Sir Ronald Cohen is Chairman of Big Society Capital and founder chairman of Bridges Ventures and the Portland Trust. He is a director of Social Finance USA. He chaired the Social Investment Task Force (2000-2010) and the Commission on Unclaimed Assets (2005-2007). He was a co-founder and director of Social Finance UK (2007-2011) . (Photo credit: apax.com)
This article was originally posted in the Huffington Post on October 17, 2013.
Impact investing has taken a great step forward in 2013. The debate is increasingly about how the market will take off, and less about whether it will. Last week over 400 impact investors from across the world gathered in London for the Global Impact Investing Network Investor’s Forum hosted by the City of London Corporation. This was further evidence of the momentum building behind impact investment as one of the most promising tools for tackling social challenges across the globe.
As US politicians grappled with approving the national budget and priorities for federal government spending, the Social Impact Investment Taskforce established by the G8 held its inaugural meeting in Washington D.C. on 30th September and 1st October, kicking off its work to explore how social issues can be addressed more in innovative and powerful ways through social impact investment.
The Taskforce, which I am privileged to lead, was announced by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, at the G8 Social Impact Investment Forum held in London in June, with the goal of “catalysing the development of the social impact investment market”. The recent financial crisis, and ensuing unemployment and decline in government revenues, has highlighted the urgent need for new approaches to tackling social challenges. Governments around the world are heading towards a massive gap between expected demand for social services and their ability to pay for them. They also face pressing international challenges such as faster, more inclusive economic development and greater environmental sustainability. Society must find new ways to tackle entrenched issues that cause major injury to the social fabric as well as imposing a heavy economic burden. Impact investing aims to create correlated financial returns and measurable social outcomes, by harnessing entrepreneurship and innovation to tackle society’s toughest challenges more effectively and at scale.
As the market takes shape, the Taskforce will focus on the additional infrastructure required to accelerate the growth of the global social impact investment market. By developing recommendations for policy makers and practical proposals to move the market forward, it aims to galvanise the market’s ability to fund non-profits, social enterprises and mission-driven businesses that deliver financial value and also tackle pressing problems, such as health, education, youth unemployment, recidivism, and homelessness. G8 nations, the EU and Australia are represented on the Taskforce and over the next 12 months we will be meeting in a number of G8 countries. We also are keen to explore what can be done to introduce impact investment in other economies in the G20 and beyond.
The Taskforce is being supported by national Advisory Boards, that bring together country leaders in the field of impact investment. They will help to inform the Taskforce about the impact investment ecosystem in each country, what can be done to increase its effectiveness, and what aspects of it might be replicated in other countries. Four specialist thematic Working Groups, comprising subject experts from many countries, are being set up to examine in detail key issues: Asset Allocation to impact investment by investors, Mission Alignment, the role of impact investment in International Development, and Impact Measurement metrics.
The Taskforce has hit the ground running. At our inaugural meeting we heard enriching and insightful presentations from organisations operating across the North American impact investment market including Pacific Community Ventures, the Centre for Employment Opportunities, Social Finance USA, Venture Philanthropy Partners, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation , Revolution , Imprint Capital, OPIC and USAID. Danielle Gray, Assistant to President Obama and Cabinet Secretary, addressed the Taskforce and highlighted the strategic importance of impact investment to America and its high priority for the President and his Administration. The Taskforce’s next meeting will be held in Europe and will focus on the priorities for developing the European impact investment market.
The work of the Taskforce’s first year will culminate in the publication of a report in September 2014 which we hope will provide a blueprint for rapidly accelerating development. In the meantime, we welcome input. Please contact the Secretariat to the Taskforce at the UK Cabinet Office: