If 2020 was a year of isolation, 2021 has been a year about reconnecting with the things that are important to us. I am hopeful for good things to come in 2022.
For those working to achieve positive impact at scale, there is no time to waste. The year has brought home to me that we are at a crossroads - we either start making changes now for the sake of our planet, or we risk that future generations may suffer the consequences of our indecision.
I have taken great solace, however, in some of the conversations I’ve had with changemakers over the last year. I’ve heard from business leaders and entrepreneurs in London to those based in California and India. Some are working to improve the lives of refugees, others to eradicate poverty in Africa, while some are engaged in fighting climate change with whatever tools they have at their disposal.
The aim might be different, but the underlying message is the same: the status quo is not good enough. I am hoping that by sharing these stories on Invest for Good, we will take inspiration from each other and grow the community of people who want to make a positive impact.
One thing that came up in conversation time and again is that we are the agents of change. Here are some of the highlights:
The year kicked off with a conversation that often comes up with those working to achieve social impact at scale: how do I know what kind of impact I am having? As many investors and changemakers can tell you, there isn’t a single metric for measuring your impact.
There has been some movement towards consensus, however. The International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank, launched the Operating Principles for Impact Management in 2019. The nine principles set out best practice and also called for independent verification of impact.
“The lightbulb went off for us,” said Christina Leijonhufvud. She’s the CEO of BlueMark, a company founded as a response to the new demand for impact verification services. At the time of speaking, the company was barely a year old, but already it was establishing itself as essential to the impact investing industry. It has since completed over 50 impact verification services for asset managers, investors and companies.
For those who are sceptical, Christina explained that there is no longer a good reason for not having your impact verified by a third party: “Don’t be fooled by the excuse of confusion or that there are too many standards or alphabet soup. There’s actually a lot of clarity in the market now.”
Carol Anne Hilton is a powerhouse: an author, speaker, advisor, business leader and the founder of the Indigenomics Institute in Canada. For too many years, she told me, Indigenous people have been ignored and considered a burden in the country. The Indigenomics Institute looks to change that.
“What I’m wanting to see is that shift in national consciousness - to start seeing us as an investable, generative population that contributes to the success of Canada’s economy,” Carol Anne said in February.
The founder believes the Indigenous economy is worth CAN$100bn and that there are multiple ways of reaching its potential. For her own part, Carol Anne works tirelessly to make Indigenous people more visible, to promote their businesses and strengthen their communities.
Her message is overwhelmingly one of inclusivity. She often asks the question, “Who wants to play Indigenomics?” It’s her way of inviting everyone to the economic table.
Pam Warhurst is an example of just how much someone with tenacity, determination and passion can accomplish. Pam is from Todmorden in England, a former industrial town that had fallen on hard times. She believed in its future, but was frustrated by the lack of progress. With a few friends, she took matters into her own hands and began planting vegetables and fruit gardens in neglected community spaces.
The aim was two-fold: revitalise the town and help fight climate change by producing local, seasonal food that people could share and grow themselves. From this simple concept, Incredible Edible was born. It has spawned a huge network throughout the UK and has spin-offs in the likes of Australia, France, New Zealand and even Japan.
Pam is a huge inspiration to people and speaks frequently about her vision. “Who’s going to be brave enough to stand on the frontline?” she told me back in March. “To help me demonstrate that with the land we’ve got in our towns, in our villages, in our boroughs, if we invest in our citizens’ ability to grow food, we’d actually find we have better health outcomes, better community development outcomes and better entrepreneurial outcomes.”
I have spoken to many people about saving the planet. Kristin Rechberger, the founder of Dynamic Planet, is one of the most resourceful and passionate. Kristin likes to say she’s in the business of conservation. Through her company, she partners with strategic allies to protect our planet from a devastating future.
A recent report in Nature, which Kirstin co-authored, showed the effect of bottom trawling on the Earth’s carbon dioxide levels. The authors found that the global CO2 emissions into the ocean from bottom trawling are as large as the annual emissions of global aviation into the air.
“We all need to let science - evidence - be our guide and move forward to ensure future generations can prosper as we have,” Kristin told me. “The other option is to continue working against our own self-interest. To be blunt, we’ve been investing in our own extinction. We have a decade to turn things around until there is irreversible damage - and every day counts.”
Imagine getting into a top university and not being able to take up the place because you don’t have the money. This is a situation that is all too familiar to African students applying to global universities.
Lydiah Kemunto Bosire was once one of these students herself. She had an offer at the Harvard School of Public Health but wasn’t able to afford the fees. Determined to help others like her, Lydiah founded 8B Education Investments, a FinTech company that secures loans for high-performing African students.
8B Education Investments estimates that there is at least a $25bn a year financing gap unmet by supply. Its aim is to help bridge this gap and to make African students an investable proposition. As Lydiah said back in May: “Investing in human capital in African countries would increase local capacity to respond to crises and add to the worldwide talent pool, which would benefit all nations.”
Jessica Jackley is no ordinary entrepreneur; she’s the passionate advocate of financial inclusion. It was this belief that led her to co-found Kiva, a hugely successful nonproft which allows people to send microloans to people in 77 countries.
Her journey has taught her about the satisfaction that comes with volunteering and helping others. She now hopes to pass this on to the younger generation through her latest venture, Alltruists. Kids learn about some of the planet’s most pressing issues with a subscription box that gets delivered to their home. From the plight of pollinators to fighting hunger, each box helps build empathy and compassion.
