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Impact Investing 2.0 -- What $3 Billion Tells Us About the Next $300 Billion

Publication Date: 
September 04, 2013
The Huffington Post - Social Entrepreneurship
Cathy Clark and Ben Thornley

Professor Paul Brest's SSIR piece, "When Can Impact Investing Create Real Impact," was referenced by The Huffington Post's Cathy Clark and Ben Thornley in their article about the myths surrounding impact investing.

Earlier this month in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), Paul Brest and Kelly Born wrote a very thoughtful piece about the difficulty of achieving real impact alongside financial returns for impact investors. Their thesis was so provocative that over 18 of the world's leading practitioners in impact investing responded by explaining the nature of this financial vs. impact dilemma from their own point of view. The responses show a landscape of honest and diverse experience, but it left the overall impression that the ongoing effort to use investment dollars to achieve both financial and social returns is elusive, with no coherent core of best practice.

This is simply not the case.

For the past two years, the three of us have been engaged in a comprehensive analysis and review of 13 of the most exceptional impact investing funds and foundations who have been on the ground doing this work for many years and achieving their well-defined social and financial goals. The funds invest in over 80 countries across five continents, managing nearly $3 billion in assets earmarked for impact investing and work in diverse areas, ranging from agriculture to education to community development to health.


Many believe the use of philanthropic and concessionary capital in impact investing subsidizes and negatively distorts markets and should not be present in a healthy for-profit marketplace (the "nothing" approach). At the same time, Brest and others insist on "additionality" as the rule of thumb that counts for what is impact investing (the "all" approach, saying all impact capital should invest only if it increases the quantity or quality of an enterprise's social outcomes beyond what would otherwise have occurred through mainstream sources).