NextBillion Editor

On the Ground at SOCAP – Day 3: Mainstreaming impact investing, healing Detroit and developing communities

Scott Anderson and Marzena Zukowska are your roving bloggers from this week’s Social Capital Markets Conference in San Francisco.

Here’s their rundown of Day 3 (Thursday) at the sprawling social investing gathering – taken from three of the day’s many sessions.

Opening Plenary Session

Impact assessment geeks, here’s a little thought experiment for you: What is more valuable, helping a teenager find a skilled labor job in a slum, or vaccinating three children against malaria?

Of course, the answer depends on what you mean by “value,” right?

“Financial impact and social impact are fundamentally different. These questions illustrate that quantifying social impact is not the same as valuing it,” said Zia Khan, vice president for Strategy and Evaluation for the Rockefeller Foundation during a morning plenary Thursday at SOCAP.

Khan spoke about how impact investing can move from the eager early adopters to the mainstream. “I believe impact investing is indeed facing a challenge similar to what Geoffrey Moore called ‘crossing the chasm,’” he said. “’Crossing the chasm’ relates to the challenge of scaling the adoption of a new innovation beyond a few enthusiastic early adopters and into the broader but still early majority.”

To achieve this, he said, the following things are needed:

1. More goal-oriented coordination among actors that applies their comparative advantages to specific social and environmental problems. (Social impact bonds are a good example of this.)

2. A new management practice within institutions to help realize both financial and social impact. (The “early majority” is more interested in seeing success stories than growing the impact investing sector as such.)

3. Rethinking paradigms to achieve greater scale.

Detroit: Coming Back from Bankruptcy

What can Detroit teach us about cross-sector partnerships? Coming out of bankruptcy, there have been two prevalent narratives, coming from separate side of the spectrum: Detroit is dead OR Detroit will rise from the ashes with the help of major financial investments.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Moving beyond accounting tricks, weak public sector leadership and the infrastructure collapse of the last few decades, bankruptcy can become an opportunity for rebuilding. As Benjamin Kennedy of the Kresge Foundation said, there’s no silver bullet solution to Detroit’s problems. However, getting the right partners into the mix can create long-term, transformative changes across the city.

First off, we need to start building an entrepreneurial culture again. According to Leslie Smith of TechTown, an accelerator located in Midtown Detroit, “There is a need for the revival of a risk-taking culture – one that can bring greater investments to the city.” As a new generation of people moves into the city, the potential for grassroots “co-creation,” a term that has come up many times at SOCAP 2013, is immense.

Secondly, we need long-term investors, who are prepared to take on more risk for a longer period of time. The situation of “capital flight” in Detroit is no different than in many developing countries across the world. “Investors are used to seeing mainstream images of a broken Detroit, but we bring them to a vibrant city,” said Scott Sporte of NCB Capital Impact as he alluded to the difference between perceived and actual risk. The healing process of Detroit needs to expand beyond the Midtown corridor to offer benefits to the whole community.

And finally, we need infrastructure, job creation and a marriage between the two. Why not engage locals in the construction process from the very beginning? “Whether you’re a housing developer or small business owner, you need the right level of resources and training to be successful,” said Sue Mosey of Midtown Detroit Inc. Your surroundings and your ability to make use of roads, highways and public works is central to those resources.

To be successful, the revival of ANY community worldwide can benefit greatly from entrepreneurship, long-term investments and the co-creation of infrastructure.

Impact Investing at the Nexus of Health and Community Development

As the case of Oakland shows us, the health sector can be seen as the nexus of community development and a model for other cities around the world.

Olis Simpson of Youth Uprising challenged the SOCAP 2013 participants to think of people as part of the solution of community development. “People are not the problem and do not need to be displaced, and their neighborhoods do not need to be gentrified for transformative change to occur,” she said.

The solution sounds straightforward. However, the sad reality is that there are places in this country (and in countries around the world) where we have simply stopped investing. Oakland has become one of the most dangerous, violent and crime-ridden communities in the country.

What needs to happen is a pivot in the types of investment models we are using, and how we are spending the dollars that ultimately flow into cities like Oakland. According to Simpson, we need to put people and not dollars at the center of community change, especially with respect to health.

Kim Dempsey of NCB Capital Impact has internalized this as part of her mission. NCB’s approach looks at the health of communities beyond just health care, because at the end of the day, health care does not necessarily equal health and well-being. Health means access to food, quality education, affordable housing, and most importantly, access to opportunities. Until metrics start measuring health holistically and the capital flows start transforming the quality of community life, impact will remain elusive.

Through the California Endowment, Kathlyn Mead has been proving that private foundations can help transform communities beyond just financial support. “Bringing grant dollars to communities is important, but the approach in itself is limited,” she said. “We need to connect everything that we are doing to job creation, hiring local companies, and building community capacity.”

Jean Nudelman of the NCAL Community Benefit Programs at Kaiser Permanente framed it well: “Kaiser Permanente’s vision is to leverage all assets at hand to address health at all levels.” This includes the individual and family, the community, as well as the broader ecosystem and environment.

The key takeaway message from the panelists: “Let’s capitalize our aspirations.”

Impact Assessment
impact investing