline how the underlying purpose of the two dominant incentives for clean energy infrastructure developed in the US (PURPA) and Germany (FiTs) was to provide a proxy long-term off-taker guarantee, and that to see the take off of energy infrastructure supported by capital markets will require a similar mechanism moving forward. This is the inspired market thinking we need to compliment the socio-political pressure promoting 21st century energy infrastructure jobs.

While calling the banks a cadre of imperialists uninspired to invest in productive change may ring normatively true, it is up to leaders to build the rules, frameworks, and enabling environments through which to pull the uninspired from the passive cubicles of the Street or the City to build the inspiration of billions to have the capabilities to build lives powered by cheap, distributed, and clean electricity.

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Business as a Catalyst for Poverty Alleviation

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Allegra Day, Oxford MBA at the Saïd Business School gives her perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Business as a Catalyst for Poverty Alleviation”.

In the Opening Plenary of this year’s Forum, Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam International revealed the fault lines in the capitalist model that have enabled 8 men to own as much wealth as half of humanity. Winnie was unequivocal that the system is rigged against the majority and a new economic model is needed that is fairer and more sustainable for all. This echoes a theme that has reverberated across the Forum: business is central to poverty alleviation, but the current legal structure and incentives underpinning big business need to change.

Throughout the week, we have heard from organisations championing this change through investments in staff, suppliers and innovation. Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani, spoke of providing a living wage for his employees, one fifth of whom are refugees. During the Business as a Catalyst for Poverty Alleviation Panel, Charlotte Oades of Coca-Cola outlined the company’s aim of supporting 5 million women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and eventually enter the supply chain of Coca-Cola and other companies through the 5by20 initiative. Fellow Panellist Cherie Blair CBE, QC spoke of her Foundation’s work with financial institutions in markets where women are viewed as “risky” customers training local staff to understand that women are generally good borrowers and should be considered for loans.

But is all this enough? Those spearheading the B Corp movement would probably say no. Panellist and Co-Founder of B Lab Company Bart Houlahan reminded us that in many places, directors are liable under company law for not returning maximum profit. The B Corp model offers a solution: a new legal structure enabling directors to incorporate community engagement, worker involvement and environmental footprint objectives alongside profit maximisation. We now need greater adoption of the B Corp model and adaption of the model to suit multi-national corporations. Alongside this, Ms Blair and Mr Houlahan called for greater education of bankers, investors and lawyers to understand the changing role of business.

Beyond legal reform, the Panellists described two key ways in which businesses can play their role in tackling poverty. The first is more support for women-led businesses in addition to women-owned businesses, given the challenges associated with ownership of assets for many women. Panellist C D Glin of the US African Development Foundation described this as a critical tool for economic growth that dovetails with the safety and security aims of the US Government. The second is support with scaling up enterprises. Ms Oades spoke of the role Coca-Cola can play in scaling enterprises through identifying and sharing learnings across its network that can be adapted to a local context.

During the Forum’s Skoll Awards Night, Bono said that capitalism is “not immoral but amoral: we have to tell it what to do.” Conversations at the Forum have made clear that we as leaders, consumers and human beings must challenge businesses to modernise and innovate in line with moral and ethical standards to create more common ground for us all to share.

Follow Allegra: @legshd

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Building Bridges: Partnerships in Responsible Supply Chains

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Macarena Hernandez, Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA Candidate 2016-17 at the Saïd Business School, gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum session “Building Bridges: Partnerships in Responsible Supply Chains”.

The task to build bridges to trigger the development of responsible supply chains is not only a task for “bridges builders”, it is a common task. We need to forge common bridges together.

The session kicked off with a “pop-quiz” leading by the session’s moderator, Daniel Viederman, Managing Director at Humanity United. “How many cocoa farmers are around the world?” After guesses and approximations, the right answer was 5 million.

Could you imagine the investment that is needed to audit all of these cocoa farmers have the responsible practices? How many more products a single food industry company have? As Viederman mention, we are not talking about a lineal supply chain, we are talking about a supply web.

The complexity of this supply web has meant that no one takes the responsibility to ensure fair labour conditions within the web. The private sector thought that labour issues needed to be solved by the public sector. Governments have been establishing regulations that encourage big industry players to start solving these issues.

Despite this complexity, companies such as Target and Mars Inc. are taking responsibility and action. In 2015, Target started a partnership with GoodWeave in support of their mission to end child labour in the rug industry. Mars Inc. is partnering with Verité to design simple solution for their suppliers to meet their responsible sourcing standards.

Building Bridges - Partnerships in Responsible Supply Chains panel

Building Bridges – Partnerships in Responsible Supply Chains panel

These leading efforts are transforming the unfair labour practices across industries. However, these partnerships and projects are not easily scalable for the various products across different industries. As Marika McCauley Sine, Mars’ Human Rights Director, said, ‘the situation is complex; we need to make it easy. We need to be specific and clear. Make it as simple as possible.’

For me, this simple and scalable solution is called: trust. If enterprises trust in other stakeholders, especially suppliers and suppliers of suppliers, there would be no need for huge investments to develop detailed audits or localised projects throughout the supply chain.

Although, building trust is not easy. How can we trust in others? Transparency, openness, collaboration, accountability, and information flow is needed. Who is creating trust through stakeholders? Talking and listening during the forum, two potential solutions came into my mind. After the panel, I had the opportunity to talk with Charmian Love, Co-Chair and Co-founder of B Lab UK. I realised that the B-Corporation Certification is identifying responsible players around the world. Listening to the session “Data-Driven Models for Change”, I discovered that Provenance is developing digital tools to trace products’ journeys.

