Mainstreaming Impact Investing: 12 Takeaways from ‘The Economist’ Event

Next Billion
By JAMES MILITZER
February 22, 2017

Every invest­ment is an impact investment.”

The Mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion is trans­form­ing invest­ment, and cap­i­tal­ism itself.”

Impact invest­ing can deliver com­pet­i­tive returns – but it mustn’t over­look social impact.”

Go to enough impact invest­ing con­fer­ences, and you’ll hear vari­a­tions on these themes (and a few oth­ers) more times than you can count. So when I went to The Economist’s event on “Main­stream­ing Purpose-​​Driven Finance,” I was lis­ten­ing for some­thing new. And to a sur­pris­ing extent, the con­fer­ence delivered.

START EARLY FOR IMPACT

Pfund, who made a name for her­self as an early investor in Tesla, among other accom­plish­ments, said early-​​stage invest­ing is a great approach if you’re focused on impact. It’s in ven­ture cap­i­tal that you can really shape an investee’s cul­ture, she said, fus­ing a social impact focus into a company’s DNA from the start.

KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ’EM

In spite of the focus on how investors can influ­ence com­pa­nies to embrace impact, the open­ing panel had few illu­sions about the lim­i­ta­tions of this approach. As Blood pointed out, some busi­nesses are able to change and improve their social impact – but oth­ers are not, and engag­ing with them is waste of time. Pfund put it more suc­cinctly: “It’s hard to work to pre­vent dia­betes when your busi­ness is sell­ing insulin.”

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