Since first getting engaged in the impact investing movement several years ago, I’ve participated in hundreds of dialogues ranging from one-on-one conversations, to college and business school classes, to large, institutional and conference gatherings in the thousands. From these experiences, two moments stand out in my mind with clarity, and both gave me pause. The first, at a conference of high net worth and philanthropically-minded individuals, I heard a humorous but cynical comment from a celebrated venture capitalist—it went something like this: “Impact investing is like a houseboat; it’s not a good house and it’s not a good boat.” Ouch… Do we ever have our work cut out for us if we are going to broaden this tent, I thought.
It was only a few months later while guest lecturing in a class at Yale’s School of Management, when I shared the cynical comment with the class, underscoring that there are those who bring a more negative view of impact investing. It was then that a young man raised his hand and offered his own perspective: “I think impact investing is like brunch, it’s better than breakfast and better than lunch!” For me these “two sides of the same coin” are highly reflective of what we’ve seen in our work with impact investing from the start. And while some days it feels like we still have a chasm between the true believers and the most ardent cynics, in reality, there is no question that we’re already seeing impact investment mature into a movement that is being more widely embraced than ever before.
Both in the U.S. and around the world we’ve seen segments of the market move from informed, to educated, to activated. We’ve seen new private capital unleashed with a focus on impact across sectors, geographies, industries, issue areas and asset classes. I’m excited to be in Chicago this week to speak at the Impact Capitalism Summit where I join hundreds of other people gathered to discuss the state of the impact investing movement and what the future may hold. As part of this gathering, we’ll take some time to reflect on the tremendous progress we’ve seen recent months that represent impressive momentum in the movement.
The Current State of Impact Investing
Over recent months, there has been robust activity in the impact investing realm. For example, in June of 2015, DBL Partner closed DBL Partners III*, a $400 million impact fund. Just a month later, Goldman Sachs Asset Management announced its acquisition of Imprint Capital, an impact investing advisory firm. As recently as December we saw the first impact group, LeapFrog Investments, surpass $1 billion in equity commitments to impact investments (focused on healthcare and financial services in Africa and developing Asia).
In addition, we’ve seen initiatives gain ground that will play an important role in moving even more individuals and institutions off the sidelines. From the launch of The ImPact in Davos, to B Lab, the nonprofit that certifies B Corporations, releasing enhanced tools to help all businesses measure, report and improve their social impact, to a seminal report issued by the Global Impact Investing Network, Omidyar Network and Monitor 360 indicating that impact investing has enjoyed mostly positive coverage and engagement in both traditional and social media.
By Jean Case