Columbia Business School student explains impact investing and its main players
September 22, 2013 Editor 0
If you had a million dollars…What would you do with it? Would you donate it to an important cause or invest it and increase your savings? Until recently, you had to choose between earning a social or financial return on your investment. Impact investing is based on the idea that one investment can and should do both.
Acumen, a world-renowned impact investment organization, has invested over $83 million into more than 73 companies serving low-income customers around the globe. In his article, “Realizing the Potential of African Agriculture,” Michael Myers, associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation, an organization that helped launch Acumen in 2001, explains that companies in developing countries are no longer viewed as needing aid, but instead as businesses worthy of investment.
From Acumen’s perspective, “The markets alone cannot solve the problems of poverty; nor are charity and aid enough to tackle the challenges faced by over two-thirds of the world’s population living in poverty.” That’s where Acumen’s investing model looks to take the best of markets and the best of charity to unlock capital for entrepreneurs taking on some of the world’s toughest social challenges.
Unlike strictly financial investors, impact investors face the added challenge of having to measure social or environmental benefits in addition to monetary returns. In order to address this problem, Rockefeller Foundation, Acumen and B Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems, joined together to develop IRIS (Impact Reporting and Investment Standards). Managed by The GIIN (The Global Impact Investing Network), IRIS is a set of metrics designed to be a common language for measuring and reporting the social, environmental and financial performance of impact investments.
B Lab is also working on GIIRS (Global Impact Investing Rating System), which is pronounced “gears.” According to its website, GIIRS is a comprehensive and transparent system for assessing the social and environmental impact of developed and emerging market companies and funds with a ratings and analytics approach analogous to the Morningstar investment rankings and Capital IQ financial analytics.
Even with these rating systems, it can still be very difficult decide which investments to make: What amount of social return do you require versus financial return and what risks are you willing to take?
Attend the Columbia Business School Social Enterprise Conference for more: October 4 in NYC. In the “Impact Investing in Action: Where Would You Put Your Money?” session, Jessica Martin, an Innovation Associate at Acumen, will introduce you to a potential impact investment opportunity for agriculture development in Africa and you will work with your peers to answer these questions and ultimately decide whether to invest.The Rockefeller Foundation’s Michael Myers argues that many sectors in developing countries–like agriculture–are no longer viewed as needing aid, but instead as businesses worthy of investment.
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