Randall Kempner

Building the Evidence Base for SGBs: ANDE hosts 5th Metrics from the Ground Up Conference

At the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), we believe that small and growing businesses (SGBs) have the power to drive prosperity in the developing world. They can create the kinds of jobs that can lift people out of poverty, and have a positive multiplier effect on local economies. I work every day on a personal mission of intensifying support for these small businesses because I see them as a key component of global poverty alleviation.

Yet, as a nascent industry we still don’t have a rock solid evidence base to back up my conviction. The entrepreneurs I speak with know it’s true. So do the impact investors who invest in SGBs and the organizations that provide training and other non-financial support. But we are all looking for more information about small businesses and their impacts.

At ANDE, we are not sitting around just hoping for the data to appear. We are actively building the evidence base that can help us understand the impact of small and growing businesses, and the most effective ways to support them.

In 2009, ANDE hosted the first Metrics from the Ground Up conference in partnership with the Grassroots Business Fund. This event dedicated two days to the discussion of impact measurement. It brought together data wonks, evaluation specialists, technology gurus, and SGB sector practitioners – the whole ecosystem of people we needed to start building intelligence on the sector.

The main focus of conversation was standardization. How could practitioners start working together to develop the data the sector needs? Could we develop a universal framework for performance measurement?

Fast-forward four years, and ANDE is planning to host its fifth Metrics from the Ground Up conference on June 12-13.

Happily, much has changed since 2009. We are no longer talking about standardization. Thanks to the dedication of many organizations, the industry has aligned around IRIS as the catalog of social and environmental performance metrics that we can all use to compare and aggregate our individual data.

We’re also not talking about whether investing in academic research is important. Last year, ANDE launched a research initiative that examines the impacts of small and growing businesses on the lives of the poor. With three studies under way, and more planned for launch this year, we’re starting to accumulate evidence about the performance and impacts of small and growing businesses. And so far, it’s positive.

This year, our conversation will focus not just on building the evidence base, but how to determine the best path forward once it’s more solid. ANDE envisions impact investors making deal decisions based on social performance data, accelerators providing the kinds of mentoring to entrepreneurs that have been shown to produce the strongest results, and corporations investing strategically in their supply chain because they understand the social and environmental impacts their business will generate.

I challenge our sector to embrace a data-driven mentality in all the ways that we support SGBs. Now that evidence is accumulating, we are able to take a consciously self-critical look at the ways that we operate with the goal of always improving our performance.

At the Metrics Conference over the next two days, we will discuss and debate how, why, and when to measure and interpret impact. You can join in on the conversation on Twitter (#ANDEimpact) and watch our site where we’ll post videos after the event. And, by all means, please give us feedback.

Impact Assessment, Investing
impact investing