For a number of years, the Case Foundation has been an active champion of the Impact Investing movement. In this work, which encourages institutions and individuals to align their capital more closely with their values, we have hosted more than 300 dialogues to better understand interests and concerns of audience segments as we seek to accelerate the movement. Yesterday, I had the privilege of joining more than 600 people on a webinar to discuss important new findings.
Thanks to a group of partners that included the Omidyar Network, Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, together with the Global Impact Investing Network and the Global Social Impact Investing Steering Group, we unveiled important new research that tracked and analyzed coverage of the topic of impact investing in traditional and social media over a 12-month period. This report provides a clear picture of common messaging either being received or shared through the coverage that appeared in these months. This data, taken together, provides a unique roadmap to guide those of us championing the movement to key audiences and working hard to build out the impact investing ecosystem. As with any movement, words matter and can play a powerful role in informing, educating and activating those on the sidelines.
The good news is that impact investing has enjoyed mostly positive coverage and engagement in both traditional and social media. But equally good news is that it has been balanced by some skepticism or negative coverage that helps identify for us the work we have to do in the days ahead. An important insight provided by the research is that we must be careful to adapt our language and emphasis depending on who we are trying to reach. For instance, there was a clear difference in how impact investing is talked about in the U.K. as a “powerful government tool” versus in the U.S., where coverage and sharing is dominated by such phrases as “taking off,” “reaping returns” and “Millennials demand it.”
Another clear takeaway from the research is that we have work to do in the realm of measuring impact —reported to be the most common negatively associated narrative; on this point, I think there is broad agreement in the field. We must continue to commit ourselves to measuring the “impact” in impact investing. While this may take some time, there have been exciting developments to help close the gap in this area. For instance, the Case Foundation has partnered with B Lab to bring new tools to companies everywhere who want to measure their social impacts—”Measure What Matters” impact assessment tool has engaged more than 40,000 companies to date—an important step forward.
The research also shines a light on how different audiences, investors, policymakers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and high net worth individuals are engaging with each narrative, as it relates to a particular issue area. For example, two important audience segments— philanthropists and entrepreneurs—are more closely associated with the more negative “not a silver bullet” references. Indeed, within the field we recognize that it is decidedly unhelpful to paint impact investing as a silver bullet, but rather it becomes a new arrow in our quiver as we seek to champion all means in our efforts toward social impact. For those of us that speak about the movement routinely, we can use this research to remind us of the importance of making this point.
With all movements there are stages. While I believe that the impact investing movement is experiencing great traction and momentum, we are still in early days. This important research confirms we’re making strides in communicating effectively to broaden the tent and invite more participants from the private, public and nonprofit sectors to catalyze transformative social change. At the same time, it helps to guide us in our words and actions to fill gaps and address concerns.
If you didn’t have the chance to join us, the full webinar can be accessed, here. I’d like to extend my gratitude to the partners who invested in this important work and invite you to share your thoughts and insights on Twitter using hashtag #impinv.