Investing for the Poor Conference Convenes in Rome

June 16, 2014

The Investing for the Poor Conference began today in Rome, and our own Matt Bannick and Sal Giambanco were in attendance representing Omidyar Network.  The symposium is exploring how impact investing can be used to address the needs of the world’s poor, and tomorrow Matt and Sal will have the opportunity to share Omidyar Network’s views and why we evolved from a foundation to what we call a ‘philanthropic investment firm.’

Convened by Catholic Relief Services, the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the conference has drawn together business, finance, academic, humanitarian, and faith-based communities will explore the core concepts of impact investing and how to actively promote and utilize impact investing in the future. 

Catholic Relief Services’ Paul Eagle recounts several of the highlights from today’s session:

A private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.  The Holy Father addressed all 100 participants of the conference and then met and shook hands with each attendee. “I offer you a warm welcome and I express my gratitude and appreciation for your Conference, which offers an important contribution to the search for timely and realistic strategies to ensure greater social equality,” Pope Frances told the conference participants. “A sense of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized has led you to reflect on Impact Investing as one emerging form of responsible investment.”

Dr. Carolyn Woo, CEO & President of CRS, called the gathering “a conference of high church and high finance.”  Regarding the issue of why we are engaging in Impact Investing, she added, “We must, we can and we will. Our Faith tells us we must do this, major studies prove that we can eradicate poverty and today we will learn how to do it effectively.”

Dr. Filipe Santos, Academic Director, INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, started the conference by introducing the concept and context of Impact Investing. He defined Impact Investing as “the purposeful allocation of financial resources to initiatives that can deliver measurable societal impact (social and environmental) alongside financial returns.” He noted that society is divided into three sectors: the commercial sector, the public sector (government) and the charity sector (foundations and philanthropy). The trend over the past 10 to 15 years has seen the public and charity shrink while the commercial sector has grown exponentially. At the same time, there has been an increased dissatisfaction with the role of both the financial system and the commercial sector in allocating resources in a productive way, and the inequality that results from a concentration of wealth. This has provided a motivation for the rise of Impact Investing. He also noted that in order to pursue Impact Investing, we must let go of prejudices, such as the discomfort many feel at seeing an entrepreneur who helps the poor receive high compensation.

Dr. Pat Dinneen, Chair, Impact Investing Council, Emerging Markets Private Equity Association, introduced three speakers who described successful Impact Investment projects that include insurance, healthcare and microfinance already taking place in Brazil, Nicaragua, Southeast Asia and several countries in Africa.

Sir Ronald Cohen, Head of the Social Impact Investment Task Force established by the G8, said we are on the brink of a revolution that will help developing countries. He described more than 26 Social Impact Bonds -- in which investors fund social services and are paid back by the government from its savings if certain benchmarks are achieved -- that are already working around the world to help prisoners, hospitals and microfinance.  Official aid is being dwarfed by private investors, and it’s time for us to step up and reshape the concept of philanthropy.  

Father Seamus Finn, OMI, Vice Chair of the Board, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, presented the concept of Impact Investing through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. He described the responsibility of the Church as laid out in Catholic Social Teaching to help promote the common good. He noted that historically church communities, such as monasteries and universities, created cultural “spaces” in which new ideas could be tried, and that the Catholic Church might provide such a space for Impact Investing. He also described some of the challenges of the model, such as reputational risk and skepticism in some Church circles toward the corporate sector, as well as adherence to the Precautionary Principle, that this new approach must have a reasonable prospect of success without doing a lot of harm, especially to the poor, should it fail..

Margie Sullivan, COO Chief of Staff, USAID, moderated the next panel.  She said that 30 years ago 90% of development was generated by the government, and 10% from private investors.  Today it is the inverse, as the role and scale of government shrinks. The panel included Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who said his $20 billion agency with a staff of 10,000 should use its resources in a catalytic way. “We can achieve transformational changes,” he said. Other panelists included Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate and John Rogers, Executive Vice President, Chief of Staff, and Secretary to the Board of Goldman Sachs.

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