From Education to Activation: Exploring the RBF’s Journey into Impact Investing

Over the last four years, the Case Foundation has been deeply committed to catalyzing the Impact Investing movement. Alongside partners, we seek to inspire, educate, and activate investors around the potential to put private capital to work to solve some of our most complex challenges. Today we are excited to see a growing and diverse set of actors engaged in Impact Investing, led in part by innovative first-movers. These include high net-worth individuals and institutions who have begun to seek financial and social returns by aligning their investment portfolio with their values.

As part of our movement building efforts, we’ve learned that sharing stories and insights from those who have transitioned to impact investing can be valuable to those who aren’t as far down the path.  In 2016, we were fortunate to partner with Omidyar Network and The Giving Pledge to take a closer look at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s journey into impact investing, in hopes that it can serve as inspiration and guidance for others.

As part of that work, Case Foundation’s CEO Jean Case led a webinar with Justin Rockefeller, Trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) and Co-Founder of The ImPact and Jameela Pedicini, Director of Perella Weinberg Partners (PWP). Through this conversation, Jean explored the decisions made at RBF to ensure the portfolio was set on a clear path toward market returns, while choosing investments that more closely aligned with their values.

As organizations rethink how to blend profit and purpose, we encourage you to watch the webinar to learn from RBF’s journey. Here, are a few key themes that came to light:

 1. Define your impact

As Jean mentions at the start of the conversation, “impact investing means different things to different people.” At the Case Foundation, we believe that a broader interpretation allows more people to gather around the impact investing table. But that does not relax our expectations around what it means to generate both social or financial returns.

Instead, our definition of impact investing focuses on three necessary conditions to help narrow in on just what each of us means by “impact”:

  • Intentionality – are objectives clearly articulated across social and financial goals?
  • Measurement – will the organization track performance across both objectives?
  • Transparency – does the organization share – or intend to share – insights into their process and performance (as much as is able) to help create more examples around what works and what doesn’t?

2. Know what you own; then develop an investment process that leverages your strengths

The RBF’s programmatic approach spans several sectors, including democratic governance, sustainable development and peacebuilding. The grantmaking arm of the RBF has developed a thoughtful approach to promoting sustainable development, particularly around the environment and climate. When the time came to evaluate how the entire investment portfolio – and ultimately the endowment – could reflect the principles and values of the RBF, they looked to their strengths.

“25% of our program dollars go to fighting climate change,” Justin says, “we thought this was so fundamental to the work we do, that we should start there.”

By leveraging a diverse set of tactics, including divestment, an ESG lens (integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance factors), active ownership, and investing with Impact managers, RBF and PWP set out on the task together. With these tools in mind, they looked to activate RBF’s vision on what a thoughtful climate-focused strategy might look like.

We’ve seen time and again Foundation’s struggle between focusing on grantmaking vs. using their investment levers, but as Justin points out, “every foundation has different tools on its tool belt – the endowment is just one of those tools.”

3. Commit to a measurement framework

Once the mission was clear and the rigor made explicit, activating the strategy was next. The RBF and PWP started by shifting the Investment Policy Statement (IPS), transforming the objective of the portfolio from “maximizing returns” to “continue in perpetuity with generational neutrality.”

Formalizing this mission– and bringing stakeholders like the Board, senior leadership, and the Investment Committee along in the process – is a critical step to ensure that impact is sustainably interwoven into the way investments are identified and selected.

Jameela Pedicini also suggests that practices around consistent measurement can lead to broader behavior change. “Regular impact reporting,” for example, “will help us assess long term tends.”

By drawing on the journeys of organizations like the RBF, we will develop a stronger narrative around what impact investing can look like across actors. We hope that sharing these insights will provide high net-worth individuals and families, foundations, corporations, and others concrete examples to follow. We will continue to look for opportunities to showcase case studies and lessons from various organization, as part of our broader efforts to take impact investing to the next level.

We invite you to watch the full conversation here. You can also learn more about the RBF’s journey through The ImPact’s recently launched case study; “Rockefeller Brothers Fund: Impact Investing Case.”

Impact Investing as a Tool for Social Change

Over the past two years, we have focused a large part of our efforts to move impact investing from niche to mainstream on building awareness of the investors and entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of the capital markets to provide financial and social returns. Last year, we published the Short Guide to Impact Investing, and we partnered with to bring “Profiles of Impact” to their readers. But we realized that one of the most powerful things we could do to build awareness was to go to the most influential storytellers – the journalists we rely on to bring us the news and highlight the most important developments in our world today.

