Pier Mario Vello, secretary general at Fondazione Cariplo since 2006, prematurely passed away on 29 June 2014. He was 63 years old. Here Wendy Richardson remembers him.
‘Volunteers wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.’
I’ll never forget the day that Pier Mario Vello looked me directly in the eyes and said those words. Like you are probably feeling now, I was terribly confused. What was he on about? I desperately racked my brains for any possible link to philanthropy or foundations.
To make a long story short, Pier Mario had come across an advertisement that is thought to have appeared in the London newspaper, The Times, in 1913, appealing to would-be adventurers to join an expedition to the South Pole. To my dismay, he was absolutely convinced that this should be the strapline for the European Foundation Centre’s (EFC) new exchange programme, TIEPOLO (and despite my insistence that such a slogan might bring more confusion than clarity, he won that argument – just look at the original brochures if you don’t believe me).
But before I explain why I’ve written up this anecdote for public consumption, let me rewind to the first time I met Pier Mario. It was early 2008 and I (still relatively wet behind the ears and trying to get accustomed to life in the ‘real world’ after university) had been asked to sit in on an important, high-level meeting to take the minutes. I listened intently, quietly and dutifully concentrating on my notes. Imagine my surprise when I realized all eyes in the room were suddenly on me. Why? What did they want? Or, more likely, what mistake had I just made? Pier Mario then repeated the question I’d missed: ‘Wendy, what do you think?’
It’s interactions like these for which I’ll remember Pier Mario. He was a fascinating gentleman, one in a million really, who was imaginative, collaborative, and never afraid to act on intuition rather than follow convention – like asking the opinion of the most junior person, not to mention one of the only females, in the room. Life was never dull when he was around. In fact, when designing the European Learning Labs together on an annual basis one of his first rules was always: ‘Don’t be boring!’ Why wouldn’t we insist all of the participants wear doctors’ lab coats for the duration of the Learning Labs? Even in the heat of a Milan July, Pier Mario would still be proudly strutting around in his coat – complete with his name embroidered across the lapel. He balked at foundation programme officers who attended Labs only to share successes and achievements, and demanded everyone come equipped with tales of failure, disappointment, or, even better, disaster! And TIEPOLO wasn’t just a simple exchange programme, it was an adventure! It got to the point where I would almost grow nervous when I saw the twinkle in his eye (often while dining on cheese pizza, a common weakness), as it inevitably meant he had another big idea brewing.
Over the last couple of days, talking and grieving with colleagues from foundations across Europe, there is one theme that keeps coming up: Pier Mario’s deep commitment to young people, and making sure they felt supported, motivated and energized in their work. No one asked him to devote so much time, energy and resources to the design of the EFC’s Professional Development work I’ve mentioned above, which largely benefited the younger echelons of European foundations. He did it because he thought it was vital to our sector, and moreover believed that supporting the next generations was the right thing to do. Indeed, one of his recent preoccupations had been the plight of the young and unemployed in southern Europe.
Immediately before the closing plenary at the 2014 EFC AGA and Conference, during which Pier Mario was scheduled to deliver a speech introducing the 2015 edition of the event, he was seen frantically running around the Sarajevo auditorium. When asked if he was nervous about the speech, the technicalities, or the logistics of the plenary, he shook his head ‘no’ politely. Rather, he was searching desperately for a Fondazione Cariplo staff member who had been ill the evening before – he wanted to make sure she was feeling better and didn’t need his help.
For underlying all of his convictions and interests was his deep love for people. For Pier Mario issues like who you knew, the size of your chequebook, or what level of the organization you sat at, were irrelevant. I’ve often thought back on that first meeting in 2008, when Pier Mario questioned what I was thinking. I never asked, but I’m nearly positive that he wouldn’t recall this story. To him, it was probably nothing. But to me, at the time and for many years after, it was an enormous boost and revelation. I’m devastated to think that I’ve shared my final cheese pizza with this extraordinary colleague, father, husband, friend, and, in all of those roles, adventurer.
Wendy Richardson is Coordinator, Grants & Learning, at the Global Fund for Community Foundations.
‘We all have power, different types of power. When we don’t acknowledge that power, it’s easier for others to step all over us.’
