Using Evidence of Social Outcomes
22 August 2013 at 12:05 pm
A forum on the use of capital for financial and social returns has highlighted measurement and evidence of social outcomes as a key issue for the expansion of the impact investing movement in Australia.
The panel discussion at the New Economy Summit, co-hosted in Melbourne and Sydney yesterday by the 3 Pillars Network, focused on ways in which Australia could make use of opportunities posed by new models of investing for social or environmental good such as carbon financing, impact investing and social benefit bonds.
The discussion was led by Rosemary Addis, Social Innovation Strategist at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Also featured were Danny Almagor, Founder and CEO of Small Giants, the first Australian B Corp, Les Hems, Director of Research and Development at Tomorrow’s Agenda Research Institute, and Freddy Sharpe, CEO at Climate Friendly.
Business could look to Not for Profits and community organisations to develop and trial possible metrics for measuring social returns, the experts suggested.
The future of the movement, Rosemary Addis said, could be about “new combinations of people, ideas and resources, coming together to achieve what they can’t achieve alone.”
“Ideas of presumed trade-offs between economic and social benefits are outdated,” Addis said.
Social and environmental investment could return economic value while also creating value for society, Addis said, referring to Michael Porter’s concept of Creating Shared Value.
Measuring the scope of social value return had been a challenge, the panel suggested.
Les Hems said the days of thinking that social value creation was solely the domain of NFPs were gone.
“The really thorny issue is measuring social returns,” Hems said.
“I do take the analogy that where we were measuring environmental value 15 years ago, I feel we’re in that space now measuring social returns,” he said.
“I am confident we will get to to a robust method for us to measure social return.”
Hems said the new charity regulator, the ACNC could play a part.
“I have expectations and aspirations that the ACNC will provide a platform for NFPs to not only spend wisely but they will find a mechanism for reporting their social value.”
Hems said he would also like to see government organisations invest in scientific research around metrics on social returns.
“It is the evidence base area I’m most concerned about,” said Hems.
“That’s an area where I think we’re yet to develop”, Hems said. “We just don’t have the metrics we need.”
“The reason the progress of impact investing and social bonds overseas is better is that there is a stronger body of evidence as to their efficacy,” he said.
Freddy Sharpe, CEO at Climate Friendly, presented carbon investment as a case study, describing it as the “pin-up boy” of investing for added financial or social return.
“Carbon finance is moving away from being an end in and of itself to being a vehicle – a means to an end,” he said.
Non-traditional community-based benefits were emerging from carbon investments, such as employment opportunities, community projects and read access.
The question of how to quantify those non-carbon returns was a difficult one, said Sharpe.
“It’s about building shared value in your business, but also real, measurable brand value,” Sharpe said.
Rosemary Addis also spoke of the future for the use of capital for social returns in Australia.
“We’re not starting from a blank page,” she said, but acknowledged there was still a long way to go for the movement in Australia.
“We’ve made some early steps,” she said.
“There’s more to do and there’s more to do to encourage the kinds of innovation and investment that have social returns, even if they’re different to the kinds of innovation required for scientific and technological progress.”
“It’s going to take bold ideas and forensic development of the ideas to provide evidence that they will actually work”
The forum followed comparable events held overseas, including the Landmark Strategies for a New Economy Forum in the US and the Breakthrough Capitalism Forum in the UK.