You have some money and want to make more. Right? Sure you do. But you also care about the world around you and want to make a difference. What to do?
Jean Case has an answer: impact investing. Case was an executive at AOL and today she leads the Case Foundation, which promotes the power of investing to drive social change. Case explains how you can start impact investing — and change the world while you make money.
What is impact investing, and why is it important?
Impact investments generate a social or environmental impact in addition to a financial return. We have long believed that entrepreneurs and markets can dramatically increase the innovation needed to tackle some of our world’s most pressing challenges.
How did you get into impact investing?
From our earliest days in business, building AOL, my husband Steve and I recognized the role entrepreneurs can play in making our world a better place. We brought that philosophy with us when we became investors. So we were naturally attracted to investment opportunities that showed the potential to improve society and tackle big problems.
What makes impact investing an attractive option?
Impact investing lets people support companies that align with their values. It lets us drive social impact through more than our philanthropic dollars. And we’re increasingly seeing that it can be profitable. There’s a growing pool of research that shows impact investments don’t have to deliver below-market returns. One study found that impact investments performed on par or better than conventional investments over the same period.
Where do you see the biggest potential for impact investing?
Impact investments are increasing in number, in all regions and industries, from clean energy to financial services. We see exciting new companies across the globe that are finding new ways to solve old problems. Companies like Revolution Foods, which provides healthy, local lunches to students in 1,000 schools in the U.S. Or d.light, which serves customers in Asia, Africa and Latin America who lack access to the energy grid. These companies are reaching communities typically left on the sidelines as innovation rolls forward.
What should impact investors seek in a company?
There’s no perfect definition of an impact company. But generally, an investor should look for three key characteristics: intent, measurement and transparency. The company or fund you invest in should have a clear intent to create social impact in addition to financial return. It should commit to measure that impact. And it should be transparent about whether impact and financial goals are met.
Winning companies will also have a structure that makes clear that what is good for business is also good for impact. Take, for example, Bridge International Academies. It provides a high-quality education for about $5 a month to families in Africa who live on less than $2 a day. Every new family that becomes a customer of Bridge Academies represents both additional revenue and increased social impact. Or “buy one, give one” companies such as TOMS or Warby Parker that enable more impact with each product sold.
Who can be an impact investor?
Anyone. When most people think of impact investors, they think of big firms like Goldman Sachs that have started impact-investing practices over the past few years. But there are also opportunities for everyday investors. They run the gamut from socially responsible mutual funds to Kiva’s lending platform, which lets investors start with as little as $25. Like any form of investing, it starts with getting to know the market and relying on practical advice and data. That’s why we recently introduced the Short Guide to Impact Investing.