The inaugural Social Impact Analyst Association conference was held at the inspiring Bertelsmann Conference Center, near Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Some 85 attendees from 12 different countries came together to talk about the social impact analyst as an emerging profession. Although the concept is still fuzzy, the need for qualified professionals in this field is growing all over the world. What’s behind this association that now numbers more than 160 members from around the world? As Kate Ruff from Charity Intelligence in Canada explained in her opening remarks, ‘analysts can be key players in developing methodologies, common tools and better use of impact analysis’. Their work will help to build a bright future for social investing and strategic giving. Ruff used quotes and examples from financial accounting and other contemporary reporting standards to outline key success factors for the field’s continued evolution.
After the opening we heard a short state-of-the-art analysis from representatives from four different countries: Romania, Ireland, Germany and Israel. Each one offered a very different perspective; the remarks made by John A Healy of Atlantic Philanthropies in Ireland were particularly insightful.
After the plenary sessions, we chose from five different panel sessions, all focused on learning from the ‘supply and demand for social impact analysts across the world’. Although of the panels looked excellent, only one was ‘sold out’ after pre-registration. Luckily, they brought in extra chairs for the ‘Impact Analysis and Social Investments’ session facilitated by Jake Benford of Bertelsmann Stiftung. The session’s four panellists explained different models used to evaluate impact investing: the academic, but flexible and realistic, model of Barbara Scheck; the model behind the UK’s pioneering social impact bonds developed and launched by Social Finance Fund and the Social Venture Fund, which was explained by Harry Hoare; the matrix model applied by Investing for Good and related by Adrian Hornby; and the benchmarking shared by Arne Kroger from the Social Venture Fund in Germany.
SIAA is growing simultaneously in multiple countries. As a sample of that growth, two colleagues and I participated in a panel about our early experiences launching SIAA and promoting the impact analyst ‘movement’ in our respective countries: Austria, Hungary and Spain (curiously our three countries also share some common history!) Although the social impact analysis phenomenon is relatively new in Spain, we were pleased that three different members represented our country at the conference: the Associación Española de Fundaciones and Stone Soup Consulting, as well as Philanthropic Intelligence.
At the final plenary session we worked in small groups to try to answer a deceptively simple question: ‘What exactly is a social impact analyst?’ We can’t claim to have reached a definitive definition, but commonalities appeared across the groups: discussion of the differences between the social impact analyst and the evaluator role, the qualities needed to be a successful evaluator, and the need to combine several academic disciplines (economics, sociology, psychology…) to get the best results. In the social impact analyst world, as in so many ventures and sectors, collaboration seems to be a key to success.
Catalina Parra is founding partner of Philanthropic Intelligence