Impact investing is a form of investing that aims to generate both financial returns and a positive impact on society and the environment. It is a growing and diverse field that offers opportunities for private investors to align their values with their investments, while also contributing to the global challenges of poverty, inequality, climate change, and more. According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), the impact investing industry had an estimated $715 billion in assets under management in 2020, up from $502 billion in 2019. The GIIN also reports that impact investors have a positive outlook on the market growth, performance, and impact potential of their investments.
However, impact investing is not without its complexities and challenges. Private investors interested in entering this field need to understand the different types of impact investments, how to assess and measure their impact, and how to find and access suitable opportunities. In this article, we will guide private investors who want to navigate the world of impact investing.
Impact investments can vary regarding asset classes, sectors, and geographies. Depending on their risk appetite, return expectations, impact objectives, and investment strategies, private investors can choose from a range of options that suit their preferences and goals.
Some of the standard asset classes for impact investments are:
This involves buying shares or ownership stakes in companies or funds with a social or environmental mission or benefit. Equity investments can offer high returns but also entail high risks and illiquidity.
This involves lending money to individuals, organizations, or projects with a social or environmental purpose or benefit. Debt investments can provide stable and predictable income and carry credit and interest rate risks.
This involves investing in physical assets such as land, buildings, infrastructure, or natural resources with a social or environmental value or benefit. Real assets can offer inflation protection and diversification but involve operational and regulatory risks.
This involves investing in other forms of assets such as private equity, venture capital, hedge funds, or derivatives that have a social or environmental impact or benefit. Alternative assets can offer high returns and innovation but require high capital and expertise.
Some of the common sectors for impact investments are:
This involves investing in businesses or initiatives that improve access to quality education, especially for underserved populations or regions.
This involves investing in businesses or initiatives that improve access to affordable and quality healthcare, especially for low-income or marginalized groups or areas.
This involves investing in businesses or initiatives that provide access to financial services such as savings, credit, insurance, or payments for people who are excluded from the formal financial system.
This involves investing in businesses or initiatives that promote using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, or biomass that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.
This involves investing in businesses or initiatives that support sustainable farming practices such as organic, regenerative, or agroforestry that enhance food security and biodiversity.
Some of the common geographies for impact investments are:
These are countries with high-income levels, human development, and institutional quality. Impact investments in developed markets can focus on addressing social issues such as inequality, homelessness, or mental health.
These are countries with moderate levels of income, human development, and institutional quality. Impact investments in emerging markets can focus on addressing environmental issues such as water scarcity, deforestation, or pollution.
These are countries with low levels of income, human development, and institutional quality. Impact investments in frontier markets can focus on addressing basic needs such as health, education, or sanitation.
Each type of impact investment has its trade-offs and challenges. Private investors must balance their financial and impact goals and consider the risks and opportunities involved. They must also know the ethical guidelines and social responsibility standards for their chosen asset class, sector, or geography.
One of the key challenges of impact investing is how to assess and measure the social and environmental impact of investments. Unlike financial performance, which can be easily quantified and compared using standardized metrics and benchmarks, impact performance is often subjective and context-specific. Moreover, there is no universally accepted framework or methodology for impact measurement and reporting.
However, there are some frameworks and tools that can help private investors evaluate and communicate their impact. Some of these are:
This is a catalog of metrics and indicators that can be used to measure the social and environmental performance of investments across various themes and sectors. IRIS+ is developed by the GIIN and is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This is a rating system that assesses the overall impact of companies and funds on a scale of one to five stars. GIIRS is developed by B Lab, a nonprofit organization that certifies businesses as B Corporations based on their social and environmental impact.
This is a set of standards and tools that help investors align their investments with the SDGs and measure their contribution to the global goals. SDG Impact was developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
These frameworks and tools can provide guidance and best practices for impact measurement and reporting, but they are not prescriptive or mandatory. Private investors can adapt and customize them according to their needs and preferences. The main principles for impact measurement and reporting are:
This means that investors should have a clear and explicit intention to generate a positive impact through their investments and communicate it to their stakeholders.
This means that investors should demonstrate that their investments create impact that would not have occurred otherwise or that is beyond what is expected or required by law or regulation.
This means that investors should focus on the most relevant and significant impacts of their investments, both positive and negative, intended and unintended, direct and indirect.
This means that investors should use credible and reliable data sources, methods, and standards to measure and report their impact and ensure the validity, accuracy, and consistency of their results.
This means that investors should disclose their impact objectives, strategies, activities, outcomes, and challenges in a clear and accessible manner, and engage with their stakeholders honestly and respectfully.
Another challenge of impact investing is how to find and access suitable opportunities that match the interests and criteria of private investors. Unlike conventional investing, where there are well-established markets, intermediaries, and platforms for sourcing and screening potential investments, impact investing is still a relatively nascent and fragmented field that requires more research and networking.
However, there are some sources and platforms that can help private investors discover and access impact investment opportunities. Some of these are:
These are funds that invest in a portfolio of companies or projects that have a social or environmental impact or benefit. Impact funds can offer diversification, expertise, and scale for private investors who want to invest in multiple sectors or geographies. However, impact funds may also charge high fees, have long lock-up periods, or have limited liquidity.
These are platforms that connect investors with entrepreneurs or organizations that seek funding for their social or environmental ventures or initiatives. Online marketplaces can offer convenience, efficiency, and transparency for private investors who want to invest in specific opportunities or sectors. However, online marketplaces may also have low-quality control, high transaction costs, or limited due diligence.
These are groups or associations of investors with a common interest or goal in impact investing. Networks can offer information, education, and collaboration for private investors who want to learn from peers or co-invest with others. However, networks may also have limited diversity, exclusivity, or influence.
These are organizations or professionals that provide advisory services or support for impact investing. Intermediaries can offer guidance, access, and execution for private investors who want to design, implement, or monitor their impact investing strategies or portfolios. However, intermediaries may also have conflicts of interest, lack of alignment, or high costs.
Each source or platform has its advantages and disadvantages. Private investors need to compare and contrast them based on their own needs and preferences. They also need to evaluate and select the opportunities they find using some criteria and questions such as:
What is the problem or need that the opportunity addresses? What is the solution or value proposition that it offers? What is the evidence or track record of its impact? How does it align with the investor’s impact objectives?
What is the expected return on investment (ROI) of the opportunity? What is the risk profile of the opportunity? What is the exit strategy of the opportunity? How does it fit with the investor’s financial goals?
Who are the team members or partners behind the opportunity? What are their qualifications, experience, and reputation? What are the operational model, structure, and governance of the opportunity? How does it comply with the investor’s ethical standards?
How does the opportunity differentiate itself from its competitors or alternatives? What are the market size, demand, and growth potential of the opportunity? What are the external factors or trends that affect the opportunity? How does it match with the investor’s investment strategies?
Impact investing is a promising and rewarding field for private investors who want to make a difference in the world while making a profit. However, it is also a complex and challenging field that requires knowledge, skills, and resources. By understanding the different types of impact investments, how to assess and measure their impact, and how to find and access suitable opportunities, private investors can take the first step toward becoming successful and responsible impact investors. By doing so, they can not only achieve their financial goals but also create a positive impact on society and the environment. Impact investing is not only a way of investing, but also a way of living.