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During our recent virtual event ‘People, Planet & Profit: accelerating progress for real impact’, we explored how businesses can create real, measurable impact.
As we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an overriding sense that, broadly speaking, people are beginning to re-evaluate their priorities – turning their attention to the positive and negative impacts of their actions and behaviours – at both an individual and organisational level.
Globally, recent events have brought into sharp relief the issues that we, as the human race, face in terms of people and planet – wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes have ravaged communities and landscapes on a scale never before experienced whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted vast social inequalities across the world with regards to how local communities have been impacted.
The overriding theme from our recent discussion was a sense of responsibility – at an individual and collective level – in how we now respond to these issues.
We brought together an esteemed panel of individuals to guide us as we explored the role of organisations in delivering positive impact at a global and local level:
Throughout our discussion, key themes emerged along with actionable outputs and closing sentiments for organisations of all sizes looking to prioritise positive impact.
If you would like to take a deep dive into the discussion from our event ‘People, Planet & Profit: accelerating progress for real impact’ take a look through our event resources – you can watch or listen to the whole event, read the transcript or explore the key themes and outputs below:
Respectful of your time five minutes in so welcome everyone to this latest Zebra Campfire event. We're still not in person, but I’m actually growing to love these events and seeing everyone's faces up close on the screen so it's really good to see so many familiar faces and also some new faces.
Today’s event is people, planet and profit and specifically talking about accelerating our progress towards impact and it seemed like a really sensible time to be having this conversation because certainly our sense is that as we emerge from the pandemic – I’m not sure that’s actually a concept that works, but as we start to emerge from the acute phase of the pandemic - we're definitely getting a sense that people are re-evaluating their priorities and we're definitely getting a sense that people are turning their attention more to the positive and negative impacts of their actions or behaviours - whether that's at an individual level or at an organizational level.
And if you look at the most recent period, we've seen at a planetary level, we've seen wildfires, we've seen hurricanes, we've seen earthquakes. And on the social side we've seen the sort of impact of inequality in terms of how the pandemic affected communities, depending on poverty, depending on access to medicine and vaccines.
And there’s been a real, certainly in the media in our own awareness, has been a real heightened understanding, I think, and appreciation of some of the complexities and the issues and the inequalities in the world, and we think people are finding the time and the space to go back and start thinking about those, particularly from an organizational level.
So, if we look at the last 12 to 18 months it's really been a period characterized by an acute sense of individual and collective responsibility, I think, for, or sense of responsibility around some of these issues and how we respond to them.
At the same time we've had this sort of raging debate from the health sector to economics to most recently national security, about the role and the relationship between government, business and the individual and who has responsibility for both creating and addressing issues at a local and global scale. So it's an interesting time.
So for the next hour let's talk I think about responsibility let's talk about impact. I want to introduce our four key contributors today and I'm going to give them a moment to speak for themselves and tell you a little bit about who they are, and their organizations, but I also want to make the point that we consider all of you to be contributors, so please do contribute through the chat, through putting the electronic hand up, or just diving in and say something, it's very much conversation today.
So our key contributors: Lisa Barclay who's the Executive Director of Investments at Nesta, welcome Lisa. Steve Butterworth who's the CEO at Neighbourly. Eleanor Kaye who's Head of Operations at the Newton Venture Program and Chris Willis-pickup, who is a Taylor Vinters partner who heads the charities and social ventures part of the business. So I'm going to hand over to those four esteemed individuals to introduce themselves and perhaps I'll start with Eleanor.
Eleanor Kaye | NVP:
Hi everyone it’s so nice to be here, thank you so much for having me. I'm the Head of Operations at the Newton Venture Program.
The Newton Venture Program is an investor training program for investors and also for those who want to break into the VC industry. I should talk about our mission - our mission is to disrupt the current VC ecosystem, by making the practice of investing in early-stage ventures globally widespread and accessible and our vision, which might seem grandiose, but we're hoping we'll get there, is that by 2030 venture investors will be 50% female and 50% people from under-represented groups. We just had our first cohort back in April, it was a roaring success 60 students completed the program and our second is due to start at the end of this month, and both of our cohorts had over 50% female and 50% people from under-represented groups representing there.