That’s why last week, at the Impact Hub NYC, the Case Foundation and Arabella Advisors co-hosted a gathering for more than 100 journalists and communicators to discuss impact investing and social enterprise. The group heard from leading social entrepreneurs and investors about the opportunities and challenges in this growing field.

There are many definitions applied to the terms “social enterprise” or “impact company,” which are often used interchangeably. However, our CEO, Jean Case, offered one broad definition at the outset of the day. She defined a social enterprise as a company that has the intent to produce a social good, that commits to measure progress toward its goals, and that practices transparency in sharing its findings.

Here are few themes that ran through the day’s conversations. And, for more context, be sure to take a look at the Storify that we created with tweets from the day.

Optimism that Business Can (and Should!) Be a Force for Good

Neil Blumenthal, whose company Warby Parker provides affordable, stylish prescription eyewear and incorporates a Buy One, Give One model, set the stage at the beginning of the day when he said, “I hope we don’t live in a world where I have to justify every good deed by a profit motive.” Neil’s sentiments echoed those made by a number of CEOs recently, including Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Tim Cook of Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who have all told shareholders who questioned their actions related to sustainability and responsible business that they should get out of their stock.

Jean agreed with Neil, and noted that for too long in America, business leaders had only one goal – to provide financial returns to their shareholders. ImpactAlpha’s David Bank echoed her comments later in the day when he said, “there’s a god we’re all supposed to worship named ‘Risk Adjusted Market Rate Return.’” “But,” Jean said, “that sentiment is changing,” and investors are starting to look at the concept of return more broadly.

Clara Miller, who led the F.B. Heron Foundation’s charge to direct all assets (including its endowment) to social good, supported this feeling when she said, “It can’t just be that one side shovels out problems as fast as it can, and the other side is the cleanup crew.” However, no one at the event suggested that business should replace philanthropy, nonprofits or government. Instead, as Justin Rockefeller, a Trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and a founder of the ImPact said, “it is one of many tools in our toolbox to tackle social challenges.”

Financial and Social Returns are Possible

Over the course of the day, we heard regularly from investors and entrepreneurs that it is possible to make positive financial returns from investments in social enterprises. Andrew Kassoy, Co-Founder of B Lab, thinks that we’re seeing a real shift in the potential for impact businesses to grow. He said “we live in a time where you do well because you’re doing good.”

Shazi Visram, the Co-Founder and CEO of organic baby food brand Happy Family, which sold to Danone in 2013, says that hers is a great story for two reasons: “because the company changed the baby food market for the better and at the same time made investors a lot of money.”

The investors were also bullish on the sector. Amy Bell, Executive Director of Social Finance at JPMorgan, said that she’s found impact investing to be good for business. She said that JPMorgan’s “Aha!” moment came when clients kept asking for impact investing advice and products that provided market rates of return. This enabled her to scale the practice to meet client needs. Ommeed Sathe, who in his role of Vice President for Impact Investments at Prudential is leading the creation of a $1B impact portfolio, said that socially responsible investments are crucial to creating a diverse portfolio that delivers long-term value for shareholders.

The returns aren’t limited to investors. Tim Newell, Vice President of Financial Products at SolarCity, provided some important context of the potential of clean energy to benefit the U.S. economy. In 2014, he said, one in every 78 jobs added in the United States was related to solar. He also predicted that in 2015, the solar industry would add eight times as many jobs as the oil, gas and coal industries combined. His bullish forecast shows that there’s real potential for the industry not only to contribute to a cleaner planet, but also to create jobs and growth in the United States.

So, it’s not only “cool to care,” as Neil Blumenthal said. Responsible investing can also make investors money and contribute to healthier, wealthier communities.

The Story’s Not Finished Yet—and It’s Ours to Write

Catherine Clifford, who is a Senior Writer at, asked each of the social entrepreneurs on her panel how they tell the story about their organizations and about why this growing sector matters. The panelists stressed that that many stories needed to be told—the story of impact and disruption, the story of profits, the story of fearless investors, and the story of changing business for better across the United States and the world.

Matt Bishop, the Globalisation Editor at The Economist—whose 2008 book, Philanthrocapitalism, was ahead of its time in calling for private sector solutions for social problems—summarized why impact investing and social enterprise are so interesting. He said, “this is a fantastic story, but we don’t know the ending yet.”

We hope to continue the conversation about social enterprise and impact investing to create the story together, and we hope that you will join us. Please follow @CaseFoundation on twitter for updates and upcoming events.