November 6

Alexandra Prather

Don’t Be a ‘Loser’: Why impact investing could benefit from Donald Trump’s playbook

The world of impact investing is getting swamped with jargon and insider’s terminology. Rather than creating an echo chamber of intellectual isolation, the impact ecosystem needs to dumb down the rhetoric and create a more inclusive and approachable dialogue.

Ultimately, we need to “Trump” impact investing.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, then you know some of the absurdities that Trump has been throwing into the American political arena. Depending on where you lie on the political spectrum, he’s either a volatile, nonsense-spewing volcano or he’s the guy lending a voice to an angry subset of the Republican Party. I’ve heard a lot of people call him a moron, an idiot, etc., but I beg to differ. After all, how likely is it that somebody so idiotic could build a fortune and business empire in the way that The Donald has? I just don’t buy it.

I honestly think that he’s a smart guy, but more than pure intelligence, I think that he is quite possibly the most cunning manipulator and stellar communicator out there today. One thing’s for sure: People are listening to him. He’s all over the media; he’s everywhere you look. Whether people want to acknowledge it or not, people listen to him.

The Boston Globe recently analyzed the presidential candidates’ speech complexity
 and found that when Donald Trump speaks, he speaks at a fourth-grade level.

It doesn’t matter if you’re speaking to a Harvard intellectual or a Midwestern farmer or a motorcycle gang member,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, which analyzes trends and language. “Good communication is good communication. . . . ‘I’ve Got a Dream,’ all those great speeches are nice and direct. They use words people understand. They give a big message, but they’re not grandiose.

I went ahead and took a stab at analyzing some articles and websites related to impact investing. To start, I went to my fund’s website and plugged our “about us” statement into to the same readability index tool used by the Boston Globe. Even that brief statement is rated at a 14.4 (equivalent to a sophomore or junior in college) in readability, according to the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease index. So, to be able to grasp what my VC firm does, you essentially have possess reading comprehension well beyond the general public’s reading level.

I went to The Global Impact Investing Network, or GIIN, and looked up its definition of impact investing. That’s at a reading level of 18.8. An article on Forbes about how mainstream impact investing is becoming? That’s at 16. If you look at Acumen’s manifesto, that’s written at an eighth-grade level –nearly the same as many political frontrunners like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio speak. Acumen also happens to be one of the most widely known names in the impact investing arena. Coincidence? I think not. Simply put, their message resonates.

The question is: Can impact investing jargon be toned down so it’s more accessible to the general public? Can we dumb down the dialogue so people outside of our echo chamber understand what the hell we’re talking about? It’s a difficult task. The ecosystem is still so young, with new ideas forming and new interpretations of “impact” popping up constantly.

As a passionate Democrat, I cringe at what I’m about to say, but here goes: Thank you, The Donald, for the lesson learned. It’s time we start changing the dialogue around impact.

(For reference, this post was written at an 8.4 reading level.)


This post originally appeared on Alexandra Prather’s blog and has been republished with permission.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Alexandra Prather is the program lead for Unitus Seed Fund’s Speed2Seed Program, a USAID-funded project to collaborate and build capacity among select Indian incubator and accelerator partners.

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