Amsterdam, 20th April 2016, a sparkling morning sun accompanies Frank van Beuningen in welcoming the participants of this year’s Impact Days conference. The blue sky seems to predict that ‘The Next Step’ of impact investment is going towards an undoubtedly bright future. This year’s theme ‘The Next Step’ is quite crucial in the current landscape. The Pymwymic team encourages the investors to find out what are the next steps for a maturing impact investment movement. What comes next for the pioneering organizations who have helped to build the space in the past 20 years?
“This year has been characterized by the refugees crisis, by low oil prices and by a new sense of threat caused by terrorist attacks in Europe” says says Pymwymic managing director Katrin Ley “but there is also a new degree of global collaboration and consciousness arising, since for the first time the world has rallied around a new common agenda with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. Surely this global awareness creates a fertile ground for the future growth of impact investment.
The conference kicks-off with an engaging & interactive discussion on this year’s themes and landscape, led by energetic Pymwymic co-founder Margaret McGovern. The atmosphere is familiar, cheerful and relaxed since the very beginning, when the ice gets suddenly broken by an improvised stage dance to face initial technical problems. The facilitators include Margaret, Katrin and Alexandra Korijn, Associate at Enclude.
When asked to describe the current trends, Johan Andresen, owner of Ferd affirms: “Responsibility is something that most people are beginning to seriously think about, as they now ask themselves how to make a real impact”. Stephen Brenninkmeijer spoke about develpoments in the markets over his 10 years of experience. Caroline Princen, part of the Managing Board of ABN AMRO and Nanno Kleiterp CEO of FMO, take the occasion to surprise the public by launching the new FMO Privium Impact Fund now available at ABN AMRO Private Banking. Mr. Kleiterp urges the scalability of impact investment as he envisions a near future in which everybody will be able to impact invest, “The horizon is mainstream” he affirms. Herman Mulder, co-chair of the SDGs taskforce for The Netherlands and Florian Meister, MD of Finance in Motion point out the importance of SDGs also for private capital holders & family foundations and he incites the public to cooperate by saying “We have one world, one goal, one community”. Chetna Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Bank works for social change in some of the poorest and most drought-stricken areas of rural India. “Do not bring poor solutions to poor people: listen to them!” affirms Chetna while stressing the importance of gender equality as fundamental tool to overcome global poverty and inequality. Jos Peeters an experienced & successful Belgian VC, challenges attendees showing how impact can actually be a barrier to market. Uli Grabenwarter, Deputy Director at the European Investment Fund discusses the broken nature of how we fix problems and believes that the best solution is to integrate societal challenges into business and investment. This first “Lay of the Land’ morning plenary ends with the entrepreneurs introducing their incredible organizations. The excitement for their innovative projects is tangible as the entrepreneurs gather awake attention from a late-morning sleepy public.
After a small break it is time to get deeper into the SDGs and everybody divides into the breakout sessions depending on what topic they prefer to focus on. The sessions include a presentation by the entrepreneurs and an interactive investment game that triggers the creativity and involvement of the participants. The breakouts include Gender Equality, Decent Work & Economic Growth, Peace, Justice and Refugees, Preserving the Planet with Capital and Sustainable and Circular Consumption.
At the end of the afternoon it is time for the entrepreneurs to pitch their companies to their potential investors. I was very impressed by !nspiraFarms and Bomberbot. Tim Chambers and Michele Bruni created !nspiraFarms, a company that enables emerging market small-scale farmer cooperatives to reduce food waste and access high-value markets by supplying turnkey affordable cold storag and post-harvest processing facilities and equipment. Cristian Bello is the young conceiver of Bomberbot, an innovative digital learning tool that teaches primary-school age boys and girls to computer code.
As the sun starts to set on the canals, it is time for the closing plenaries and goodbyes. Paul Iske, Professor at Maastricht University motivates and amuses the public by sharing stories from his Institute of Brilliant Failures. He demonstrates how to use humour to deal with our innate aversion to risk and fear of failure. Frank van Beuningen closes the conference with his valuable advice for the future. He encourages the impact investors to collaborate more with each other and to cooperate with corporations and governments. In addition he exhorts them to increase the scalability of impact investment.
“Impact days are always too inspiring!” admits Kurt Peleman, CEO of EVPA. And while this bright day ends on the beautiful Amsterdam, I can only agree with Mr. Peleman: I feel full of hope, motivation and inspiration.
Margherita Pandolfo – Volunteer