Newton is backed by Local Globe - a seed and impact investor and London Business School so I'm really happy to bring our message to everyone here and thank you again for having me.
Great thanks Eleanor I look forward to coming back to that topic of how we can think about the representation in the investor community and the skills and learning in the investor community as a driver for impact - looking forward to talking further about that. Lisa?
Thanks matt and really excited to hear about that program Eleanor and i'll be in touch with you, because one of the challenges we face as an impact investor or any investor is access to diverse talents, so these kind of programs are really valuable and welcome.
So I’m Lisa Barclay - Executive Director of Investments at Nesta – Nesta is the UK innovation agency for social good.
So we look at how we can harness innovation for social or environmental benefit and as part of that Nesta’s been an investor for 20 years and for the last 10 years an impact investor, where we look to invest in (broadly) tech start-ups, early stage tech start-ups where there's a strong commercial proposition, but an equally strong social, environmental impact baked into the commercial model.
So when we make an investment we're looking for both a financial return and a measurable and demonstrable social or environmental impact.
We look at sectors such as ed tech, health tech and increasingly climate change - we're investing in seed to series A-type deals, and myself I've been in impact investing for more than 16 years, both as an Advisor and an Investor.
Great thanks Lisa that's great, and I think you touched their measuring impact, and I think that's a topic that we definitely want to come back to - actually what does impact look like in terms of how we can measure it and assess it. Steve?
Thanks Matt great to be here too, and you know to be amongst all of you guys today.
I’m the CEO at Neighbourly. Neighbourly is a Community investment and engagement platform - what we do is connect Global brands with thousands of vetted, what we call sort of, Community Impact Organizations - so local good causes, effectively and where we provide a way for businesses to donate time, money or surplus product to many local good causes.
I think the challenge has always been that businesses want to support local communities, but there's no easy way for them to do that at scale, and also very difficult to then measure the impact as well, but as Matt said well we'll come back to that later on in the discussion, so very much about how Neighbourly as a platform is facilitating that local connection and then being able to facilitate that giving, but there is a public side to the platform as well, so it's not just a logging tool that sits behind a firewall that's just sort of used to evidence the impact the business might have, but also to be able to showcase what that organization is doing, whether that be the corporate - and being able to evidence their local social impact and environmental impact as well, but also the opportunity for the local good cause, to be able to evidence their impact as well, so bringing to life that contribution as well, which is a really important part of where the giving part from a corporate perspective becomes that much more authentic and it’s around how you can then build out trust associated with how responsible a businesses maybe plays a part in that we're definitely not the only solution in that regard, but we have a role to play, so you know again Matt great to be here thanks for thanks for having me.
Good to have you and really interested in the practical side of what you do think that's fascinating for businesses to actually engage with how we can actually do things that aren't grand gestures, but are actually actionable things that can be done on an organization or a daily basis and, finally, Chris Willis-Pickup.
Chris WP: Thanks very much matt was it's nice to bring us to see this Community again and the Zebra Community still going very strong and still with this great focus on impact and purpose.
So I'm a partner of Matt’s at Taylor Vinters - I lead our work with charities and social ventures and I think one of the biggest trends I've seen in parallel really with The Zebra Project is the increasing focus on social ventures and a slight move away from the traditional charity vehicles as a way to doing good and there's just been a tendency for social entrepreneurs and for businesses to be looking for different ways to do good that are different from donating money to a charity or setting up a charitable foundation, and I think alongside that one of the fundamental trends that I’ve seen is a move away from purpose as being the driving and guiding star, I suppose, of activity towards impact, and so this question of impact measurement and it's not just about coming to something with a positive motive – it’s actually about what you can achieve in it and how you can demonstrate what you've achieved and there are pro’s and con’s of that. We'll come on to that I’m sure so I'm really interested in exploring those topics and thinking about how the charity world can work with the business world and what sort of creative new opportunities that creates for doing this stuff even better.
