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Captalism's new formula: Capital + Purpose = Social impact

by Amit Bhatia | Global Steering Group for Impact Investment
Thursday, 29 March 2018 18:12 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A security guard walks past a montage of U.S. $100 dollar bills outside a currency exchange bureau in Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 23, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This equation is the catalyst for our movement, which shares characteristics of major social and political movements in the last century

The impact investing movement can create history so that our children and grand-children proudly ask "what went right?"instead of "what went wrong?"

Maybe it will help us forget that perhaps man's greatest invention, money, ever became man's greatest malady.

With impact investing, some of the things we could change can include the social injustice meted out to the three billion poor and rendering poverty to history. It could make the phrase "climate change" obsolete and restrict global warming to less than 1.5 percent.

Sir Ronald Cohen, the founder and chair of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment, which works to accelerate the movement around the world, often says that impact investment is "an evolution in thought and a revolution in means". This is an unstoppable movement and we are on the winning side of history.

According to our estimates, global impact investments crossed $150 billion in 2016 and will cross $300 billion by 2020. Moreover, we believe impact investments touched 500 million poor, i.e., one in six poor people in 2016; and will likely touch one billion poor by 2020, i.e., one in three poor people.

It is inspiring to see that great shifts are underway that will convert the malady into a remedy - a shift that ensures capital has a higher purpose. Incontrovertibly, we are creating a new formula: Capital + Purpose = Social impact.  

This equation is the catalyst for our movement, which shares characteristics of major social and political movements in the last century.

Many revolutions share some common features, allowing them space in our collective consciousness. The impact investment movement is successfully emulating three:

1. All successful movements are simple but revolutionary ideas that restore justice or balance. Women should vote. Segregation based on colour is unjust. All citizens are equal. Imperialism or dictatorship is bad. 

Similarly, the impact investment thesis is values-based: capital has a higher purpose. Capital must be used to create positive social or environmental impact alongside financial returns. Impact can drive profitability and need not impair it. We too have a simple but revolutionary idea. 

2. All successful movements are decentralized and replicable: Though separated by an ocean and working independently, Susan B. Anthony in the United States, and Emmeline Pankhurst in the UK, fought to give women the right to vote around the same time, at the beginning of the last century.

Impact investment too has manifested in diverse ways in diverse geographies. Some view impact investment as disruption in philanthropy, others as cannibalizing commercial investments. To some, it is an investment strategy. To others, it is monetization of outcomes. But all agree that impact investment is here to stay.

3. All successful movements are inclusive: Most successful historical movements are inclusive, engagiing citizen support irrespective of economic status, caste, colour, language, or nationality. 

Even the recent Arab Spring, still a work-in-progress, quickly spread to over a dozen countries. The impact investing movement is equally inclusive for philanthropists and capitalists, for-profits and non-profits.

The rare consensus on impact investment between the philanthropists on the left and the capitalists on the right does sound surreal.

Our movement, through being a simple but revolutionary idea, a decentralized and replicable approach and by being a big, inclusive tent, contains the core characteristics of a successful movement.

Movements take a long time coming and our time has come. This "impact" movement is still about bourgeois vs. proletariat - just in a different avatar. Not on the battlefield, but in the financial markets. This revolution is not about guns and arms, but considers if the invisible hand of the markets can be guided by the invisible heart.

Amit Bhatia is CEO of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment.