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TBLI Conference: Heading for full impact

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This year’s TBLI conference went beyond the environmental, social and governance (ESG) sphere by paying a lot of attention to impact investment.

Robert Rubinstein, chief executive of the TBLI Conference, opened this year’s event in Zurich by saying institutions continue to believe impact investing is incredibly risky.

He pointed out that one of the banks alleging this was one of the six US banks contributing to the $125bn (€92.6bn) in legal fees that have been paid out since the crisis.

He told the audience it was again a ”proof versus belief” issue.

He said: “The financial sector did not want to believe anything despite all the proof you gave them.”

The audience also heard that the driver behind impact investing is often a personal one – whether it is being mauled by a lioness or being kidnapped.

Peter Henderson, chairman of Gate Broadband, who managed to escape the lioness in the end, talked about the Mawingu Project, which – in collaboration with Microsoft and the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications – has brought low-cost wireless broadband access to rural Kenya, in particular schools, via solar-powered based stations together with TV white spaces.

The impact on education and learning is clearly visible.

However, one of the most contentious issues in impact investment remains the measurement of impact other than the financial kind.

The second roundtable heard about the latest developments in impact measurement.

There are various agencies and frameworks – such as the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS), Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS) – around now to help to assess ESG impacts.

The impact measurement process, according to Anna-Marie Harling, senior research associate at the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) in Belgium, should have five steps:

  • set objectives
  • analyse stakeholders
  • measure results
  • verify and value the impact
  • monitor ands report the data

Living through a kidnapping ordeal has helped Christopher Wasserman, president and founder of the Zermatt Summit Foundation NGO and president of the Swiss Terolab Surface Group, see things in a different light.

He stressed that, although business overall can seem impersonal, business leaders have the possibility to change things.

He said: “Business is not just about profit but about creating progress in society.”

One of his projects is now to create jobs in Europe.

The Mawingu Project, meanwhile, also intends to help stop the migration of rural residents to cities by creating jobs away from cities.

Keeping farmers happy – and in the countryside – is also a crucial part of the sustainable agriculture and food production business.

While investors in the food space now have a bad reputation, so much that many institutional investors – worried about being accused of land grabbing or inflating the price of food commodities – avoid the space completely, impact investment models such as Urmatt, a cooperation of family farmers in Thailand, or agroforestry, which aims to build environmental and social resilience in land-use, show a different, social investable side.

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