Our sixth annual conference, Impact Days 2016 took place in April in Amsterdam, and had 273 attendees from 20 countries. 71% of attendees were investors of which 10% were Millennials, 19% were financial professionals, 10% were entrepreneurs. For those who could not join, we’re happy to provide here an encapsulated conference round-up covering themes and ouput.
A Sense of Shared Urgency during this ‘Best of Times, Worst of Times’
There is certainly progress and good news: global poverty has been reduced by half; child mortality rates have been reduced by half; there are new collaborative agreements and global goals with COP21 and the SDGs; and there are market indicators of increased capital flowing to impact. Meanwhile, Europe is conflicted about a refugee crisis; there is an increased sense of threat; and we are living through some of the hottest and most extreme weather conditions on record. ‘We often frame the need for solution in terms of our children, or our grandchildren. This pushes out the problem. I am worried about the present. I want to create solutions for our generation, for our world, for vulnerable populations now.’ Prins Constantijn van Oranje. ‘The time for testing the water is over. It’s time for commitment.’ said Pymwymic founder Frank van Beuningen.
Investors Changing the System
Increasingly for investors, integrating impact goes beyond private equity. ‘We make social entrepreneurship a business line within our holding company. It gives entrepreneurs the resources of our 50,000 employees in HR, finance, marketing etc. It gives our employees a chance to help those companies. And it shows society we are committed. We are winning some top talent because they see our commitment to impact’ said Johan Andresen. Head of Norwegian FERD. Stephen Brenninkmeijer spoke to scale: ‘For impact really to reach scale, it has to go beyond rooms like this, and reach everyone.’ He is backing the UK-based Social Stock Exchange. We at Pymwymic unveiled plans for a peer-owned holding company, the Impact Coop, answering the need for long-term vision and more sector-based focus.
Mainstreaming the Movement
From consumers to corporates to stockholders, the attention to impact grows. ABN AMRO and FMO previewed a new retail opportunity for HNW clients to co-invest in FMO’s impact portfolio. Carolien de Bruin of C-Change identifies a $100 Billion Corporate Impact Opportunity, and identifies $2Bn in the Netherlands alone. Ivo Knoepfel, pointed toward mainstream market research firms are for the first-time creating impact methodology, and directing that towards the public equities markets. Experienced VC Jos Peeters challenged attendees that labeling a fund ‘impact’ creates unnecessary barriers for institutional capital: if it helps to scale your intention, can you not just do the work with the same intention, but avoid the label?
Preserving the Planet with Capital
Using capital to offset climate risk and preserve resources was a strong theme. Kitty van der Heijden from World Resources Institute outlined global issues: 70% of food grown is wasted; 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for food, medicines and fuel, as well as their jobs and livelihoods. ‘Forests are the wealth of the poor, and the world depends on them to keep climate change under control.’ Florian Meister of Finance in Motion further explains the business case for conversation investment, outlined in a separate blog here. Boyan Slot, inspiring founder of Ocean Cleanup, needs a further €6Million to finalise testing on what could be the largest cleanup in ocean history. $6 Million to potentially rid the oceans of plastic: is this rightful risk?
A compelling story of will and survival by Syrian entrepreneur Jay Asad brought humanity to the numbers and graphs used in Europe’s refugee conversations, and a reminder of an entrepreneur’s will and perseverance to the heart of the conference. Stichting DOEN and Iona Stichting hosted three additional ‘refugee response’ entrepreneurs to attend, and to discuss what would help them reach scale for solutions. One awareness from the group work: without papers, you cannot get a bank account. Some refugees wait 18 months for papers and housing. We need a bank who can provide access to finance, right here in Europe.
Sustainable Development Goals
Based on the number of aloft green cards in the room, there was a majority opinion amongst attendees that the SDGs provide a useful map and shared language for necessary global goals. Herman Mulder and Hugo von Meijenfeldt championed the SDGs. In 7 separate breakouts around the SDGs, working groups looked to how an infusion of private capital could accelerate solutions for the SDGs. Pymwymic’s recommendations to our national committee, and through them to the EU are:
- Launch a Blended Capital Facility, with guarantees or match funding.
- Support for Field Building Work for investor education and advocacy.
- Encourage New Collaboration between and amongst existing players.
So much progress – and yet, Practitioner Frustration
Some conference years center in inspiration, some in education. For 2016, Impact Days centered in urgency. Practitioners are frustrated they spend most of their time educating institutions and that money is slow to move. ‘It is about time that we, the impact investing community, lose patience with our own lack of ambition’ said Uli Grabenwarter, head of EIF. Kurt Peleman, outgoing CEO of EVPA, said ‘maybe we need to bring a sense of passion, or healthy anger into our work.’ Asked to expand on the meaning of healthy anger, a Pymwymic investor writes: It means demand change / turn up the heat / call to action / step up our game / energize/ unacceptable / healthy rebel/ vital change. Stop waiting.
The conference ended with a call to stop waiting, observing, critiquing and defining – and move to action. This is the time, our time. This is the need, now. So what is your next step?