Reflections on the 2017 GSG Impact Summit

Antonia Esposito, Associate Director at Social Finance

“We must shift our investment decisions to balance risk, return and impact — nothing less is capable of bringing a remedy to the challenges the world faces”
- Sir Ronald Cohen

National Advisory Board leaders from across the world gather at the GSG Impact Summit July, 11 2017

Earlier this month, we came together with over 550 global impact leaders and practitioners in Chicago for the annual Global Steering Group (GSG) Impact Summit. The summit made for an exhilarating three days and reminded our Social Finance team of the role we play as part of the powerful and accelerating global movement for impact. Among the many inspiring speakers were the leaders from all 16 National Advisory Boards on Impact Investing (including three newly joined countries), the GSG’s original founder and tireless champion Sir Ronald Cohen, our U.S. hosts for this year’s summit, Julia Stasch and Darren Walker, and our own CEO Tracy Palandjian, who served as master of ceremonies throughout the summit.

The GSG has achieved remarkable growth over the past four years — from its original incarnation as the Social Impact Investing Taskforce formed at the 2013 G7 meetings in London, to its present incarnation as the Global Steering Group now 43 countries strong in Chicago. This movement owes enormous thanks to the dedication of many incredible leaders, not least the “father of impact investing” who started it all, Sir Ronald. We have been so proud to be part of this journey from the beginning and to see Sir Ronald’s vision flourish as more and more practitioners around the world join the global impact investing movement — intent to change the investing field for good.

Our focus in Chicago was on a true tipping point for impact investing, on mobilizing substantially more capital for impact and advancing the field’s reach, all by the year 2020. Coming out of the GSG summit, we are energized in our work as part of this movement — described by Sir Ronald as an “evolution of thought to produce a revolution in means.”

Below are three visionary themes that emerged from the convening:

1. Capital’s highest purpose — defining our revolution as systemic, seismic change

“Together we will help capital find its highest purpose.”

This was the call from Amit Bhatia, the GSG’s new CEO, as he opened the summit.

Bhatia and others reminded us all that the impact investing movement is not about working on the periphery of portfolios, or becoming a specialist niche sector for a few investors. This movement is about redefining how the world thinks about investing — about integrating impact alongside risk and return as critical components of every investment decision. As Ulrich Grabenwater noted, our definitions for success need to be turned on their head: “Our social unicorn is not a company reaching a $1 billion valuation, but one that can touch one billion lives.”

This shift will take visionary leadership and boldness — and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

2. Urgency of our cause — government and philanthropy alone cannot cope

We know that the world is grappling with significant challenges for both people and planet and that government and philanthropy are often overwhelmed in trying to solve them. In addressing global poverty and disparity, we have collectively set ambitious goals through the Sustainable Development Goals and other critical initiatives — and we will need to mobilize significant resources in order to meet them. Sir Ronald Cohen emphasized, “We must leverage private capital to join public capital — nothing less is capable of bringing a remedy to the challenges the world faces,” while Darren Walker called us to rise to the occasion: “We must admit that we can’t grant-make our way out of this; we must disrupt ourselves.”

3. Impact Investing as the new normal: our new goal is extinction

We frequently ask what success looks like for the impact investing movement, and at this year’s GSG summit we established a new vision: from Tipping Point 2020 to Extinction 2050!

The ultimate goal for this movement is to no longer need it — for impact investing to be so woven into the fabric of the capital markets that those who don’t practice it become the outliers. As Amit Bouri, CEO and Co-Founder of the GIIN asked, “What would it take for impact investing to become the new normal? What if instead of standing out as an impact investor, you stood out if you were not an impact investor?”

The summit pushed us to think beyond the possibilities of “doing well by doing good” to envisioning a world where it’s not possible to do well without doing good.

We are proud to have been part of this inspiring convening of leaders and visionaries for the impact investing movement, and are as committed as ever to enriching the ecosystem, increasing the suite of impact options for governments and investors, scaling some of our country’s best service providers, and launching high-quality impact investing products to fuel the movement in the United States. We are honored to be part of the GSG’s story, and can’t wait to see what Tipping Point 2020 (and Extinction Point 2050) have in store.