The future of social impact investment, through the eyes of the NextGen

 

Christina Wu

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According to the Brookings Institution, by 2025 an overwhelming 75 per cent of our workforce will be made up of Millennials. The future of work is changing, and that also means for us in the social impact investment sector.  When you take a step back, you start to ask yourself, what will this mean for us as capital providers, asset managers or social enterprise founders? How will the next wave of young intrapreneurs influence how corporations leverage assets for societal good? How will they shape the investment strategies of foundations and impact funds and their approaches to tackling the most pressing and deep-rooted societal challenges today?

In early November at the European Venture Philanthropy Association’s 15th annual conference, I sat down with Marika Bernhard (Robert Bosch Foundation in Germany), Björn Vennema (Social Finance Netherlands), Aimée-Mimi van der Wolde (SEIF in Switzerland) and Louis Wouters (LITA.be in Belgium) to ask some of these questions, and hear their thoughts.

The conversation was dynamic and energising, with those from all generations in the audience actively participating and asking our ‘NextGen’ panel their views not only on the future of this sector and the skillset needed to solve societal challenges, but their specific venture philanthropy practices, e.g. Björn Vennema’s mini crash course explanation of social impact bonds.

What was fascinating to see were the varied professional paths and academic backgrounds of those in dialogue, and understanding better how they arrived to do their current work. Aimée-Mimi van der Wolde has strong roots in social and non-profit sector, and expressed that these types of conversations and careers paths should be ‘the norm’ and not some niche sector.

Brought up by Louis Wouters and supported unanimously by the group, there was the sense of impatience and urgency, that things need to move faster in order to address societal issues and that we need to more efficiently leverage capital for good, both financial and non-financial.

Yet there was a humility in these conversations. Marika Bernhard, reflected on the fact that the NextGen cannot have these conversations in isolation. There needs to be a space to bring senior leaders and young generations to the table, to bring forward diverse perspectives. This is what will foster and advance the impact investment approaches of tomorrow.

While there were many learnings, here are a few:

  • Impatience fuels and advances impact practices and keeps beneficiaries at the centre
  • Intergenerational learning and knowledge transfer needs to happen more often
  • Academic institutions play a key role in preparing professionals and exposing young people to new ways of deploying capital for societal good
  • Programmes and communities exist that cultivate senior leaders in our impact sector E.g. The Next Generation Impact Investment (NGII just launched this year in Milan), and The Coaching Fellowship, executive coaching for young women impact leaders

After our conversation, we came away a little more optimistic but with a lot more work to do.

Later that day during the networking lunch, I spoke with Inês Charro, MAZE X. She said to me how she surprised herself, challenging an element of ScaleUp Nation’s lockstep model approach and helping founder Menno van Dijk, rethink a little and adjust his standard slide deck for their conference workshop later that day.

It re-assured me the future of social investment is pretty bright, especially if we continue to be humble, have courage to share and self-reflect, and make space for honest conversations that advance how we support societal solutions.

Christina Wu is Community and Impact Measurement Manager at EVPA


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