I have always known that I wanted to be at the forefront of social change, yet I have spent the better part my adult life trying to figure out what exactly that means. I was born and raised in Israel where I served as a tank platoon commander and an operations officer in the IDF, fighting to instill my soldiers with the values I believe in. I then studied Philosophy, Political Science and Economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and worked as a research analyst at Israel’s reserve bank, the Bank of Israel. Two years ago, I left my job at the bank to spend a year in Rwanda, building a safe and stable family environment for 16 at-risk, orphaned youth. Upon leaving Rwanda, I found myself wondering how to continue utilizing my previous experiences and skills in pursuit of my beliefs. That’s when I first heard about impact investing.
Blending social awareness with financial decision-making is by no means a new concept. For many years now, investors have been scrutinizing companies by looking at their ESG (Environment, Social and Corporate Governance) performance. However, impact investors take this idea one step further, using investments to catalyze change and advance predetermined social agendas. This is a much more proactive approach – investing in an enterprise whose products are helping society, while generating financial returns.
So if we can achieve our financial goals and do good at the same time, why isn’t everybody doing it? The answer lies, in part, with the fact that impact investing is still an incredibly new field, and one that still needs to overcome many challenges and obstacles. I recently had the privilege of attending the TBLI (Triple Bottom Line Investing) Conference hosted by Credit-Suisse in New York. For me, this was a fascinating opportunity to learn about impact investing from some of the leading practitioners in the field. I want to share with you what I perceive to be some of the key challenges and questions discussed at TBLI 2014 USA:
Scaling Impact Investing. Will impact investing continue to be considered a specialized asset class appealing to a small group of high net wealth individuals, or can it emerge to be a commonly accepted standard for evaluating investments across asset classes?
Where do we scale from? Today, many involved in impact investing work from small private investment and advisory firms, often founded by former bankers. However, if we want impact investing to scale, how do we convince the big banks that impact investing is not only a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) venture, but a revenue-generating line of products they should be offering all their clients?
Shortage of Impact Products. One of the biggest challenges voiced by many of the conference’s participants was a shortage of viable products across all sections of this new form of investments. We need more social entrepreneurs with strong business models, as well as a variety of accessible investment vehicles with demonstrated social impact and financial returns. The shortage in retail impact investment funds is a clear obstacle on the path to reaching smaller investors.
How do we overcome the idiosyncrasy of impact objectives? Different investors want different types of impact, and finding investors whose impact agenda and financial goals are similar is tricky.
Impact Measurement. This is a hot topic in the impact investing world, as new evaluation platforms are introduced and older ones improved. How do we create metrics that are broad enough to allow a comparison between investments, without missing the unique impact of different enterprises? At the same time, how do we ensure that measuring impact is not an excessive burden on the entrepreneurs and fund managers?
Exit Strategies. As social ventures mature, especially in developing countries, who are they sold to, and how do we ensure the continuity of their impact?
The answers to many of these questions are obviously closely related and interdependent. If impact investing is to be more than a passing trend, all these challenges will have to be, most likely, continually addressed. While complex, these challenges represent new and exciting opportunities for significant contributions to the forefront of social change.