In December, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released a report titled “From Ideas to Practice, Pilots to Strategy - Practical Solutions and Actionable Insights on How to Do Impact Investing.” Although the report is a follow-on from a previous version released in September, it is one of very few ‘to-do’ manuals on how to make social impact investing more actionable and meaningful. Not only does the report target already existing and beginner impact investors, it also targets “intermediaries, policy-makers and development finance institutions whose support is vital for the sector’s growth” especially given their ability to fund the causes that lead to greater social impact. As it turns out, many of these “other” institutions are centrally located in our Nation’s Capital. Starting with the U.S. Government, which has allocated $20 billion to sustainable development activities via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The World Bank provided an additional $52 billion in loans, grants, equity investments, and guarantees to its members and private businesses for development assistance. Having access to these two organizations, alone, justifies DC as a priority location for a company's attention. There is more to the story, however:
1. Show me the money: In addition to government spending and public investments of the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, etc, the Washington DC area has surpassed New York and Los Angeles as the home to wealthy investors. These newly minted dollar kings are “the entrepreneurs attracted to the capital by its aura of prosperity and its super-educated workforce. They are the lawyers, lobbyists and executives who work for companies that barely had a presence in Washington before the boom." Tapping into these new pools of money is a priority for any organization interested in social impact, especially given the prowess for big thinking and innovation attached to many of the newer start-ups springing up across DC.
2. Every street is now K street: Lobbying was once the DC region’s single biggest draw, but nowadays it’s our city’s burgeoning entrepreneurial energy that is fueling political and economic movement. According to Entrepreneur.com, “In recent years… a new breed of mover and shaker has emerged -- the entrepreneur. Many of the city’s startups have ties to the federal government, whether because the founders once worked for Uncle Sam, have a potential solution for a big government problem, or both.” This means that as the entrepreneurial spirit floods the previous lobbyist-lined street of downtown, more opportunity to tap into new ideas that have broader political ties is possible.
3. BINGOs: I am not referring to the game. Instead I am referring to the multitude of “Big” Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that pervade Beltway dialogues on everything from gun control to human rights to economic development. While some may think the BINGOs (or even SMINOS if you include the smaller NGOs) get in the way of progress around social impact and sound investment, having worked for a BINGO for the past five years I implore anyone considering engagement in social and economic development to not ignore these folks. They offer a unique expertise unmatched by the public and even private sector. DC may house the largest number of BINGOs in the world. Perhaps London is a close second.
4. Where Is Mr. Bill(s)?: Sure a legislative agreement gets signed once in a blue moon here in Washington but what is more critical is the presence of some of the most critical Bills in social and economic development: Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. Some might argue that Bill Gates (via his Foundation) and Bill Clinton (via his network AND foundation) may be some of the most critical initiators of action in the space of social and economic development. For now I will agree that both Bills are pivotal in name and presence for impact investing to move from talk to action. DC is the place both Bills interject much of their funding for strategy development and prioritization around issues like global health, education, climate change and food security. Tapping into some of those strategic dialogues is a critical step in impact investing.
5. The U.S. = Power and DC = Center of it All: The United States is still seen as the most powerful nation in the world and with that power comes responsibility. At the heart of power lies the U.S. Government, and ultimately it is inherent in the role of our Government to do right by the rest of the world. This means our Government NEEDS input from organizations that know what the rest of the world is grappling with. In order for our planet to regain some of its footing and grapple with some of our biggest challenges (climate change, water access, food shortages, market failures) sound social impact investing is a critical piece of that and the U.S. Government, even with its inefficiencies, is one of the most powerful players moving the needle in the social impact space.
While impact investing has become the CSR pie wedge within the financial sector, it is becoming increasingly clear that to truly measure social impact, we must evaluate all opportunities to make societal change across our planet. By engaging the decision makers and budget-owners within public, private, NGO and foundation organizations, entities looking to tap into impact investments are following the WEF advice and diversifying. And don’t fret if your organization is not set up with offices and a lobbying license just yet. Folks like me are here to help.