Laura Callanan’s Response to Impact Investing Articles

Recently a new round of impact investing articles have come out.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy published It’s Time to Cut Through the Hype of Impact Investing which is a synopsis of a new report, Making Impact Investable, and The Stanford Social Innovation Review When Can Impact Investing Create Real Impact. Laura Callanan responds to these articles:

Laura Callanan

Laura Callanan

I am always encouraged to see folks thinking and writing about impact investing.  I force myself to remember that 20 years on this idea of “doing well and doing good” is still eye-opening for many people.

But I find myself feeling a bit glum and crotchety. For all the ink spilled – some by me – on this topic, we still lack (in the words of Jed Emerson and Antony Bugg-Levine) the “Apple IPO” of impact investing.  Perhaps more importantly we lack a robust set of compelling examples – with real, proven track records — that an investor can earn a meaningful return while generating a social benefit.

I have written grant proposals, and run a family foundation. I have managed the endowment at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Wallace Foundation.   I have published on social impact assessment, lectured on strategic philanthropy – and handed big wads of cash to elderly women in Mali who came up to me and opened their hands for help. So I understand the complexity both of funding social change for meaningful impact, and investing to maintain philanthropic purchasing power.

I would humbly ask that we focus today on the investing half of impact investing — to prove that folks driven by impact can be successful at generating financial return.  We realize measuring impact is a whole can of worms in itself, and will certainly want to know whether these investments are delivering on their impact promise.  But if they don’t make good as investments, the discussion will be moot.  And at this point, the discussion has been going on for so long I’m afraid people may stop listening.

Laura Callanan is a visiting scholar at Haas. She has vast experience as a consultant, author, and teacher in the field of social innovation. Laura recently spoke at a SoCap panel on impact investing, data, and pay for success. Watch the video below.


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