As both grantmaker and fundraiser, the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) has been on both sides of the fence. As a result, Theo Sowa, AWDF CEO and chair of the African Grantmakers Network, has very clear views about the use and abuse of power. Caroline Hartnell asked her what power AWDF has and how it seeks to use it responsibly, and about the importance of African women setting their own agenda.
As an African women’s fund that works ‘towards the empowerment of African women and the promotion and realization of their rights’, AWDF confronts a range of power dynamics. What power does AWDF itself have?
There are so many different types of power. I think being part of women’s rights movements in Africa, but also internationally, gives us significant power. We have a lot of knowledge about what’s going on in African women’s lives and organizations, which gives us power when we’re trying to influence decision-making in national and international spaces. It gives us the power to push for change. For example, we can use our knowledge to steer other foundations towards good investments that support the kinds of social change they want rather than undermining it – which is all too easy to do. The information we have, that closeness to what’s happening in women’s lives, strengthens our legitimacy.
We also have power because we’re a grantmaking organization, and that’s a power you have to be very careful with as it can easily be abused. One of our strengths as an organization is our closeness to the ground. If we abuse our power, we’ll lose those strong relationships.
I can’t think of any other women’s fund that carries that sort of clout. How has AWDF acquired it?
I think that women’s funds have clout but don’t always use it effectively. We don’t ‘own’ our strengths and achievements sufficiently. If people don’t understand what you know, they won’t value what you have to say. Too often we women have underplayed our information, underplayed our strengths.
The other thing is that AWDF was the first continent-wide women’s fund, run by and for African women. That gives us a unique place on the continent and internationally. The three founders developed an ethos ‘as African women we are strong, we have knowledge, we have been fuelling social change for a very long time’ – so everyone at AWDF has learned to own a certain level of power.
Could a global equivalent of an ‘arms race’ be forming as countries vie to build social impact investing markets? Eight countries have developed ambitious proposals for developing and deepening their social impact investment markets, spurred by the G8 social impact investment taskforce. Last week, a group of leading impact investors in the US released the first report which escalated a host of policy proposals to ‘up the game’ and grow the local social impact investment market.
The report’s recommendations indicate a shift in emphasis from purely innovating to pursuing greater scale in the social impact investing market. The UK is correctly seen as a leading innovator, but as in many other cases the US often excels at taking these ideas to scale.
The US proposals have two clear implications for the UK. Most importantly, they demonstrate a deepening commitment from another G8 country to a growing movement that aims to deploy capital to solve important social issues, albeit from a different starting point. Secondly, the US Advisory Board’s recommendations provide interesting policy proposals that could create value in the UK as well.
The report builds on many of the major strengths in the United States:
Despite these unique qualities, several of the proposals in this week’s report parallel policy developments in the UK. On the demand side, the group aims to stimulate purchasing from the federal government by launching pilot procurement programs that explicitly preference contractors with positive social impact – very similar to the UK’s Social Value Act. And, like the UK, the US Advisory Board is proposing to fund a centralised ‘Pay for Success Fund’ that would commission SIBs within and across government agencies.
On the supply side, the Americans are attempting to adjust rules for investors: both pension funds and foundations. This focus parallels many first movers in the UK, from the local authority pension funds’ ‘Investing for Growth’ initiative to the co-investments that Big Society Capital has made with some of the UK’s largest foundations.
But a few new proposals could create value in the UK context and are worth considering:
Further, the report highlights how finance can play a bigger role in the big social challenges the UK is facing. In education, the US’s transition to charter schools has leveraged in $2.7 billion of private capital to fund the construction of new school facilities. In housing, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has helped build 2.6 million affordable homes by crowding in private finance to address critical shortages in housing capacity. Clearly successful policies can’t be directly replicated from abroad, but there clearly is greater potential for more creative use of finance at addressing the big issues of our time.
The UK has learned a great deal about building a social investment market over the past few decades, not least with the establishment of Big Society Capital. Whilst we are certainly no slouch in the global race for social investment, we are always keen to learn from other countries’ ambitions and efforts. We look forward to sharing the UK’s approach to social investment with the broader community in September when the final report of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce will be released. In the meantime, let the spirit of healthy competition continue.
