Impact Investing’s Masked Momentum Measure
The Global Impact Investing Network’s latest annual survey of 225 firms with $225 billion in assets, with support of the US and UK main development agencies, hailed “transformational” momentum in recent years, while acknowledging “integrity” doubts with no definitive certification process or principles. One-third of respondents participated for five consecutive years, with the chief categories fund managers (60%) and foundations (15%). Asset classes are evenly split between private debt and equity, as is geography between developed and emerging markets. The median portfolio was $100 million, and education and food are fast-growing sectors. Business model, currency and liquidity risks were chief obstacles, and the mix of financial, environmental and social returns remains a moving target. In 2017 $35 billion was allocation among more than 10,000 investments averaging $20 million, while development lenders had the biggest projects at $150 million. Africa and Latin America accounted for half of exposure, and micro-finance, energy and housing were popular choices. Views on government support were mixed, but venture capital definitions and regulatory treatment were more advanced for equity than fixed-income. Lack of skilled professionals and exit options were regularly cited on the ground, and at larger organizations the inability to reach top executives is a “challenge.” Despite breakthroughs last year such as the Ford Foundation’s $1 billion commitment and the launch of TPG’s $2 billion Rise Fund, a shared code of conduct and bottom line are elusive although the GIIN will propose standards in 2019. Climate and carbon policies can better promote energy participation, and tax and blended finance public sector incentives also merit consideration, according to the study. In the future listed stocks will increasingly feature as a preference, and banks and retail investors emphasize individual products. At least half a dozen small buyer funds were recently introduced, including one from Barclays. Managers track the Sustainable Development Goals in overall themes and often apply specific climate and gender “lenses,” and emerging market returns were 8% while still lagging purely commercial instruments.
A number of more specialized networks have also spun off under the general concept, the latest for small companies in frontier economies and global refugee investment. The former “collaborative” backed by Google’s founder and the Dutch government aims to redress the estimated hundreds of billions of dollar funding gap for $20-$200 million startup and working capital needs between normal aid agency and private equity sponsor interest. The latter is an arm of the innovation-driven Global Development Incubator, and notes that forced-displacement grants were less than 1% of the SDG total with missing “connective tissue” among corporate and humanitarian partners. It would create a refugee “lens” from ownership to lending, and jointly source deals and technical assistance across the public-private spectrum. As the UN’s Refugee Compact is due to soon be finalized, it would work with countries on labor and education reforms to bolster business and build a broader “ecosystem.” Attracting “sleeping giant” institutional investors like insurance and pension funds is a goal in both efforts, as liquidity and size mandates despite upbeat rhetoric mute their potential impact.