Social investments versus impact investing in social themes


Elaine Smith and Instituto Geracao

Elaine Smith

Elaine Smith

The second edition of the LH Forum for Positive Economy took place in Le Havre, France, from 25-27 September. It had over 4,000 enrolments, of which some 1,400 were from local students. This was a huge group of scholars, NGO managers and government officials gathered to exchange, reflect on and contribute points of view and their experiences on the concept of Positive Economy. The discussions among participants from 45 countries centred around their experiences and recent findings about the best ways to collaborate with social areas by using business, and the new business model proposed by Planet Finance.

There were some 18 themes discussed, some of it based on Harvard professor Michael Porter’s Creating Value and Conscious Capitalism by Wholefoods founder John Mackey. Roundtables were filled with social entrepreneurs, managers of big companies and finance professionals keen to talk about innovative projects.

Definitely France is ahead of Brazil in terms of what is being talked about in the social field. However, common ground, including skepticism surrounding NGOs and their ability to cope what the government in public policy lacks, can be found in every panel or conversation. The questioning about the current business model in capitalism suggested and proved that the entire world is under calculated threat. Discussions showed the public that the world needs to reflect on every act of governments, corporations, business and individuals.

The areas of social investment interest are also different. Looking from the standpoint of a European developed country compared to where I live – a Latin country still considered under development – brings to light quite different social investment themes to discuss. 80% of the social investments done by the 140 members of GIFE in Brazil are related to education. Even though recent growth rates reflect that a country may be better off if it is away from the coalition zone of the developed world, one can argue that opportunities that combine the need of the underdeveloped people and business potential are the ones to follow in the short term.

Brazil sees clear opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest in education, health, infrastructure and construction to create social impact. In Europe, conversations about water treatment, renewable energy and poor empowerment through professional inclusion dominate the glance to the future.

Labs are being created to help participants reflect on a central theme of the positive economy and hopefully conclusions will be shared with the public in the research that follows around the globe.

But some approaches involve common ground: impact investors or organizations that aim to find investors to help them to scale social business or a combination of business (in social funds) are still looking to the average philanthropist as one of their resources for funding. While some organizations are now signing contracts with corporations in order to implement products or services, others still tackle the pocket of deep interest in social change.

It comes as no surprise that Europe faces the same challenges we face in Brazil regarding impact investing. These include:

  • aligning managers’ values with their portfolios;
  • how to pick investments that intentionally look for impact and have financial return as a secondary result;
  • teaming up hybrid professionals that are fluent in finance and social impact; and
  • formation of the ecosystem combining accelerators and early-stage business.

Currently around the globe we have only a few success stories and proven cases to look to for inspiration.

As a former trader in financial markets, I can only say that I’ve seen this kind of buzz before. It means that almost everyone is talking about the same thing, and the ones that are not feel they are missing something important. It means the subject is relevant across the board and if you do not participate, you are likely to be neglected. It means that everyone had better listen to the signs – signs that the wind is changing and we will soon face a new environment ahead.

Elaine Smith, Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum, helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.

Tagged in: Brazil Conscious Capitalism Impact investing Positive Economy Social entrepreneurship Social investment

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