 The Overseas Private Investment Corporation supports US businesses in foreign countries by providing investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds.
Nick O’Donohoe, Chair of the UK Advisory Board to the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce. He is also CEO of Big Society Capital.
The world is flying to Myanmar. Roughly four years ago the military regime governing the country entered into economic and political liberalization after decades of inhumane repression. In February alone, three major philanthropic networks travelled to Myanmar to investigate social investment opportunities on the ground. The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW) was one of them.
Perhaps what makes TPW trips unique is that our goals are to evaluate contexts, models and the full range of programmatic issues. We do not favour any one model. Our travellers engage in critical assessment of all aspects of development and often come away from our trips with more questions about a country than before they went.
(Pictured: one of the villages in Myanmar that TPW visited, largely inhabited by IDPs from Cyclone Nargis.)
The many social leaders we met in Myanmar fall roughly into two groups. On the one hand, the social activists, individuals and organizations who have been at the forefront of sporadic street protest and other forms of agitation, having endured long periods of political imprisonment. Their presence is a constant reminder that the regime cannot be trusted.
The other group, those working on innovative solutions and approaches, was more interesting to TPW. These social entrepreneurs are working in many areas: conflict reduction, environmental protection and mobilization, agriculture and poverty alleviation. In almost all cases, they reminded us of some key tenets of effective philanthropy: one must take the long view, use all the resources available, and be innovative.
Taking the long view
For years before military rule, Myanmar’s ethnic states have conducted a quasi-independence movement to protect their resources and identity. Since the 1960s, one woman we met has worked to bring an end to the many parallel conflicts among these groups and the regime. The recent liberalization has allowed her to take the innovative approach of requiring all states and the regime to work out a national ceasefire arrangement in place of the traditional bilateral agreements between the states and the regime, which tended to create more conflict. Her quiet backroom facilitation is striking in a place where charismatic voices are best known. She describes the current liberalization as an inflection point in the conflict, but there is still much work to be done.
On 24 June, One World Children’s Fund, a global non-profit that partners with more than 40 community-based organizations in 22 countries, and African Diaspora Network, a global community of Africans and friends of Africa united for the greater good of the continent, announced a partnership that will apply One World’s successful champion model across African Diaspora Network. This partnership focuses on identifying effective community-based organizations from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana and uniting them with African diaspora philanthropy.
The partnership reflects One World Children’s Fund’s vision of engaging diaspora in philanthropy and increasing philanthropic revenue that goes directly to community-based, locally run organizations serving children and youth in Africa. African Diaspora Network members will be invited to recommend partners and champions with a focus on serving children and youth in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Senegal, Cameroon, and Ghana with education, healthcare, and shelter.
On 25 June, the Foundation Center launched a completely redesigned website for its GrantCraft service. According to the press release, ‘GrantCraft harnesses the practical wisdom of funders worldwide to provide free resources that improve the practice of philanthropy. The new site is home to guides, blogs, videos, and other media that address questions faced by funders of all types around the world, helping to support a global movement of strategic philanthropy.
‘”We know that people often become funders through routes other than formal education programs, which is why GrantCraft fills such a critical need,” said Jen Bokoff, director of GrantCraft at the Foundation Center. “The knowledge grantmakers gain through exposure to real-world examples from their peers across the globe empowers them to be more strategic and effective when making funding decisions.”
… The GrantCraft community — currently more than 50,000 users — can learn from diverse foundations, geographies, issue areas, and topics through stories, questions, and ideas curated by the GrantCraft team.’
On its blog the GrantCraft team explain a bit more what they hope to achieve with the new website:
‘Through surveys, interviews, analytics, and a review of our decade-long history, we learned what you – the GrantCraft community – want and need. A new site needed to be more accessible than ever, have dynamic content that is readable both on-screen and printed, support the continued collection of your stories, host relevant conversations about your questions and ideas, present translated content, and form the foundation for what can grow into a more networked, connected community.’
And click here to check out the new website.
The danger with asserting that you occupy the moral high ground (which some foundations have implied they do and some staff act as if they do) is that you become intensely vulnerable to the shout from above. To the insistent voice that purports to come from even higher up the moral mountain than yours.
