The Reimagining of our World is Already Here: Observations from the Global Impact Investing (GIIN) Conference

Copenhagen October 2023

What I love about traveling are the unexpected conversations.  A few weeks ago, at the conclusion of the GIIN (Global Impact Investing Network) conference held in Denmark, I stopped by the lobby bar to order a salad and a Danish beer*.  I met two “happy” women. They run the housekeeping services in the Marriott where the conference was held as well as two other Marriott hotels in Copenhagen. How fortunate I was to share a conversation with two people who were joyful and inviting. When I asked why Denmark is described as one of the happiest nations in the world, they laughed and said it wasn’t because of the weather. They described a social safety net that provides universal health care, taking good care of the elderly and a country with a strong educational system. I wish I could make similar comments about other countries in the world, including my own. But I can’t since the US does not have the kind of social services a nation such as Denmark offers its citizens. Thus, our inequities continue to grow.  The conversation reminded me that it’s imperative that we rapidly redesign our system so we don’t lose more people. We must redesign capitalism so that all people share in the prosperity of a nation—not only the wealthy.

Source The Atlantic, JUNE 27, 2021

But, I diverge. This blog is about my insights from the conference.

This was my first time attending the GIIN — Global Impact Investing Networking—conference which is a forum for impact investing professionals. GIIN is a nonprofit membership organization originally established in 2009. According to the MacArthur Foundation who has supported their work, “The GIIN Investor Forum is one of the largest in-person global gathering of impact investors, allowing them an opportunity to build relationships, discover opportunities, share insights about new strategies, learn the latest industry developments, and explore ways to drive continued momentum and growth in the impact investing market.” My participation was with the hat of a board member for a San Diego-based foundation.  I sit on the newly formed Impact Investing Committee and this was an opportunity for me to learn by taking a deep dive into the issues important to asset managers.

So, what did I learn?

There were more than 1500 participants from 68+ countries and the SDG lapel pin was visibly worn by quite a few participants. Session topics included climate investing, the sustainable blue economy, investing in the Global South, regenerative investment structures including shared ownership models, evaluating and managing impact, using child-lens investing, tech and AI, the intersections of venture capital and impact investing, and addressing mega heath care challenges, to name but a few.

I learned in the pre-session which was for people new to the field, that GIIN defines impact investing as investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. They maintain that the practice of impact investing is further defined by the following elements: intentionality; investment with return expectations; there are a range of return expectations and asset classes; and, there is the commitment by the investor to measure and report the social and environmental performance and progress of underlying investments, ensuring transparency and accountability while informing the practice of impact investing and building the field. We spent quite a bit of time discussing impact measurement and management. It includes identifying and considering the positive and negative effects that one’s business actions (investor contribution) have on people and the planet. Then, figuring out ways to mitigate the negative and maximize the positive in aligning with one’s goals.

There are many tools and resources available and the figure below summarizes what presenters referred to as the “Alphabet Soup.”

Source: Transforming your portfolio: An impact investing seminar for asset owners and managers (GIIN 2023, 10.02.23)

Thomas Kuhn who was an American historian of science wrote about paradigms shifts.  A paradigm shift occurs when new technologies disrupt old ones, and the old ways of thinking and operating no longer apply. (An example of this was the invention of smartphones which changed how we communicate and interact with others.)

Well, a paradigm shift started in the 1960s and now change is moving forward rapidly. As one speaker at the conference noted: “The glimmers of the future are all around us.”

Our world is being reimagined. We are already in the middle of capitalism being redesigned.

So many new words…

It can be overwhelming to hear, understand and attempt to use the language used throughout the conference. Some terms I really liked.  I heard reference to—the Green Swan– John Elkington the originator of the term Triple Bottom line uses the term.

According to his book, Green Swans are “solutions that take us exponentially toward breakthrough” or “systemic solutions to global challenges, solutions that tap into positive exponentials.” They deliver “exponential progress in the form of economic, social, and environmental wealth creation.” As Elkington adds, “Too often, Black Swans take you exponentially where you don’t want to go, whereas Green Swans take you exponentially where you do want to go.

A good example of a Green Swan that Elkington offers, is the adoption of electric vehicles. It started out very slow, out of sight for most people. But gradually, and largely propelled by Elon Musk, it has accelerated step by step. It has now reached the exponential part of the curve, the point of no return, where it is rapidly embraced at increasing speed, disrupting the entire car industry on the path toward creating environmental, social, and economic wealth.

GINN 2024 is in Amsterdam

I really like Amsterdam, but don’t think I’ll be attending GIIN next year.  I learned a lot about impact investing and measurement but it’s not quite the conference that matches my interests and goals.  I’m at SF airport as I write this and I just attended the SOCAP 2023 conference. (I’ll write about the conference in a future blog.) That’s the conference for me since, yes, there are impact investing and impact measurement sessions, but there are also social entrepreneurs who make these concepts real and remind us why we do impact investing in the first place—to improve opportunities and the environment for others.  Plus, there was music and dancing and lots of fun activities. This all brings me joy and makes me happy like those two Danish women.

Thanks for reading!


*It was a very good IPA called Yakima.