In the run up to the G8 meeting, social impact investment took a major step forward on 6 June as the UK Government hosted a G8 Forum drawing together sector leaders from G8 nations and beyond. The UK government underlined its commitment to explore the significant potential of impact investment as a new way of tackling social issues with the announcement that the G8 is establishing a Taskforce on Social Impact Investment, which I am privileged to lead.
Following the Forum, 87 signatories, including some of the world's leading financial institutions and charitable foundations, put their name to a letter on Saturday. They called on G8 governments "to create an enabling policy environment that can support promising innovations and help scale market-based solutions" and "congratulated them on this first step to embrace the promise of impact-investing as an important complement to existing efforts by the public and non-profit sectors".
These initiatives are no longer surprising. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to tackle social issues in much more effective ways. They are tearing the fabric of our society and things will get worse as G8 and other governments are heading for a massive gap between the expected demand for social services and their ability to pay for them. Boosted by an ageing population, this gap has been estimated, by Accenture and Oxford Economics, for the G8 at over $1.5trillion in the period to 2025.
Philanthropic foundations and others are aware that traditional philanthropic giving cannot fill the gap. So where do we go from here? Can social impact investment make a real difference?
Philanthropy is at an inflection point. Philanthropic investing, as a complement to philanthropic giving, is heightening the importance of measuring social outcomes because it links them to financial returns for investors. The Peterborough Social Impact Bond launched in 2010, the dozen which have followed it, and the many being worked on in Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Mozambique, Uganda, South Africa, and Pakistan are some examples. The Peterborough Bond seeks to reduce reoffending and other programmes aim to tackle problems such as rough sleeping, troubled families and children in care, sleeping sickness, malaria and literacy by funding charities or social enterprises doing this work.
Social Impact Investment is a response to the urgent need to achieve innovation and scale in the way we tackle social issues. It seeks to harness entrepreneurship and capital markets in doing so. It aims to help those whom our society leaves behind in difficult times like these but also in more prosperous times.
The breakthrough idea, embodied in social impact bonds and expressed in a multitude of new ways, is the blending of social and financial returns. We can already envision a wide spectrum of investments that blend both categories of return in different proportions, across not-for-profit organisations as well as what are becoming known as profit-with-purpose businesses such as Toms shoes in the USA, where every time a pair is purchased a pair is given away in a poor country. Accountability to investors is driving a new focus on delivery, incentivising collaboration among service providers in improving outcomes, and securing a better return on government resources which are deployed only on success.
How will we measure the social outcomes these investments achieve? In some cases, as with a reduction in the rate of re-offending, social outcomes can be very precisely quantified. But "not everything that counts can be counted" and in many other cases social outcomes can be evaluated qualitatively against the investment made.
This new focus on measurement of social outcomes has opened the door for potentially huge capital flows into impact investing. Just as venture capital was a direct response to entrepreneurs seeking appropriate funding for tech and other innovation, so impact capital is the appropriate response to the need of social entrepreneurs and social organisations to achieve innovation, effectiveness and scale in tackling social issues. If tech entrepreneurship was the "next big thing" in the 1970s and 1980s, then social entrepreneurship is becoming the next big thing now as a new generation aspires to do meaningful things, not just profitable ones.
The Taskforce will aim to report within a year on at least three fronts: the policy framework required to take social impact investment to a tipping point; a common international approach for measuring social outcomes; and ways to achieve a specific allocation by Foundations, institutions and private investors to this new asset class. At the same time, complementing the work of the Taskforce, the OECD will be undertaking a report on global developments in social impact investment to help assess how to drive the market forward.
A wave of social entrepreneurship is following the wave of business entrepreneurship of the last forty years, bearing with it a similar potential to transform the way we live. We are on the threshold of an exciting period when "social technology" and innovation will spread quickly across the world, tackling social issues and improving lives in new and increasingly effective ways.
The G8 Taskforce will aim to build on the leadership of the UK and other G8 countries to turn social impact investment into a powerful global force.
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