Thank you Chris - see I told you they were esteemed - that's a good panel I'm happy with that.
Thank you all, and really look forward to hearing more. So look I thought we'd kick off talking about responsibility, because I think responsibility is probably the context that are the individual sort of sense of priorities around impact sits within - it's your personal and collective sense of responsibility, so I wanted to ask the panel, really sitting here today what is a responsible business and who determines what responsible means, you know, is it obvious or is that something that we make individual or collective assessments around? So I want to throw those two questions out to the panel: What is a responsible business and who determines what responsibility looks like?
Lisa do you want to kick off on that one?
Sure. So at a very base level, I think a responsible businesses is one which is run with regards to a range of stakeholders, not just exclusively for the benefits of shareholders and profit maximization and those stakeholders might include customers, suppliers, the local community, environment, employees shareholders and more broadly governance issues.
I think, a question of who determines what is responsible, what responsible means obviously there's a question of law and policy which will set the kind of baseline but then it comes, I think, to the business itself, the management and the Board of that business in terms of what the standards that they want to set are and how that impacts on their business from a variety of perspectives.
Eleanor Kaye | NVP:
I agree with you Lisa and I think, you know, everything you say there is absolutely correct and I just wanted to add on there that the responsibility of the business is also on how we act internally, as well as what we're putting out to the outside and we at Newton, in particular, we are looking at the responsibility on our staff and the cohort that we're putting through the program and we feel very responsible for their future and what we can do to really help their success and I think there's responsibility in regards to how we hire our staff, for example, you know how can we make sure that we are responsibly hiring the right people for the job? We actually use blind hiring - we don't see any CVs names, industry, background in the first sections and we tried to keep hiring as blind as possible to make sure that the best people are through to the right to the job and I think, as a responsible business it’s down to us to set these standards and make sure that we are setting the standards ourselves and not necessarily always going along the governance lines.
Well, I think, just again echo what both Eleanor and Lisa have said, my rather simplistic view of responsible business is that you're acting in the best interest of all stakeholders and it's a line I'm sure you'll hear echoed throughout the conversation today and underpins a lot of the various standards that, one might as a business sign up to, whether that be the B Corp certification or the Good Business Charter or even to the UN Global Compact so you know from my perspective, I think that's a good starting point, I think, from the responsibility perspective. I think it's kind of both top-down and bottom-up and actually it's ensuring that what is agreed as a business, which I guess ultimately would start out by being set out by the Board is baked into the DNA of the organization so everybody understands, you know what it means to be part of that business and everyone, therefore, from a decision making perspective is using the appropriate context and I guess that then leads into the way that an organization is being run throughout, rather than having to always be sense-checked from a particular individual because I think you know it's interesting to potentially debate, even today, whether there is that such thing as sort of Head of ESG in an organization, or whether that actually should just be something which sits across an organization and is integral to every person's role.
I think that that's a really interesting point and I agree with everything that's been said and I’ve just been thinking about, in a way, what's not a responsible business? When you see quite commonly - people's first attempt, which ought to be encouraged, but having an ESG policy doesn't mean you're a responsible business and even having a Head of ESG doesn't mean you're a responsible business.
So I think I've got this whole question of what’s not a responsible business? And I think exactly as Steve says – unless it’s actually baked into your DNA and everyone is working towards that and aware of that and it's not just on paper, it's something that the business lives and breathes as well, then I think you can be responsible business.
And I would say there's two different types which leads into another part of the conversation later as well, but I think every type of business can be a responsible business, it can look at the way it does business and how to do that better, but I think only some businesses will have as part of their core activities positive impact and I don’t know whether it's the example I was thinking of, but it’s Danone making yoghurts becoming a B Corp.
Chris WP: That was great that they'd become a B Corp, but there isn't necessarily anything inherent in yoghurt making that creates positive social, environmental impact – I mean, yes, it's food that's great, but they decided to do that in a way that it aligns with the B Corp movement and is that an example of a good business?
And then there are other businesses - the type that NESTA would invest in that are, through their very activities, having a great positive impact on the world, you know climate tech, ed tech, health tech, and I think is quite important to make sure that businesses understand that they can do that, whatever their core businesses is, they can still do that in a more responsible way.