Firms and individuals offering consulting advice, single issue advocacy groups, grassroots activists among others have become adept at this approach. It can lever both attention and cash. It can knock the self-confidence of foundations. Handled wrongly or ignored it can damage organizational and personal reputations. And, after all, it is reputation that we put most at risk in our work. Without reputation we have less convening power, less advocacy influence and less public confidence in our purposes. Without reputation we will have fewer philanthropists willing to drive, reinvigorate and reshape visions of human wellbeing. However, without risk how can we entertain the possibility of change?
It was this tricky issue of ‘Ethics and Philanthropy’ that was the title of today’s plenary session at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) third international conference on philanthropy (26-27 June). Chris Ashworth of Oxfam GB, Stelios Vasliakis of SNF, Jeff Kahn of Johns Hopkins University, Nancy Kassel also of Johns Hopkins, Susan Seifert of University of Pennsylvania and myself gave a range of short presentations and the debate was opened up.
I was lucky to have been involved in early discussions with Joel Rosenthal, president of the New York based Carnegie Council for Ethics, as they were planning their extraordinarily ambitious Global Ethics project. A project to explore a wicked issue in a globalized world: can we identify a shared worldwide ethic?
The project is led by Michael Ignatieff. Here is Michael’s definition:
‘A global ethic seeks to defend all human beings and our common habitat against the partialities and interests that are grounded in family, community, ethnicity, economic position, and, above all, the nation we belong to.’
An important part is an uncomfortable and very modern challenge, to champion individuals not only against the partialities and interests of the state but against those of family, community and markets.
It was refreshing to hear the pragmatism from both the panel and the audience. Far from seeking to constrain philanthropy by the imposition of a single moral framework, the drive was for greater transparency and examination of the internal ‘ethical attitude’ of each philanthropic organization. To move from asking ‘What are we good at?’ to the much more profound ‘What are we good for?’ A willingness to recognize the critical difference between ‘feeling good ‘ and ‘doing good’. The challenges and risks of philanthropy engaging with both goverment and business and the danger of irrelevancy in not doing so.
We were all given a series of ethical issues to vote on which really engaged the audience and was a great move away from the passive audience tradition of too many conferences. It was clear from all involved that there is no magic bullet solution to the dilemmas facing both foundation strategic decision making and day-to-day grantmaking.
I took away the growing confidence within foundations that we can have an active role in public policymaking but also a clear recognition that there are limits to our legitimacy and authority. The plenary session was just one of many fascinating sessions in this excellent Stavros Niarchos Foundation event.
Martyn Evans is CEO of Carnegie UK Trust.
Starting a new venture philanthropy or social investment organization can be difficult, particularly in a region such as Asia, where the ecosystem for philanthropy is not as evolved as it is in the West. Getting Started in Venture Philanthropy in Asia, AVPN’s guide for new venture philanthropy and social investment organizations, is an important tool that seeks to make life easier for aspiring philanthropists.
Edited by Simon Chadwick, current board director and former CEO of AVPN, the guide contains a wealth of advice from experienced practitioners in Europe where they have been operating for more than 10 years, and also recounts experiences of Asian pioneers and the lessons they learned as new funders and sponsors.
AVPN spoke to Simon about the report and its importance.
Why is this guide important to social investing?
We want new funders and leaders to avoid reinventing the wheel and have the opportunity to quickly move up the learning curve. They can then move more confidently and quickly into implementation rather than planning. One of the most effective ways to increase your long term social impact is to start sooner and scale quicker!
Bill Gates and Melinda Gates gave the first ever joint commencement speech in Stanford University’s history in June. Despite the historic and demanding nature of the occasion – commencements are increasingly high profile events to mark the graduation of US college students – the Gates appeared relaxed and at ease. Early in the speech, they donned mock ‘nerd’ glasses in a parody of themselves and Stanford’s famous tech scene.
But this was a rare moment of humour.
Most of the speech was serious and intense but also optimistic. It was serious because the majority of the speech focused on their drive to address extreme poverty, a central theme of the foundation’s work. It was intense because Melinda Gates gave an impassioned account of the human suffering that motivated her philanthropic endeavours. It was optimistic because, echoing the title of the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog, and the culture of Silicon Valley, Bill Gates identified the inexorable drive for innovation as a solution to global problems.
