Monitor Group's Katherine Fuller opened the Social Capital Markets Conference with a bold declaration: "We refuse to believe capitalism cannot serve, that we cannot grow and address poverty without destroying the planet." The floors of the conference were electric with the cross pollination of over 1,600 entrepreneurs, investors, fund managers, and others who identify with the concept of using their money for good.
The conference was created to support investors and philanthropists to think beyond the either/or paradigm: donate for the purpose of social profit (and lose your cash) or invest only for financial profit. Founders Kevin Jones and Rosa Lee Harden are building a bridge between giving and investing by fostering a sector where you can make meaning with your money. If you're drinking the Kool-Aid, you are surrounded by people who aren't waiting for the government to save the world, but are looking to business to make the change they want to see.
Here are a few key notes I took on what's hot in impact investing.
1) Women are worth investing in. Jackie VanderBrug presented research that shows that investing in women is a smart and profitable choice. Gender Lens Investing is investing in gender equity in the workplace, access to capital for women, and products and services that benefit the lives of women and girls. Fact: Research shows that when you invest in women in developing countries, 84 percent of that money goes back to the family and assists future generations in getting out of poverty, whereas only 35 percent would reach that goal in mens' hands.
2) It takes all of us. Fact: Last year the United States spent $3 billion on donations, while $35 trillion went into the market. Kevin Jones says it's time to think about your money differently; it’s not just about risk and return, it's also about positive impact. "It’s not just about what does your money do for you, we are all in this together," says Jones. "This is not a quick-hit ride to the moon, this is about aligning the tools, mechanism, and people together to solve the problems our world is facing."
3) Look at the earth as an asset base (Natural Capitalism 2.0). Sylvia Earle introduced the concept of a blue economy and urged the audience to marry urgency with hope as we are living in a sweet spot in human history: Through the use of new technologies we can see ourselves in context and can anticipate history for the first time. Not a fun fact: In Earle's lifetime we have tripled our population on a planet that doesn’t get any larger. Earle discussed that there are limits to what we can do to the natural world and still have the prosperity that we cherish. In response to these challenges, a host of new and sustainable business opportunities are emerging within a "blue economy." She encouraged the audience to stop thinking about our fish as something for butter and lemon and start thinking about live fish as valuable carbon units that play a crucial part in our long term survival.
Want in? The entrepreneur accelerator program has over 100 entrepreneurs whose companies are invested in doing good while turning a profit. Here are a few special ones that stick out in the crowd:
Goldie Blox. "We want more for our daughters than princesses," says founder Debra Sterling and she's building a movement in the toy industry encouraging girls to get involved in science and engineering through story and play.
Liberation Chocolate. After returning from a refugee camp and finding Liberia in despair, Sheikh A. Turay saw hope in reclaiming abandoned cocoa farms with the help of unemployed former child soldiers. Since 2009, Liberation Chocolate has harvested Cocoa from three abandoned farms and now employs 50 former child soldiers and hopes to make a much larger impact. This project was selected by its peers to be featured on a short term Indiegogo campaign.
EllieFunDay. Founders Sarah and Elton Lin design luxurious baby blankets made with natural and organic materials that change the lives of marginalized women in India. Their business model includes providing a fair wage and a dignified living by employing under-resourced women.
Want more? Five projects from the impact accelerator program were selected to feature on Indiegogo during the conference as ideas for a future worth investing in.
Photo: From left to right, Impact Accelerator entrepreneurs Paseka Lesolang, Alexander Eaton, Veronica D’Souza, Tonee Ndungu, Sheikh A. Turay. Photo courtesy Jayson Carpenter.