3 lessons from my seat at the impact investing table

December 21, 2016
Panelists discuss impact investing at the InsideNGO conference in 2016

In Fall 2015, The Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), GOAL, InsideNGO, Mercy Corps and Pact launched the INGOs in Impact Investing Network, a new forum for INGOs to learn, collaborate, conduct joint research and collectively advocate. What originally began as a small group of like-minded people swapping stories of their triumphs and failures in bringing impact investing to their organizations quickly ballooned to a vibrant community now approaching 50 organizational members.

It has been five months since we launched our seminal report, Amplifyii: The INGO Value Proposition for Impact Investing, which offers case studies and outlines four major roles that our members are playing, including making investments, receiving investments, providing technical assistance to social entrepreneurs and investors, and ecosystem building.

Much like the growth of the network on which the report is based, interest has far exceeded my expectation. While I knew the report would be useful to the segment of the INGO world exploring impact investing, it has proven to be of interest to a much wider variety of stakeholders, from investors to philanthropists to academic groups to government agencies.

I first glimpsed the report’s resonance among non-INGOs when we circulated it to a few friends for feedback and ended up with endorsements from 16 leading organizations in the impact investing field, including the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN); the Calvert, Skoll and Ford Foundations; the Omidyar Network; Accenture; OPIC; and SOCAP.

Since the report’s release, I have been invited to speak on the topic of INGOs in impact investing at several industry conferences. We were lucky enough to present the results of our research at the InsideNGO Annual Conference (InsideNGO was a co-author on the report), the SOCAP Annual Conference in San Francisco, and the Global Impact Investing Network Annual Investor Forum in Amsterdam. Another group of our network members discussed the topic at the Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs Annual Conference in Virginia.

What have I learned from this report roadshow?

First, I’ve experienced the ever-widening diversity of the impact investing movement. There is really no such thing as a “traditional” impact investor, as leaders in this field represent varying investment mechanisms, return expectations, impact goals, geographies, and, yes, organizational forms. The crowds may look different between SOCAP and the GIIN, but we’re all circling around the same fascinating challenge of unlocking private capital for social good. That problem needs a variety of perspectives and skillsets to solve!

Second, I have experienced first-hand the often cited need for cross-sector translation. It can be difficult to explain how Pact works to a commercial investor, just as it is difficult for me to understand all the decision drivers for an investment fund manager. We truly speak different languages, and while there is beauty in bringing together diverse perspectives, it still presents some logistical challenges.

However, my third lesson is that the desire to understand and to be understood is there. I’ve been surprised by the interest I’ve seen in what nonprofits can contribute to the impact investing space. Our sessions have been packed, and it is encouraging to see that the seats are not just full of nonprofit folks. I’ve engaged with a wide variety of investors interested in learning more about how to plug into the assets that INGOs can bring, such as a global yet localized network, a strong impact measurement approach, and the ability to raise philanthropic capital as part of blended finance deals.

I’m excited that there is growing space to tell the story of what the social sector can contribute to impact investing—and how a thriving impact investing practice can transform social sector organizations for the better!