At the time of speaking to Jessica, Alltruists was just launching. Reflecting on the challenge of starting a business from the bottom up, the entrepreneur said: “I want this to be successful, but if Alltruists stays small and there’s not as much demand as I thought and we end up only lasting for a little while, is it still good that we started these conversations around issues that I think really matter to the world? Yes, I think so.”
I like to think you never stop learning. Whether it’s learning new skills or learning from others, we continue to go on a journey as human beings throughout our lives. Books are a fantastic resource for those wanting to learn. The best will also entertain or grip you. With that in mind, I drew up a summer reading list for social entrepreneurs, impact investors and anyone looking for a bit of inspiration.
The nine books on the list delve into investing for social impact, how innovation can help us address societal problems, building a purpose-led business, and building the foundations of a new economy.
It’s a fact that is hard to make sense of: 60 million people in India fall into poverty every year because they don’t have health insurance. Incredibly, that’s 7,000 people every hour.
Kumar Shailabh has plans to disrupt the insurance industry in India and help millions more people get coverage. The vehicle for doing this is Uplift Mutuals, a model of insurance where the insurer and insured are one. Members pool the risk of paying out for costly procedures, by prioritising health over health insurance.
It’s a different way of looking at health insurance in a country where more than 600 million people are uninsured. One way of reaching more people, Kumar told me, is to use an app which allows members to to file a claim, check a claim’s progress, order medicines and register for different health services - all at the touch of a few buttons.
His persistence is admirable despite enormous obstacles: “The distribution and management costs of reaching out to a country as vast as India is very high,” he said.
Among the crises facing our planet, food waste is one of the biggest and yet it’s preventable. In the United States alone, 30% of food is wasted every year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Entrepreneur Robert Luo finds solutions where other people see problems. When his uncle came to him with a problem - milk going to waste in huge quantities - Robert decided to try to find a way to use it.
Together with a scientist friend, he isolated the protein in milk and was able to turn it into a textile. His company Mi Terro is now experimenting with other possibilities, including turning wasted food into a compostable material that could replace single-use plastic.
His innovative approach has drawn attention from some big players, Budweiser among them. The beer company is now working with Robert to design the world’s first beer bottle made from spent grain and agricultural waste.
It’s an exciting development that comes from years of experimentation. “I think this will be a very innovative solution,” Robert predicted in Invest for Good, “because this not only applies to the beer industry, but it can be made into cosmetic personal care products like soaps, body wash and conditioner bottles.”
Pranav Chopra is a man of his word. When he went to a dinner party and heard the plight of some London refugees unable to find work, he promised to launch a small business that would employ them.
Six years later, Pranav is the head of NEMI Teas, a social enterprise that sells high-quality, sustainable tea products. The company’s mission is to employ and train refugees, and give them references that will land them a new job related to their skills.
It has not been an easy ride, however. NEMI Teas lost 90% of its business overnight because of COVID-19. The lockdowns forced the company to pivot its business from wholesale to retail. The new push saw their business nearly double despite the pandemic. It’s now on the brink of launching a standalone cafe in a busy part of London.
“We need to double up more than a traditional for-profit-making business because we are mission-driven and the only way we can do that is if we land bigger and bigger contracts,” Pranav told me.
Approximately 18% of refugees are unemployed in the UK, compared to an unemployment rate of around 5% for the general population. As a result, Pranav has set himself a big target: employ 1200 refugees by December 2026.
When did you last think that your pension has the potential to influence the direction of the world? Pensions in the UK are worth 2.6tn. What if we could put all that money to doing good instead of causing harm?
That’s the aim of Make My Money Matter, a campaign that is growing awareness about tapping into the power of people’s pensions. One of the organisation’s current priorities is getting pensions in the UK to align to net zero.
As a result, Make My Money Matter has launched its Green Pensions Charter, which calls on big businesses to sign on and “green” their employee pension schemes. It has had commitments from some big companies, including accounting firm EY, IKEA, Innocent Drinks and Tesco. To date, the team believes these commitments are worth £800bn assets under management, representing about 40 million pension pots.
Tony Burdon, Make My Money Matter’s CEO, says this is good progress, but that there’s a lot more to do. He had this message for my readers: “Don’t forget that your money has a much bigger impact than many of the other things that you do, so find out where it is and find out what impact it’s having.”
While this year is on its way out, it may have escaped your attention that 2021 was designated the UN international year of the creative economy.
In 2018, UNESCO estimated that the creative industries generate annual revenues of nearly $3tn and around 30 million jobs worldwide, employing more young people than any other sector.
To put it another way, the creative arts represent a largely untapped opportunity for impact investors looking to put their money into enterprises that create more inclusion, equity and support for vulnerable communities.
This investment opportunity has not escaped the notice of Carolina Biquard. She’s the co-founder of Fundación Compromiso, an organisation that has been working to strengthen the social sector in Argentina since 1992.
Together with two partner organisations, Carolina is hoping to mobilise large sums of capital for the creative industries, scaling up the impact of her lifelong social sector work. The instrument to do this is Creativity, Culture & Capital, a launchpad for a global arts impact fund that will invest in a range of projects across continents.
Think of it as gender lens investing for the creative industries, the co-founder says. It’s challenging but nothing motivates Carolina more than trying to leave her mark on the world: “I think all of us want to leave something behind and I think this is what keeps me alive.”
As we move into the New Year, I want to thank all my readers, newsletter subscribers and contributors. Invest for Good exists as a platform to exchange thoughts and best practices, as well as to profile those determined to leave the world a better place. I hope it will energise you to tackle 2022 with a renewed sense of purpose.