However, this was a tempered optimism. The Gates acknowledged their own privilege and implored the graduating seniors to remember theirs. They also acknowledged the potential for technology to increase inequality as well as reverse it and the limits of markets-only based solutions.
Yet reliance on markets to generate income for grantmaking, in common with other endowed foundations, was the major omission of the speech. The Stanford campus this term was a hotbed of activism, with well-organized campaigns by students calling on the university to divest its endowment from coal and the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S, a private security company. Over 1,200 Stanford students signed a petition calling on Gates to divest. Protest and disruption of the Gates’ speech was planned. Yet the issue was diffused by news of the Gates Foundation’s full divestment in the week before commencement.
While students praised the decision, some were disappointed that the Gates’ speech failed to mention the issue, and the foundation’s investment policies more generally. To some, this came across as a lack of the very empathy with the concerns of others that they encouraged students to show. Some others expressed disappointment that concerns about the content and direction of the foundation’s grantmaking were not addressed, most notably in areas such as US education reform and the foundation’s reluctance to support access to abortion as part of their effort to expand global reproductive health services. Nor was there mention of the issues of accountability inherent in the power concentrated in the hands of a foundation board of four spending $3 billion per year.
This was an unusual and, in many ways, impressive speech. More substantial than Michael Bloomberg’s commencement address the previous year, more reflective than Bill Gates’ speech at the Harvard commencement in 2007; more earnest than Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005.
At times, the Gates sounded presidential in their range and tone; at others it was as if we were listening to a husband and wife sharing their thoughts about making the world a better place. Perhaps it is this combination of the personal and the political that is increasingly making big philanthropy a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.
Charles Keidan is a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and a philanthropy practice research fellow at City University, London.
The African Grantmakers Network invites the public to nominate individuals and organizations for the 2014 African Philanthropy Awards at the AGN Assembly in Accra, Ghana in November 2014.
Every two years the AGN holds its Assembly Conference culminating in the African Philanthropy Awards ceremony. This prestigious non-monetary award recognizes African philanthropic initiatives that are innovative and fresh, go beyond traditional models of giving, and offer a sign of the future of African philanthropy. The awards showcase these innovations and celebrate them as new contributions by individuals and organizations to Africa’s growth and development.
The 2012 inaugural African Philanthropy Award went to Marwa el Daly for her work with the Maadi Community Foundation in Egypt.
Who can be nominated?
Any individual and any private or public organization carrying out philanthropic work in Africa may be nominated.
Nominees who qualify will be those who demonstrate:
• Transparency and good governance in their philanthropic activities.
• Attentiveness to local needs and realities.
• Clear application of new solutions and innovations to existing problems.
• Philanthropic activities that are linked to building institutions on the African continent.
Nominations can be made online by filling in the Online Nomination Form on the AGN website. The deadline for submitting nomination forms is 14 August 2014.
As a social funder, foundation, social enterprise or NGO you must have been faced with the dilemma of how to measure or present the impact of what you do. For venture philanthropists, impact measurement and management are key components of our work. Current measurement practice is a jungle of methodologies and approaches, where you can easily get lost. When your organization has various funders, each demanding their own reporting, impact measurement can be a real headache. If that is the case, the recent agreement on a European Standard on Impact Measurement will go a long way in helping you.
The European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA)is closely involved in the EU’s Social Business Initiative (SBI). The initiative aims to stimulate the development of social businesses within Europe and to facilitate their access to funding. The European Commission estimates the social economy as being 10 per cent of the European economies´ GDP and consisting of more than 11 million workers, 4.5 per cent of the active EU population, so you can imagine what is at stake here!
Within the SBI a consultative expert group on social business, set up in 2011, called GECES, has been looking at impact measurement, recognizing the risk and inconvenience of multiple standards throughout Europe. A subgroup within GECES has gone through a process of talking to practitioners and others in the field to gauge the needs and come up with a workable standard that will improve the measurement process and simplify the choices made by practitioners. The impact measurement standard is designed to be applicable across Europe and should make it easier for our sector to illustrate our socioeconomic value.
