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GUEST ARTICLE: Building Bridges In Thinking About Impact Investing

Benjamin Bingham, October 31, 2017


In a series of articles, a prominent US figure in the impact investing space will explore how to pull together disparate ways of thinking about the world to show how this model of managing money should be addressed. Here is the first essay.

This is the first instalment from author, Benjamin Bingham, CFP, founder and CEO, 3Sisters Sustainable Management. He is the author of Making Money Matter/Impact Investing to Change the World (www.makingmoneymatterbook.com). An article introducing Ben can be found here. 

There appears to be a universal consensus that the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are essential to the future of our planet. As criteria for selection to manage vast amounts of money for institutions, proposals may now require, at the very least, the appealing colors of the UN17SDG’s (as shown above).  If it is missing, the manager may unknowingly fail to be considered.  Even with the SDG chart prominently displayed, if there is no substance to the proposal that show the investments will further some or all of the goals, managers may still not make the cut.

So, one purpose of the following essays is to help investors, investment managers and the business leaders seeking funding to think how they might align themselves in a real way with this universal framework, which seems, at first glance, to be so general as to be almost meaningless. This first essay will break down the chart into three groups and suggest that entrepreneurial businesses and their investors may do well to focus on the third group that I will characterize today:

1, The first group I characterize with the word: “aspirational.” These are ultimate targets that will measure the success or failure of the other two groups. No one will disagree with these goals and though philanthropists may include them in their mission statements, investors are unlikely to approach them directly, and rather need to find the best solutions for specific problems. Then this group will become symptomatic of the relative success or failure of a caring economy that is meeting needs on a vast scale:

#1 and # 2 Ending Poverty and Hunger

#3 and #4: Good Health and Good Jobs;

#14 and #15: Life (as opposed to death I presume) Below Water and On Land.

2, The second group is also not a set of goals that investors and businesses would likely take up as their bailiwick.  I characterize these goals with the word: “institutional.” They describe broad policy changes that need to be adopted universally if we are to attain the aspirational goals of the first group. Just as caring for and meeting human needs in differentiated ways is the overarching principal behind success in the first group, in what would become a healthy world economy, in this middle realm, organizing society, the ideal is equality. 

There are certain things we all need and deserve. The following goals would create fertile ground for a future world based on collaboration and equal rights, a world where ethical individuals, Non-Governmental Organizations and Governments act appropriately for the good of all:

d,          #5 and #10 Gender Equality and Global Collaboration, rather than competition;

e,          #11 and #16 sustainable cities/communities and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions;

f.           #17 Partnerships for the Goals

3, The third group is where investors and the entrepreneurial businesses they support will get real traction. It is the “Creative” Group: the realm of Research and Development. While problems have multiplied globally, large companies have dedicated less and less to solving problems with most of the profits going into the hands of a few, and, in the USA, most R&D by far, is funded by the government, with a disproportionate amount funded by the military. The good news is that the Pentagon knows that it is futile to think of winning wars with armaments any more, and if their purpose is to keep the Peace, and support a healthy world economy, then R&D to improve global sustainability makes sense. 

But businesses need to recommit to this space as well if we are to reach these extraordinary challenges. Without innovative solutions to solve the following issues, the aspirational goals of the world economy will not be met. The ideal of this realm is Freedom and #4 Quality Education stands above the others as a prerequisite. 

The world needs creative approaches to education that develop free human beings who can think for themselves and solve problems no one before them could solve, such as the following:

g.       #6 and #7: clean water and sanitation, and clean, affordable energy

h.       #9 and #12: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and Responsible Production/Consumption

i.        #13: Climate Action If as Global Citizens, Investors and Entrepreneurs we can agree that the “Aspirational Goals” describe a world we all want; and if, as communities, cities and nations we can agree on “Institutional Goals” and policies that support these goals, then it will be essential to invest profits into those innovative initiatives or “Creative Goals,”  that will transform the complex problems  listed here into the elegant solutions for a future world we and our descendants will love.

In the next essays we will dig deeper into this third group and the breakthrough creative solutions required, industry by industry, taking up the indications on “materiality” laid out by the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board or SASB.

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