Rob Katz

Monitor and Acumen Research Highlights Why Impact Investing Needs Philanthropy

I sat in a conference room in New York with Brian Trelstad. We were joined by Dana Boggess, a program officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a longtime Acumen Fund partner. The conversation flowed naturally; as he is wont to do, Brian sketched concepts on the whiteboard. At some point, we wondered aloud: How many of Acumen’s 60-plus investee companies have been supported by a grant at some point?

The answer, as it turned out, is nearly all of them – and our firms are no different than many of our peers’. So began our year-long investigation into the role of philanthropy in impact investing.

We started with a simple premise: that the goal of impact investing is to back high-impact enterprises as they grow towards scale and financial sustainability. This is not the first time we’ve looked hard at what it takes to build toward this goal, but beyond consciously choosing your path among mission, margin or mandate, we sought to understand how grants, patient capital, impact investment and commercial capital work together to fund these companies.

Today, we are thrilled to release From Blueprint to Scale: The Case for Philanthropy in Impact Investing, a new study by Monitor Group, in collaboration with Acumen, on the role of philanthropy in impact investing. From Blueprint to Scale is based on Monitor’s deep expertise, 60+ expert interviews and 10+ years of Acumen Fund data; it shows how grants are needed to bridge the gap when developing new business models that serve low income customers.

I co-authored the report with Harvey Koh and Ashish Karamchandani, both partners at Monitor Group with deep experience researching and working in this area. Harvey is an experienced venture philanthropy fund manager, while Ashish has led Monitor Inclusive Markets since its inception. They have been ideal partners, bringing analytical rigor and intellectual curiosity in equal measures to what we initially thought would be a three-month study. It turned out to be close to twelve, and it has been a tremendous pleasure to dig into this topic with them during the last year.

Our analysis and research paints a clear picture: impact capital alone will not unlock the potential of impact investing for the global poor. Because of the extreme challenges facing those who are pioneering new models for inclusive business, truly realizing the impact in impact investing will require more, not less, philanthropy, and will need that philanthropic support to be delivered in new ways.

While affirming the tremendous potential for inclusive business and impact investing to help address the problems of global poverty, this report:

  • Explains how impact investing is constrained by the tough realities of inclusive business, and introduces the phenomenon of the ‘pioneer gap’;

  • Describes the emerging practice of ‘enterprise philanthropy’, and how it is the key to establishing the inclusive business models into which capital can then be deployed;

  • Analyzes a number of company case studies from the Acumen Fund portfolio to understand both successes and setbacks;

  • Sets out key recommendations for philanthropic funders and for impact investors;

  • Provides some practical ideas for what and how to fund, in the Enterprise Philanthropy Playbook

The report was launched today at the Global Philanthropy Forum’s annual conference; the conference will shortly post video of Acumen CEO Jacqueline Novogratz’s plenary address about the new research. In the meantime, please visit the Monitor Inclusive Markets web site to download and read the Executive Summary and full report.

Impact investing has come a long way in ten years, and there is no doubt that it has arrived as a concept and as an asset class. However, to build social enterprises that will scale – and support themselves financially – we need philanthropy and impact investment in equal measures.

impact investing, philanthropy