Serge Raicher is still involved in the social investment world, but as an individual, rather than as part of any formal structure.
I saw part of my final role as chair of EVPA as being to help the founders to phase out and of course that applied to me, too, so I purposely cut the strings with EVPA, other than following what’s going on and really liking what they’re doing.
For me, informing, catalysing and thought leadership are the three things EVPA has contributed. EVPA was the first collaborative movement of any scale about VP and social investment I think anywhere in the world, informing people about what VP is, reaching out to HNWIs, the private equity industry, foundations and policy-makers. It also acted as a catalyst and a meeting place both physical and virtual for information sharing and very soon, the thought leadership element developed. I think that has been and still should be a key mission for EVPA.
There was a lot of explaining at the beginning and responding to caution among the foundation community about ‘these people think they’re going to tell us how to do things’, so it was about convincing them what VP could and could not be in a European context. For me the word doesn’t matter – whether you call it VP or social investment or zumba dancing, it’s more what you do with it. The fact that it has become mainstream has brought a number of important developments. The first is that funding infrastructure is not a dirty word any more. It’s something which has been grasped by funders in general and I think that’s a key achievement. The notion of measuring impact has also been more strongly embedded, and the contribution of advice and assistance – those things are all good. Any foundation may choose to apply VP methods or not, but the fact that these things are at least considered is a great step forward.
EVPA is a means. To me, the end is to help the sector have greater impact – in other words, be better at fulfilling their mission by having access to techniques, to information. I think the key task for EVPA in the next 5-10 years is helping further create standards and best practice. For instance, the charter for impact investing, launched at this conference – that’s exactly the type of thing EVPA can bring to the market. If everything we have learned together in VP and social investment can be embedded into best practice, not only would it help newcomers, it would also help gather more investment, help VP practitioners avoid some mistakes and hopefully it will make us all better at helping the people that need it.
I have some concern about what I’d call impact washing – if, for instance, in order to raise a fund, you ‘package’ the strategy from an angle that makes it look like an impact investment when really it’s just a regular investment. There is also a risk of promising unrealistic financial returns to investors. There’s a danger that in indulging in this practice, genuine impact investors are put off. I can feel that debate coming up and having the groundwork in advance in order to be ready and speak as the authoritative voice of its constituencies would be an extremely useful job for EVPA to do.