Michael Drexler, Senior Director, Head of Investors Industries World Economic Forum USA
Abigail Noble, Associate Director, Head of Impact Investing Initiatives World Economic Forum USA
At its Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2012, the World Economic Forum brought together mainstream investors, impact investors and social entrepreneurs to discuss how to harness the potential of impact investing. What emerged was a list of constraints the sector faces, such as the perception that a social impact responsibility conflicts with a fiduciary duty, the fragmentation of the impact investing universe with small intermediaries and small deal sizes, and the lack of an established track record of exits for investors in double bottom line companies. While the list of reasons why impact investing would remain niche seemed overwhelming, bringing it into the mainstream was too important an opportunity not to pursue.
Impact Investing is a multistakeholder issue. It engages governments as impact investments offer opportunities for more efficient delivery of public services. It engages civil society, from the non-profits that design and implement projects to individual recipients of social programmes. And it involves businesses, ranging from entrepreneurs and lawyers to consultants and investors. Clearly, for impact investing to reach its potential, it must be considered from the perspective of all stakeholders. The focus of this report is the mainstream investor angle, which offers the biggest opportunity to scale the sector at this stage.
With this context in mind, the World Economic Forum launched the Mainstreaming Impact Investing initiative in 2012. This initiative builds on the Forum’s 2011 report Accelerating the Transition towards Sustainable Investing, which sought to stimulate the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into mainstream investment analysis, as well as the 2011 Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship report, The Social Investment Manual, which sought to build absorptive capacity among prospective impact investees.
Undoubtedly, a number of leading global publications on impact investing have graciously laid the foundation for this. What makes this report different is the World Economic Forum’s access to the senior most decision-makers and portfolio managers of the largest and most innovative investors in the world; this uniquely helped facilitate a more realistic vantage point on the challenges in scaling the sector. Working with this group will also be instrumental in raising awareness and knowledge among key stakeholders for taking impact investing from the margins into the mainstream.
We recognize there remain many sceptics of impact investing. But, we believe that the best way to develop and mature this promising sector is through constructive criticism. So whether you believe impact investing will inevitably be mainstreamed or believe it to be merely a bellwether for what is not working in the economy, we look forward to hearing from you. It is in this spirit that we offer this report not to be filed in the archives of a library, but to start the journey to transform our financial paradigms for the better.
For more information on the Impacting Investing initiatives of the World Economic Forum, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected].