A gathering of over 400 people marked the 7th annual meeting of the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) on 16-17 November in Turin, Italy. The theme of this year’s conference, Venture Philanthropy as a Catalyst for Societal Change, drew participants from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe and included study tour representatives from the newly formed Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) in Singapore.
Conference chairman Chris Carnie kicked off the meeting by announcing the release of findings from EVPA’s first survey of the field. Conducted by its Knowledge Centre, this annual snapshot of venture philanthropy in Europe will support the publication of a new industry report in early 2012, and in future iterations will help to provide benchmarking data for social entrepreneurs and investors. Among the findings from the 65 respondents to the survey:
- Investments by European venture philanthropists are estimated to have reached more than €1 billion.
- The majority of investments support young or start-up social purpose organizations, both NGOs and social businesses that focus on children, youth and the poor.
- Approximately half of the investments have been directed toward the health and education fields.
- Grants continue to be the primary investment vehicle for European venture philanthropists, but debt and equity instruments are estimated to have reached 25 per cent of the total.
Fully 85 per cent of respondents indicated that non-financial assistance – in the forms of strategy consulting, coaching, marketing, networking, etc – was of equal or greater importance than financial resources in helping them achieve scale and sustainability.
This latter point was reiterated when Rob John of the National University of Singapore’s business school offered his succinct definition of venture philanthropy: ‘A blend of financial and human capital used to help entrepreneurial organizations achieve their ambitions for sustained social impact.’ Changing systems, building new relationships with governments and scaling innovations to serve the disadvantaged were much on the minds of attendees in the face of global economic uncertainty and widespread social unrest.
Angelo Miglietta of Fondazione CRT called on governments, the private sector and philanthropy to show, ‘in the difficult, decisive days ahead’, how social enterprise can be the hallmark of a responsible economic and social community. To support the continued growth of the industry and deepen its engagement with key partners, including corporations, academia and fund managers, EVPA Chairman Serge Raicher announced the launch of an impact measurement initiative. In collaboration with the Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) Impact Reporting and Investment Standards project (IRIS) and others, the initiative is designed to facilitate knowledge building and information exchange and, potentially, to provide practitioners with guidance on the design of effective impact measures.
The ‘soul’ of this engaging conference was best represented by enthusiastic investors and dynamic social entrepreneurs sharing their stories – both successes and failures. The ventures showcased in Turin included: sporting programmes that serve disadvantaged children and the elderly; microcredit provision in immigrant communities; school-to-work transition supports for youth at risk; and facilities for addressing temporary homelessness. Participants addressed a range of topics they had faced in launching their ventures, including how to: maximize sustainable social impact; identify the appropriate mix of financial and non-financial tools; develop sectoral approaches; engage government in more effective approaches; advance their work through technology and social media; and establish measured, well-timed exit strategies.
In a session on maximizing impact, Colin Buckley of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation articulated four guiding principles for making social investments that were frequently repeated in other settings and forms during the two days. He recommended that entrepreneurs and investors:
- Establish a critical path to better understand and articulate what they really want to achieve.
- Move forward only when the expectations between partners and investors or donors are aligned.
- Focus only on the items that truly contribute to impact – excluding the things that would be ‘nice’ to do.
- Manage performance by ongoing impact assessment.
If, as Rob John noted early in the proceedings, ‘maximizing sustainable impact is a journey from local effect to scaling up to systemic change’, the experiences represented at the 2011 EVPA annual conference formed a practical roadmap for those seeking societal change through venture philanthropy.
Chris Page is a senior vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a New York-based social enterprise that helps donors create thoughtful philanthropy.