I think there's some really interesting themes that run through that so I like the references in a couple of your answers to stakeholder groups, because I think what your sense of responsibility is and what being a responsible business looks like I think depends upon which stakeholder groups you define that by reference to and prioritize, so for me that's quite an empowering thing - I think it means organizations can - the general level of responsibility to society, to the planet, whatever it might be, but actually in terms of the impact if we're talking about impact, you can have, perhaps defining that by reference to different stakeholder groups that you've identified and you prioritize is a very practical way of addressing those issues.
I think the other theme that came out when I was listening to those answers was that sense that some of this is about compliance and it's about reducing your negative impact and some of it is about genuinely creating positive impacts and it's something that you have more personal responsibility for, and we use the terms ESG and impact investing and impact sort of interchangeably, but I wonder - perhaps a question for Lisa - I wonder what we think the difference is between ESG and impact and impact investing.
Yeah I was going to pick up on what Chris was saying, actually. And just to put it in context, I think I read recently: ESG assets are estimated at around $100Tr under management at the moment and global impact investing assets are valued at $715Bn at the moment, so that’s just to put it in context - ESG is becoming almost universal.
And impact investment is a drop in the ocean, so a very small subset – growing, but small subset of what the market calls ESG compliant. ESG is a very broad umbrella term and often ESG and impact are used interchangeably but actually I think what you were saying about ESG originally actually I think being a risk management approach and increasingly is becoming a value creation tool.
But impact is not necessarily actually about running your business well, we take that as a given, but it's about setting out with an intention to contribute to a social or environmental problem and using business to address that problem so by doing well as a business you're also doing good with some kind of social, environmental impact I don’t know if that kind of sets out the distinction sufficiently.
Yeah I think that's interesting because for me that also comes back to the measurement point, because I think how well you're doing in relation to the impact you're trying to achieve or the compliance you're trying to achieve is actually a very difficult thing to assess other than at an individual organizational level, because the relativity between different industries, different sectors, different geographies can be a distraction, I think, from actually saying ‘as an individual organization, are we doing enough, are we achieving what we set out to do, or are we looking to some sort of benchmark that is very hard to apply to what we're specifically working on?’
Just to add to that, Lisa the point of differentiation is really important there and Chris obviously mentioned Danone earlier, as an organization that you wouldn't necessarily think of from an impact investing perspective but they're obviously looking to try to run themselves in a more responsible way and then obviously similar organizations, not necessarily quite the same size but Innocent Drinks, Ella's Kitchen – they’re organizations that are B Corps and are trying to be a better in the way that they run themselves, as opposed to, perhaps, an organization, I guess, like our own where we're obviously trying to do something that is having a positive impact on society.
But I think the repetitive thing that's going to come out of today's conversation is the challenge around the measurement piece, because there is no global standard and that whole ESG and acronym is thrown around now pretty wildly and very, very broadly and often, all too often, not everyone in the room actually understands what it is, and I think the challenge that we have is everybody understanding the importance to some degree or other as to that we need to run organizations that are in the best interest of making sure we’ve still got a planet for our kids and making sure that businesses are a vested member of society, but I think that, until we have a way of standardizing the way that we can measure this it's going to remain opaque and there'll be the ongoing challenges around your green washing, purpose washing, whatever you want to call it.
But I mean there are obviously some amazing articles that are out there, and you know our kind of North star, I guess, we tend to use at the moment is the work that came off the back of the World Economic Forum back in 2020 where they managed to get the four big consultancies to get their heads together and they came up with a, perhaps not so snappily named, article that was released at this time last year about measuring stakeholder capitalism.
But it's still a work in progress and there's still huge amounts to be done to get to the point where you can actually measure this consistently and I think what the impact investment community brings to the table (and Lisa please correct me here if I’m wrong) is that actually I think they are very keen and working very hard on being able to standardize the reporting side of things, specifically obviously within their own investments, but that at least gives us a starting point, you know, and I think the way that perhaps others that are coming to already established businesses and trying to be more responsible are still trying to find their way.
