“Do well, do good” was the saying bandied by Sir Ronald Cohen at the Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group (GSG) Summit in Chicago earlier this month. (if he had his way this would replace the traditional “hello” and “goodbye”.) With rolled up sleeves, a lapel microphone and no signs of any notes he wondered the stage speaking eloquently about his vision for the future of impact investing and his desire to see impact investing double by 2020 to US$300 billion of assets under management.
The GSG grew from the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce, and focuses on catalysing the global social investment market, by facilitating dialogue between experts and encouraging market and policy changes. The GSG includes Australia, the European Union, Brazil, India, Mexico, Israel and Portugal. This year’s event was a tremendous sight – 550 attendees from 43 countries all engaged in communicating how impact investing can meet the ambitious yet crucial UN SDGs.
There were some common themes amongst the participants.
Housing is the fastest growing and needed impact sector. Combining stable housing with women’s empowerment, employment and education remains some of the biggest challenges for both developed and emerging markets. There were pleas from those dealing with the poor to do so with morality. “The poor are good customers” claimed Amit Bhatia, the new CEO of the GSG who has an amazing track record across business and the social sector in leading impact businesses. The GSG is in fine hands with Amit’s vision and drive.
“Profit with purpose” was another common theme amongst impact investors. It was highlighted throughout the conference that women and millennials are natural supporters and drivers of this growing industry. Millennials are frustrated with the state of the world and know they need to be engaged to find a solution. As Ban Ki Moon famously once said “There is no Plan B, as there is no Planet B” …. millennials know this all too well.
In one of the most honest and rousing presentations, Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation said, “If we are going to transform finance, we are going to have to get uncomfortable.” Walker was even more critical of other foundations and philanthropic trusts who were more comfortable sponsoring galleries in New York than spending on schools in Africa. Walker has convinced his Board to pledge $1 billion out of Ford’s $12 billion endowment for mission-related investments. This 8% allocation although progressive is still behind the innovative, Australian-based Christian Super who has been impact investing for 10 years and currently has an allocation of 10% to impact. Christian Super’s CIO, Tim Macready graciously accepted the award as Impact Asset Owner of the year and highlighted that not only did the social impact make a difference, the returns were generated at a lower level of risk and a higher return than traditional assets – surely that is worth signing up to!
In closing Sir Ronnie claimed this conference was evidence that we are at the “tipping point”. The engagement and conversations across the two days involved all parts of the community – government, aid organisations, business, NGOs and social enterprises as well as incubators, accelerators and market makers. Impact assets will double next year and I am also predicting numbers at the GSG will double to witness the magic that Delhi will offer, at the the 2018 GSG Impact Summit.
Giles Gunesekera, Global Impact Initiative (GII)
Giles Gunesekera is Founder and CEO of Global Impact Initiative (GII), which works with business and others to create impact investments. Giles has held senior roles in the financial services industry spanning recruiting, training, product, distribution and leadership. He also holds numerous volunteer not-for-profit directorships ranging from foundations to human rights, disabilities, arts and sports.