Looking back and looking forward on Australia’s opportunity to lead on impact
9 July 2019 at 8:37 am
On 1 July, Rosemary Addis handed over the chair of Australian Advisory Board on Impact Investing. Here she reflects on what’s happened in the sector since she first founded the organisation in 2013.
Twenty years ago this week I reached a career milestone being elected a partner of the law firm where I had spent a decade, fully committing my professional efforts to achieving that goal. In that moment, I did not, could not, have imagined stepping out onto a broader canvas. The disciplines in rigour and excellence, and solving the too hard questions were great foundations – and only the beginning.
Over the past two decades I have learned from, and led, initiatives that demonstrate what can be achieved when we apply the tools of innovation to drive impact. I came to understand that tenacity and good governance are underrated tools for change. I had the rare privilege to work across sectors, across disciplines and from the board room to grass roots sitting with communities from Braybrook to Alice Springs and Dhaka and Rio.
Six years ago we took up an invitation from the then UK prime minister David Cameron for Australia to join the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce and contribute, alongside the G7 countries and the EU, to a global effort to catalyse impact investment. That required laser-like focus on what it would take to drive solutions that contribute to a more equitable and inclusive society, and it has been an immersion in leadership learning – practical, personal and professional. That kind of ecosystem development mandate had no playbook.
Ecosystems only grow through the efforts of many. We’ve seen the best of Australian spirit as leaders – from philanthropy, finance, community and policy – have stepped into the agenda and rallied in an ambitious and actionable agenda of leadership, action and policy. They contributed as members of the Australian Advisory Board on Impact Investing (AAB), joining working groups and acting as ambassadors championing change.
Stellar leaders including Sandy Blackburn-Wright, then Dan Madhavan and Sally McCutchan, stepped forward to play an active role. Organisations from NAB to Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, QBE and Perpetual Trustees to The Benevolent Society, joined us in common cause.
Many people from all walks of life responded to our call to action. Their actions are testament that diverse people and organisations will get behind a unifying vision – one that enables people to make positive choices and to be part of positive change.
Together, we have put impact squarely on the agenda.
Market consultations demonstrate that more and different organisations are getting involved and building a track record. This is reinforced with benchmarking data showing growth in impact investment product – fourfold from June 2015 to December 2017 to $5.8 billion. And it is coming through government policy, from NSW’s leadership to forays into outcomes-based funding, and social enterprise support in other states as well as in recent federal budgets, including the Australian government taskforce focusing on whole of government policy.
On the global stage, the AAB and its fellow national advisory boards (NABs) from the original G7 countries stand with leaders from 23 countries and the EU driving the global effort forward through the Global Steering Group for Impact Investing (GSG). We see a wider and deeper global market pegged at US$502 billion across many areas of impact and increasingly directing capital and innovation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our interactions with colleagues from a diverse mix of cultures and contexts reinforce how their experience can accelerate our progress and we can inform theirs.
I will take these lessons for what’s possible to a broader canvas: as a GSG trustee and chairing its committee, encouraging and supporting NABs, working with the UNDP to advance SDG Impact, and working with other leaders globally to take impact into boardrooms and decision-making arenas.
As I hand over the reins of the AAB, my ambition for Australia’s future is fuelled by optimism – and no small degree of impatience – that we can step into the strategic challenge and make sure that the potential for impact is realised.
Richard Brandweiner and Fabienne Michaux take the AAB helm as interim co-chairs working with Sally McCutchan at the helm of Impact Investing Australia. They bring clear leadership and commitment to tap into Australia’s unique combination of institutional forces and cultural values.
I am optimistic about the future – Australia has what it takes to drive bold actions and new models. We can respond to the deficit of trust in institutions and the crisis in sustainability for service delivery.
The challenge is clear – we can, and must, do better than rankings of 16th on the Social Progress Index (down from fourth) and 37th on the Index of progress against the SDGs, and we must bring real change to people’s lives and sustain our environment.
Individuals, investors and businesses as well as governments, community and philanthropy – all have a role to play to make sure we make choices that drive a more equitable and prosperous society and sustain our planet.
I look forward to seeing the gateways between Australia and the international experience pushed wide open. With more leaders adding their voices, we can ensure impact is not only on the agenda, it is a priority.
About the author: On 1 July, Rosemary Addis handed over the chair of Australian Advisory Board on Impact Investing which she founded in 2013; she will remain an ambassador for its work. She is executive director of Impact Strategist. Her portfolio of global board and advisory roles includes trustee of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment, senior advisor to United Nation Development Programme’s SDG Impact and she has been an expert reviewer for impact initiatives of the OECD and World Economic Forum. Rosemary was recognised as one of the AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence for contributions to innovation (2015) and finalist for Women in Finance Thought Leader of the Year (2017).