You're absolutely right, and I mean the fragmentation is in both ESG and impact measurement and I've been involved in a group of VCs looking at how we can track ESG compliance in this kind of early stage businesses, because all the current standards that ESG are geared to public markets or big corporates so even with ESG in terms of how you measure, how you assess performance it’s very fragmented in terms of the standards and similarly, you know, in impact investing it has also been quite fragmented and bespoke but in recent years there's an organization called the Impact Management Project which has done a really good job of bringing together a coalition I think of about 2,000 businesses and investors and key stakeholders in the impact world to think about how you can create a standard approach to impact measurement and I think they've done a pretty good job and have set out some principles and five questions about how you might go about doing that.
And our impact measurement approach at NESTA - we were one of the founding or kind of early collaborators with Impact Management Project and a lot of the principles that have come out in in their framework originated in our work that we use to this day in terms of how we look at measuring impact risk and return, and I can go into detail later on if it’s helpful.
That's great, I like the idea of thinking about an approach framework, rather than trying to standardize measurements as I think that again empowers the individual organizations.
Sean you have your hand up - do you want to come in?
Yeah I think Matt great to be here and I think the title that you say people planet and profit, when I'm talking through with financial clients – so I’m Sean Taylor from Canaccord Genuity - is that impact investing doesn't necessarily have to make a profit, whereas you look, if you look at ESG and B Corp generally it's all linked to the profitability of the company.
And we do have a wave of regulatory approaches coming across into the UK - it's something we've kept on despite Brexit – we didn’t keep the lorry drivers – that’s a shame!
But it's SMCR and basically everyone's going to have to measure themselves on the ESG side but that's directly linked, if they don't do things like that it could impact their profitability, whereas impact investing – I always liked the fact I could explain to people that yes, impact investing in particular is not necessarily you're going to make a profit whereas ESG, as we've seen, especially during the pandemic has made people a lot of money let's not beat around the bush yes we've seen a slight dip in European Investment in ESG but it's growing in the US and we've seen in the last couple of days that Europe's gone back to China going ‘you’ve got to sort this out on the whole ESG bubble and I think that the people, people planet and profit piece is absolutely key to this discussion in that if you do it right, and you do with the right company actually it can actually be profitable, even on the impact side and I'm sure there's some very esteemed people on this call that will correct me on impact investing but that's not the original driver when you're looking to talk to people about doing it, you know it's actually doing the right thing, as opposed to wanting to make a lot of money out of it, whereas ESG - we can all turn around and go ‘hey look at these returns you've seen the last 18 months and they've been extraordinary returns in the in the last 18 months’
And again, maybe that's because we just pick some good funds and some good stock but I mean it's extraordinary and I think we've also got to make the split on people planet and profit, the thing that worries me slightly is (and it’s odd me a middle-aged white bearded bloke going on about ESG, but massive advocate) is the internal argument of a firm and the external and that's where the whole greenwashing thing comes in - don't just say you're doing stuff and you buy a load of Amazon stock and make it look good, actually do it properly. So got to watch greenwashing and I'm really worried that, as happened in 2008 – for those of us old enough to remember ‘08, there was about six months of happy clapping after the crisis was averted and it started to sort itself out but actually are we going to snap back to where we were in the old normal as opposed to the new normal? I'm hoping, and I believe that the investment in this people, planet and profit is such that it's going to continue because it's too long now to reverse what we've seen. Thank you, Matt.
Always good to have your contribution Sean thanks for that, and I think you know for me, what you highlight there is that there is a difference between the narrative around ESG, inparticular in the institutional and retail investment market versus other investment markets and if there's a number of people on the call today who are in the venture world I think what we've certainly seen over the last 18 months throughout the pandemic is two things: 1) very strong levels of venture investment activity, particularly at seed to series A and that's continued and a number of those businesses have been much more focused on articulating the impact component of their story, and I think that's different to greenwashing I think they've read they've recognized the importance of articulating the objectives of the business and in the way that talks to impact, as well as talks to profit and I think in that venture space inparticular there's a real opportunity there for us to drive innovation in sectors that have an impact, as well as a profit potential.