For all those sceptical about a standard that is imposed by the EU, it is worth saying that the standard is not meant to be a regulation or a law ; it is a practical tool to shape future directions for funding of social enterprise. In fact the European Commission recognizes that the standard may evolve as time progresses and as practices evolve.
From EVPA’s point of view it is fantastic to see that the standard is informed by our Practical Guide to Measuring and Managing Impact; a publicly available resource, launched in the spring of 2013, that distils best practice in impact measurement into five simple steps. Impact measurement is a fundamental part of the venture philanthropy and social investment model and has been a focal point for our research and knowledge-building in the past years.
Similar to EVPA’s Practical Guide, the EU Standard is compatible with many types of methodologies and frameworks. It is really a series of commonsense steps to implement impact measurement for an organization seeking to achieve social impact. It integrates our opinion that it is too early to impose standardized outcomes and indicators, and that the maturing of impact measurement should be a facilitated bottom-up process rather than a top-down prescriptive one.
Practically, using the EU Standard will require you to define your own social objectives, how to achieve them, and which outcomes and indicators to measure progress against. It also recommends involving stakeholders to verify and value the resulting impact so it can be monitored and reported.
What else? Under the SBI, there are funds earmarked to grow the social sector. Social businesses may be faced with the format and asked to use the measurement standard when applying for funds from the European Commission’s EaSI (the EU fund aimed at promoting increased access to finance for social enterprises). Or social investors that want to apply for a European label for funds investing in social sector organizations (called EuSEF ) may be asked to use the standard.
The focus for GECES will now shift to the gradual implementation of the standard in Europe in the form of guidance notes. In the meantime, if you are interested in starting to work with the standard, EVPA’s Practical Guide is a good place to start. Visit our website to download the Guide, or have a look at the webinar that we held on it.
Plans for the future are to create for each social sector – for example healthcare, social housing, education – publicly available libraries and catalogues of standardized outcomes and associated indicators that funders and social enterprises can use when deciding what to measure.
The consensus and decision on the EU Standard is a great step in the right direction for the development of our sector. I certainly look forward to the next step of rolling it out.
On 20 June, UK charity think tank NPC published a new paper on the future of social impact bonds. Opportunities and Lessons argues that charities are well placed to exploit specialist knowledge in some areas of service delivery, and to influence the way social impact bonds (SIBs) are developed and used in the future. While facing a number of hurdles, charities should seriously consider working alone or in coalition to develop their own SIB proposals, and direct government policy towards delivering more effective interventions on behalf of beneficiaries.
Providers remain positive about the potential of SIBs even after recent poor publicity and the cancellation of the £5 million Peterborough SIB established to try and rehabilitate male ex-prisoners, says NPC. ‘It isn’t for the faint-hearted, but there is a big prize for charities, government and society as a whole if they get it right.’
But two articles by Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly present a more sceptical picture from the other side of the Atlantic. In an article called Eight States Reduce Recidivism without Social Impact Bonds, Cohen refers to a Council of State Governments report documenting ‘the very promising efforts of eight states … that have actually achieved reductions in recidivism between 2007 and 2010. The distinction between these eight states and the two states that are pursuing recidivism-reduction programs with the help of SIBs (New York and Massachusetts),’ he continues, ‘is that the CSG is documenting system-wide, statewide reductions in recidivism as opposed to project- (or prison-) specific efforts. According to the June 2014 report, “compelling evidence is now emerging that shows that recidivism rates for an entire state can indeed change.”’
The title of the second article, Eight Sobering Thoughts for Social Impact Bond Supporters, speaks for itself.
What really is this ‘impact investing’? Some readers might sigh ‘Not again!’ Still, it is a question that we hear every day from donors, foundations, public officials, company representatives and others. In the philanthropy and social investment sectors we may already consider impact investing an old friend, but many people outside these circles that should join this friendship still do not even know that it exists.
