If you’re looking at impact investing, do you see a glass half empty or a glass half full? It all depends which end of the looking glass you’re looking through. If you consider that the term wasn’t even invented ten years ago and there are now countless impact investing funds – GIIN alone has almost 200 large institutional members in 30 different countries – you might see a glass half full. If you look at the volume of funds in impact investing compared to total investments and the scale of social problems to be solved in a material way, you’re more likely to see a glass half empty.
It seems to me that the authors of Beyond the Pioneer start with a glass half empty – seeing too few ‘inclusive businesses’ to benefit the poor managing to scale up sufficiently. Their aim is to remove the barriers so the glass can start to fill up.
If these inclusive businesses are to reach the required scale, it seems that ‘mainstreaming’ must be at least part of the answer – mainstream funds going into industries that have themselves become part of the mainstream. Interestingly, it is Álvaro Rodríguez in Mexico and Vineet Rai in India – both from countries where the social problems to be solved are substantial and not addressed with any level of scale by government – who most clearly express this mainstream vision. Neither has much time for external ‘do-gooders’ who think they can tell the poor what they ought to want and then try to sell it to them.