Both trust’s mechanisms, mentioned above, include characteristics such as collaboration, data sharing, and transparency. This openness creates and distributes value along all stakeholders. Which make me reflect: Are the main industry players and competitors ready to collaborate between them? Are the innovators ready to share best practices? Are businesses ready to share value, despite the fact that these actions will reduce barriers to entry, increase the number of competitors, and increase consumer power?

I hope they are! In the long term, collaboration will be the key for value creation. My favourite value at Prospera, the Mexican social enterprise where I was working before coming to Oxford, states: “El que comparte, prospera. Siempre.” Translated to English: “The one who shares, thrives. Always.”

Follow Macarena: @macarenahdeo

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We the People: Populism and progress

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Skoll Scholar and MBA Candidate 2016-17, John Kakungulu Walugembe, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “We the People: Populism and progress“.

We the People: Populism and progess panel

We the People: Populism and progess panel

When President Donald J. Trump announced his intention to seek the Republican party nomination, under the slogan, “Make America Great Again”; many considered this to be one of the many publicity stunts, he had become famous for: The Daily News compared him to a clown, the Trentonian’s headline was: “I am rich”. On the contrary, the Boston Herald cautiously predicted that Trump’s running, would be impactful. Well, in the end, they were right. Contrary to mainstream predictions; he went on to clinch not only the Republican party nomination, but also the Presidency of the sole superpower – the United States of America. How could an individual with no political experience get himself elected using xenophobic and misogynistic tactics? My view is that we should have seen this coming. The rise of populist leaders like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France in the recent past is well documented. These leaders seek to discredit the establishment by labelling it “corrupt and dishonest” as compared to “regular, hard-working and honest” people. They also tend to appeal to nationalistic sentiments by attributing the challenges faced by “ordinary folks” to “immigrants from other countries” or what they consider to be unfair dealings, by other countries or institutions.

One is compelled to ask several pertinent questions? What explains this surge in populist sentiment across the West? Is this a new phenomenon or history has had precedents? Are there economic explanations for this phenomenon and if so, how should the world respond?  I do not think that there is a single explanation for this rise in “populism”. However, many researchers admit that there is a linkage between the rise of populism and economic inequality, in the west. There is no doubt that globalization, technological advancement and the rise in immigration have led to tangible benefits for humanity, as a whole. However, it appears, they have also led to the disenfranchisement of significant sections of society; who now feel, “ignored and left behind” Rising levels of national prosperity have been accompanied by a growing gap between the “haves and the have-nots”, due to unemployment, redundancy and low wages. The 2008 financial crisis, in particular, led to an explosion of anger among those who felt that the system had been “rigged” to favour Wall Street and the establishment. It is therefore not surprising that populist politicians have tended to exploit and benefit from the economic grievances of the unemployed and working class who have been hit hardest, by the forces of the “market”. Donald Trump has referred to this adverse economic situation, as the “American carnage” in which American factories were shattered, millions of American workers left jobless and “their wealth” redistributed. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the President and CEO of New America cautiously agreed with this position in today’s session, when she talked of the brokenness in America’s infrastructure, campaign financing system and policy framework that may need fixing, if the system is to work for all.

On the other hand, others have attributed this rise in populism to socio-cultural factors. According to this school of thought; the shift in the value system of western societies over the last forty years away from traditional to liberal/secular values, was bound to elicit a backlash. Older citizens in these countries look suspiciously at the left’s liberal agenda, including support for; human rights, immigration, gender equality and LGBT rights. The hosting of refugees, the openness to immigration and the granting of asylum to individuals from volatile and troubled parts of the world, elicited resentment and xenophobia, in this group. Demagogue politicians have therefore exploited these fears to capture power by democratic means; a view shared by Ernesto Zedillo, the Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. For example, Nigel Farage and the Vote Leave campaign in the UK promised to cut net migration to under 50,000 and to reinvest the £350m which they claimed the UK sends to Brussels each week, in the National Health Service (NHS). No wonder, in a 2014 press conference, Nigel expressed his discomfort at hearing only foreign languages being spoken by other passengers, on a London train journey. Unfortunately, such racist remarks simply serve to solidify his support base.

It is interesting that populism is not an entirely new phenomenon. History is full of examples of populists who have appealed to popular discontent and gotten elected: From Lajos Kossuth in Hungary, Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy to the more recent examples in Latin America. Perhaps, Latin America, more than any another continent, has had the largest share of populist leaders such as; Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Alvaro Correa in Ecuador, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay and Morales in Bolivia. What lessons can we draw from these countries in tackling populism? I consider their context to be quite different, from the one in the West.

As I close, I wish to be optimistic; by proposing solutions:  First, it is important that there is a recognition, on both sides of this issue that certain things need to change. It is true globalization has been beneficial to humanity, as a whole. However, some sections of society, feel excluded. As such, there is need for better regulation of markets to ensure inclusion of the most vulnerable. National economic growth must translate into prosperity for everyone. Investments in social services and job creation for low skilled workers, is key. As Emma Mortensen, the co-founder of Crisis Action, mentioned in today’s session; we must create a society that works for everyone.  In my opinion, this is where social entrepreneurship can become a game changer. Second, it is important that we listen to each other. The rise of social media, has had the unintended effect of facilitating siloed debate. People choose with whom to interact, based on common interests; and tend to avoid those with whom they disagree. This deficiency can be addressed by facilitating conversations among groups that may be on opposing sides of issues. Finally, we must learn to listen to each other.  As Emily Kasriel, the Head of Editorial Partnerships and Special Projects at the BBC World Service Group advised in her closing remarks; we should look out for people with whom we do not necessarily agree, on issues and listen to them.

John is a Skoll Centre Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA programme, he is also the founder of Better-Livelihoods Uganda, a community-based organisation working in rural areas of Uganda to improve the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people. 

Follow John: @JohnWalugembe