At Active Philanthropy we therefore decided to tell the stories and facts behind impact investing in a different way. We joined forces with Inga Michler, an experienced economics reporter at the German daily newspaper ‘Die Welt’, and asked her to report directly from the trenches of impact investing. And she did! Inga Michler spent time with social businesses and not for-profit organizations in Germany (Looney, Karuna, VerbaVoice), India (Drishtee, Husk Power Systems), Italy (Sharing), the Netherlands (Resto Vanharte) and the UK (Blue Sky Development & Regeneration) to tell their stories and share their experience with impact investing.
Some of the organizations portrayed in the book had to learn the hard way that, contrary to their initial plans, they will never become a profitable social enterprise. Some of them had to admit that they won’t even be able to return the capital received by their investors, and that their funding will always rely on other sources of support. Other organizations are such successful investments that they struggle every day to focus on their social mission. The CEO of one of these investments even confesses that they will not be called an impact investment any longer once the day of ‘big financial returns’ arrives.
These stories from the field are healthy in many ways. They show that there is not one success story of impact investing. They show that the entrepreneurs behind these investments work very hard to achieve a social as well as a financial return, something that we may sometimes forget. They show that for every problem, for every target group, there is not always a business plan. They show that we need to keep our distance from all these stunning sector forecasts – just recently again by JP Morgan – and focus on the single investment and its social and financial return. The future of this field is encouraging, but it is not going to yield the big financial profits the sector is dreaming of. The reality of this field rather is about positive social change and small steps day by day. And maybe it is about yielding financial profits too, but this needs time, patience, expertise, trust – and philanthropic investments.
These stories therefore provide a different, very honest answer to the question: what really is impact investing? The first reactions we received from donors expressed their curiosity to learn more about the sector now. We consider this a good sign and would hope that others in the sector can also use these stories to support their efforts to spread the idea of impact investing.
You can find these stories in the book The Reality of Impact investing: Stories from the field. It is available as an e-book and can be downloaded here>
If you still prefer to read stories on paper, you can order the printed edition of the book via the webpage.
It should be noted that Active Philanthropy would not have been able to produce this book without the financial support of the Federal Ministry for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the KfW banking group and the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt.
Michael Alberg-Seberich, is managing partner of Active Philanthropy.
On 2 June a service to allow charities to issue bonds and list them on the London Stock Exchange was launched by specialist charity bond provider Allia.
The bonds will technically be issued by Retail Charity Bonds, a special purpose vehicle set up by Allia, a charitable community benefit society. It will pass on the income to charities, which will be responsible for meeting all the repayments. …
Up until now, most charity bonds have not been listed on a trading exchange because of the cost involved. This means they are not subject to the same regulation and cannot easily be bought and sold by investors. The new specialist vehicle will make it possible to list because it will trade in much larger volumes and will have lower costs.
On 19 June, a new £60 million grant fund to support charities to get ready for social investment was launched by the UK’s Office for Civil Society. The new grant fund will help charities interested in social investment develop the skills and business plans to take on funding, and will be available over the next decade.
The government has also published a new strategy to support social investment, in which it promises to pilot a guarantee fund to support crowdfunding and to seek state aid approval to allow the sector to access larger amounts of social investment tax relief.
Charly and Lisa Kleissner, founders of the K L Felicitas Foundation, receive this year’s Grand Prix for their global work in impact investing. Through their co-creation of impact networks designed to serve both social entrepreneurs and impact investors, combined with advocating through transparency their commitment to align 100 per cent of their assets with their values, the Kleissners have demonstrated that impact investing can be a replicable investment strategy for philanthropists around the world. The Grand Prix honours an individual or family for their overall philanthropic activity, recognizing the exemplary nature of their actions, their financial engagement, their impact and their long-term commitment.
Tomasz and Barbara Sadowski receive the Jury’s Special Prize for their social integration work and promotion of their social franchise model in Poland and abroad. The Barka Foundation for Mutual Help empowers and reintegrates socially marginalized groups through education, training, entrepreneurship and housing programmes. The Jury’s Special Prize recognizes a committed philanthropist who has initiated an original project and has been working on the ground to implement it.
The winners were chosen by an independent jury chaired by Suzanne Berger, Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and including 2013 award winners Shiv Nadar, co-founder and president of HCL and founder of the Shiv Nadar Foundation in India, and Chuck Slaughter, founder of Living Goods.