Impact Investing: The Brand

The Global Impact Investment Initiative (GIIN) is starting to think about branding and messaging. GIIN is an important, but still forming, coalition of investors who focus on both social and environmental impact as well as financial return. It’s an important group, and I am proud to consider myself a member, even if the thing of which I am a member is not fully defined yet.

Membership being part of a group of professional investors who agree on a real, if still evolving set of definitions is important. It’s one of the things that gives an emerging market coherence. That in itself is one of the key branding elements of the GIIN, that it is a group that has agreed on some things and lives within certain definitional boundaries. It’s kind of like a club in that aspect: a voluntary association society. There is a standard, I agree with it, and that is part of what locates me on the inside.

But GIIN wants to have a positive impact on poverty, economic justice and a sustainable environment. That means it needs to counter the exclusive nature of its innate and valuable club and be sure to include the voices and the perspectives of the people in the developing world; to make sure that female venture capitalists from Africa, for example, are included at the table at the highest levels.

Point one: it has to be inclusive.

Point two: it has to make sure its metrics for success are also inclusive.

As it develops, GIIN will be one of the key drivers of evolving metrics efforts. Since it will be turning metrics into a basis for financial and social return to investors, it has to make sure that the metrics for success include what the disenfranchised in the developing world consider developments. I would point to the useful tools created by Sabina Alkire at the project. Central to the Bhutanese Gross Happiness Index, her multidimensional indicators are a key way to make sure the benefits of Impact Investing are distributed transparently, and, potentially, more equitably.

The history of colonization and empire mandate GIIN be aware of funder and fundee power imbalances every step of the way. GIIN cannot look like another version of condescending western philanthropy. This kind of thing proceeds from first principles. The first thing GIIN needs to do as it starts thinking about branding and communications is look around the room.

There are plenty of marketing professionals who can build a great brand strategy. That part will be easy. GIIN is a great thing to brand.

The key design issue is this one: Are all the right people, the right groups of people, all the important voices, represented around the table? Are all the people powerful and rich? Are there men who wore their first names stitched onto their blue collar work shirts? How many people who took the high school equivalency GED, but never made it to college, are in the group? Those are not people who are often listened to by the great and the good. They are called in to fix the air conditioners and heaters at the hotels where the meetings are held, but they are rarely consulted. How many maintenance men are being called in to fix the market, people one rung above the bottom of the institutional hierarchy? How many people are called in from the rung below that the janitors who not even the maintenance men listen to? The perception of hierarchy and power imbalance is sharply delineated at the very bottom levels, while those sitting at the tables can balance higher education and other professional credentials against power and wealth to hold their own as new models of philanthropy and the capital market are being devised.

I’m sure the answer will be yes about that sort of inclusion, at least eventually. Nothing is perfect right away in that sort of effort. But the issue of who is at the table in a branding and communications plan is the key question for GIIN, I think. The brand will be built on trust, trust of the impact and intent of the capital being deployed. And that means everybody gets dealt into the game this time.



imageKevin Jones is a cofounding principal of Good Capital, an investment firm that accelerates the flow of capital to enterprises that use market forces to create large-scale social change. Jones is a successful serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and cofounder of Social Capital Markets, the groundbreaking conference on social venture investing.