I don't think will snap back.
I agree with you, I don't think it will either.
There’s too many sort of big macro pieces at play here and I think also what you've got is you've got a generation now of employees coming through organizations that are reaching middle management and above that are that actually really genuinely passionate about this and it's not about just being seen to do the right thing it's absolutely authentic, it's integral to their long term sustainability and I know we all read Larry Fink’s annual letters to CEOs – if we don’t serve a social purpose then they’re not going to be investing in us, but I think first and foremost, you can't be sustainable unless you make a profit and that's coming from a guy who runs a business that is very much there playing a role that is 100% free for local good causes that we support, but our corporate partners will pay us to facilitate the service, and I can grow a business in a profitable way I'm obviously taking decisions at Board level that are in the best interest of all my stakeholders so you know that will be a backdrop and context in the way we run the organization, but I think we've come too far too quickly for us to snap back to a place where all of this unravels and into Lisa's numbers that she was quoting earlier there's masses that is now locked up in a world where you know it is in people's interest to run a bit to continue to maintain this this current trajectory.
Kevin, I think you were first up with a hand so would you like to jump in?
So I work in a FTSE 250 company where we’re on this ESG journey.
And one of the things I see is, it’s new. I've been talking about it for years, and then we got incentivised and so now we want to do something, and so what we've sort of started off looking at is ‘well what's the standards or where are we going to put our flag in the ground and mark ourselves out against?’ But ultimately, our discussions form around ‘where do we want to sit in the pack? Do we want to be an A-grade student? Or is being average OK?’
So what I've learned is from a corporate level it's all about reporting, reporting, reporting. How do we pull all of these numbers together to do an annual report on that - at my company we stick it in the annual report, we might have a separate website coming up soon.
But it's all focused on that we're taking it to board level but there's nobody with experience of this so they don't know because they are all former CFO, former Chief HR Officers or Chief Executives, but they haven't really been involved in businesses that have had to do ESG or impact, so they don’t actually have the skillset to question anything.
And I think that's one of the problems - it's been permeated because there's multiple reporting channels, as you said, and there's no standards amongst them so everybody's just choosing which one seems the right one, or where do we think we can score higher because, ultimately, our investors are asking us about what we’re reporting, and how we score.
And the reporting agencies themselves use algorithms so they don’t really deep dive into your information, they’re just looking for things on your website.
I think it's becoming really easy now for companies to work out where they can do well at ESG, and they target those areas rather than focus on ‘actually well is this good for profit, for planet, any purpose or even our stakeholders?’ Well our investors are driving what our customers are asking us, so let's just focus on them - the employee side doesn't tend to get a look-in, yet they’re a key stakeholder.
And that's really interesting Kevin – it’s slightly depressing and really interesting, so I think you know appreciate your honesty in sharing that and I definitely want to come to Eleanor and talk about skills, as I think the point you made about skills is important, but before I do that Ashley has had her hand up for a while, so Ashley.
Ashley Duque Kienzle:
Hi thanks, so I'm actually looking for seed funding right now in an eco femme healthcare business to make it very convoluted, but one of the things that I thought was really interesting as Eleanor and Lisa were talking about, you know, traditionally the investment spaces is dominated by white men to be blatant, and there’s a lot of these kind of when you're thinking about social, thinking about the different aspects of that, there’s still the monetary gain, but I’m wondering how to cut through and how do we change the narrative around just looking for funding that's both socially impactful because we know there's a long term benefit which doesn't always come out the numbers in the short term, right? with the need to also create that profit - so thinking about how do we change the narrative but how do we add this and make it more important and how as someone looking as a founder and someone looking for investment, like how to tow that line, if you will, between both ‘hey this this can be economically viable’, but also the business social aspects and not being turned down just because you're going in with that message.
And that sounds like a perfect segue into Eleanor to talk about what are we actually asking our investors to think about, how we’re training our investors to focus on some of those issues.
