Impact Investing: $4.1 Trillion to Save the World

The world now faces dramatic cuts in government spending and no shortage of pressing social and environmental challenges. On Monday, asset owners and managers of an impressive 4.1 trillion dollars gathered in San Francisco to “Take Action!” – discussing how they can best use their investment portfolios to address big issues.

The Take Action! Impact Investing Conference marks conference founder Georgette Wong‘s fifth year working with asset owners and managers to use their investment dollars for good while seeking premium or market-rate returns. The gathering brings asset owners from families, foundations, major pension plans and corporations together to exchange stories of success and failure, debate ideas and investments, and make the connections they need to move to their impact investing efforts to the next level.

One of the conference’s major thrusts is understanding how investors can move beyond “socially responsible investment” (SRI), which primarily focuses on steering clear of “harmful” companies. The next step is to encourage an improved corporate environment, social performance, or governance practices. While SRI is undoubtedly important, many of Monday’s speakers focused on impact investing’s premium return potential as a catalyst that could affect the entire capital market structure. Attendees discussed challenging old paradigms about wealth and philanthropy, investment policies, addressing fiduciary constraints and standards of conduct, and deal flow in different markets.

The day started with discussion about different types of impact investing. Even amidst the relatively small group of conference attendees, there was no consensus definition.

Attendees listened to different perspectives on bringing key decision-makers on board. Bonny Landers talked about the River Star Foundation, a family foundation based in Hong Kong that’s taking a pioneering approach to doing good with their portfolio, while navigating three generations of key decision maker perspectives. Tom Ries from the W K Kellogg Foundation talked about the challenges and successes of his organization’s efforts to move into the impact investing space. In the last four years, Kellogg’s impact investing fund has done over 20 deals and made 2 exits.

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