As the practice of impact investing matures, evolving from a peripheral concept to a mainstream practice, the momentum around this nascent industry is growing. At a time when governments, foundations and donors look to do more with less, impact investing offers a means to generate social and environmental value with the potential for financial returns. However, this opportunity has often been limited by an overall weak capacity on the demand side of the equation and a resulting lack of investment-ready projects. These limitations undermine the impact investment industry’s quest to reach maturity, scale and sustainability.
The inability of many emerging market institutions and enterprises to effectively absorb and manage the new pool of capital made available by impact investing was noted in the Rockefeller Foundation report Accelerating Impact: Achievements, Challenges and What’s Next in Building the Impact Investing Industry, prepared earlier this year. The report notes that there has been comparatively less work on the demand side of the impact investing equation; the majority of early industry efforts were largely focused on creating and mobilizing capital.
As impact investors start to develop industry standards, rating mechanisms and associations, there is a growing awareness of the need to develop the demand side of the industry alongside. Efforts to accelerate the execution of impact investing are underway – these include initiatives to expand the availability of technical assistance and training, advance education and awareness, and improve the flow of information to better match the interest on the supply side with opportunities available on the demand side.
CDC Development Solutions (CDS), through its MBAs Without Borders (MWB) program, is working to improve the capacity of the demand side. CDS matches talented MBA graduates with skills-based volunteer assignments in emerging and frontier markets around the world, with the graduates using their skills to provide pro bono consulting services in areas such as strategy, sales, finance, project management and human resources. In return, they receive a unique understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent to these markets.
As part of his MBAs Without Borders assignment, graduate Elias Badui worked with the Grassroots Business Fund in Peru to support its investment in two local agribusinesses by improving business efficiency and performance. Elias was instrumental in strengthening the organizations’ corporate governance practices and training management, and he gave technical assistance to develop internal methods of performance evaluation.
Reflecting on his MWB experience, Elias noted the value that MBAs and other skilled experts can have on local capacity building: ‘With all the debt and salary expectation an MBA has at graduation, it’s very difficult for the poorest regions of the planet to recruit them. This program closes the gap between the two parties and allows the company to benefit from best-in-class business education, while recent MBA graduates gain an entire year of rigorous consulting experience.’ At the same time, graduates gain experience in teamwork and collaboration, and gain an essential cultural sensitivity to business practices in new markets that can inform their lifelong careers.
As philanthropists explore how the impact investment market can reach maturity and scale, building this sort of link between local non-government organizations, small to medium-sized enterprises and government agencies is a critical step to drive economic growth and achieve the social return many investors seek.
Jailan Adly is a Senior Program Manager at CDC Development Solutions and leads the organization’s MBAs Without Borders program.