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The coronavirus pandemic is testing our global community in unprecedented ways. The unbearable human toll is already staggering. The toll on our healthcare system, our global economy, and our personal lives is still coming into focus.
This pandemic is changing us.
Among the most striking changes is our collective return to what is ‘essential.’ Governments have mandated that only essential workers – like our medical professionals – can report for their jobs. In the face of illness and death, many are asking what is most essential in their personal lives and finding solace in simple joys.
Indeed, this fundamental question – “What is truly essential?” – is one that we all now face: as individuals, as businesses, as industries, as societies.
The impact investing industry is no exception. Over the past weeks, as impact investors respond to this pandemic, I have heard again and again about their renewed focus on what is most essential in our industry: the tangible investment outcomes driving progress on the world’s most pressing problems.
Impact investing – which addresses social and environmental problems, while also generating financial return – has been gaining mainstream popularity for years. But the coronavirus pandemic – along with other massive challenges that ignore international borders, like the climate crisis – have more people than ever considering all the ways their investments impact our world, for better and for worse.
This is a moment of tremendous opportunity to prove that our money can do more than just make more money.
In this time of broad realignment, the Global Impact Investing Network is raising the bar on those real results of impact investing. This impact performance initiative is designed to do more than drive the market as it is today. It is also shaping the way that a much broader set of investors will think about impact for years to come. It is redefining what ‘successful’ investing looks like.
In the future, we are confident that being a successful investor will involve both financial performance and impact performance. A successful investor will do more than meet the minimum requirements of regulators; instead, she will demonstrate her added value by transparently sharing the impact she produces for the planet and its people, alongside her financial returns.
The GIIN’s second edition of The State of Impact Measurement and Management Practice report reveals some of these changes are already unfolding. Many impact investors say they have shifted from simply building support for impact measurement and management (IMM) to integrating IMM into all investment processes. That shift is turning out to be good business, too. More than nine in ten respondents now cite IMM as a key process for enhancing business value.
But the report also finds some issues that have dogged IMM practice for years still linger. Most significantly, impact investors continue to hunger for better impact performance comparability. Right now, investors who wish to assess relative impact performance can feel like students getting back test scores without knowing how their peers performed – or even what the highest possible score would be. Better and easier comparisons will simplify a wide range of decisions that impact investors regularly face, from investment screening and selection to investment management.
Over time, we believe that improved impact comparability will be driven on three fronts: a shared set of standardised metrics, such as those laid out in the GIIN’s IRIS+ system; impact-focused analytic methods, including the approaches presented in the GIIN’s Impact Performance Studies; and an industry ‘data repository’ of investment impacts, soon to be piloted by leading members of our network.
The GIIN is committed to fostering this infrastructure – and an outcomes-focused culture that will allow it to flourish. We believe that rigorous attention to impact performance encourages even broader momentum for impact investing. Indeed, again and again, when investors are considering impact investments, they ask how they can be certain that their good intentions will truly produce good results – and how those results can be tracked and compared.
Ultimately, this heightened focus on data-driven results is the best way for our industry to realise its most essential intention: generating impact toward the world’s biggest goals and most vexing problems through financial investment. We are convinced that a consistent focus on impact performance will drive a ‘race to the top’ – ensuring that real impact is front and center as this market grows.
But the renewed focus on impact performance will push critical progress in the shorter term, too. As the impact investing industry expands its response to the coronavirus crisis and helps to shape the eventual recovery, this clarity about our essential objective will be a guidepost. It will allow us to play a central role in transforming crisis into meaningful change – guiding us toward the more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient world we all seek.
Amit Bouri is Co-Founder & CEO of the Global Impact Investing Network