Eleanor Kaye | NVP:
It's a good point, a good question. So basically, the Newton course is for anyone who just wants to break into the VC industry and the skills that we’re training them to do are around negotiations and chemistry and conviction, how do you know whether you're investing in the right person? The values which I think is very important in the business world, about - are you connecting with that person on the same value level, we can teach the basics, but it's really what the students are doing outside of the program that really makes a difference. It's the networking it's doing the applied learning, the getting involved, the turning up to talks, it's really the network and the community that is going to help those students really learn the skills that they need because if you can't pitch yourself in 30 seconds or pitch your idea in 30 seconds you just will not get out there. If you don't really believe in what you're doing and really believe in what you're selling or the other way around, if a founder comes to you and you don't believe in what they're selling it's these kinds of skills are just so important in the world of VC and if you think about the connections that they're making in a single cohort of 60 people if you think about how many one-to-one relationships there are there and how many two person pairs - the answer is 1,770 pairs in a single group of 60 and you multiply that by cohort and cohort our network is growing, the Community is growing and that's the skills, the skills there on networking and Community that's where the impact is going to happen that's where.they're going to learn how to break into different areas and connect with other people in industries, they never thought of the health tech the ED tech, the climate tech it's these areas where impact is going to be the greatest and I think you can teach people the basics, but really it's the connections and the networking skills that really is going to help these people.
Probably a question for Steve, I mean I'm thinking I'm thinking we've been talking about ESG in particular and ESG’s very broad – the E and the S and the G stand for different things and that's quite a broad spectrum that they cover.
We've had a lot of focus in recent years, rightly so, on environmental issues and, in particular environmental reporting in the corporate world is there a danger that the social has become a sort of poor relation in ESG or is now its moment?
I probably wouldn't use the phrase poor relation I’d probably say it's harder and that's probably been the challenge. There there's always been a desire for organizations to play their part in in the social element and it's the Paul Polman quote that businesses can't survive in societies that fail so there's obviously a vested interest in making sure that the essence of the element is addressed I think what has sort of been one of the challenges and the reason it's been hard is, how do you sort of tap into what you believe your community needs and I think what covid has done is bought into sharp relief for all of us, you know that we are part of a community. We've gone from doing the daily commute and living and breathing in the little bubbles that we might have existed in, whether it be at work at home, play wherever, suddenly we're 24/7 living and breathing one environment, and I mean we were chatting pre the session starting and Eleanor was talking about how she got to know a neighbour better than everybody would have done otherwise, and I think it's sort of turn the volume up on the importance of local community and I think that has probably made it a priority and therefore organizations are taking it to the next level now and finding ways and means of doing it, so I think its probably historically just been more of an ‘i'm not sure where to start, it's a little bit harder and therefore I’m perhaps being more focused on stuff where I can make some quick wins, perhaps by focusing on the E element.’ But I think now more than ever, it is the moment of the S part but it's obviously always been a priority it's just not been as easy, yeah interesting.
And it comes back to that point about what's actionable and how can we get that sense of progress and impact more locally, rather than what you know, rather than making small contributions to grand projects can we make big contributions to smaller projects.
Chris Willis Pickup you made a comment right at the beginning, which stuck in my mind about and perhaps it was less dialogue about purpose and that's one that if I could pick up on that and if you wanted to say anything more about that.
Chris Willis Pickup:
Yeah absolutely I think it's something that comes, I think, from my experience moving into the charity sector I moved to the charity Commission from a business law firm solely focused on business, and the biggest difference I noticed from working with charities is that they were focused on purpose - every charity has a purpose, it has to be for public benefit, various categories of charitable purpose, that's great and what I found is that many charities were equally as focused on preventing private benefit from their work.So they had an overall purpose they were trying to achieve, that's great, and people were very motivated towards achieving that - whether it's solving a disease or addressing poverty or homelessness - whatever it is, but what charities had actually spend a lot of their time focusing on was making sure that no one had made any profit from it so most of the entrepreneurial innovative projects involve some capital coming in, or something new being done, and possibly incentivizing someone to run that business in an innovative way and every time there was a discussion about the salary of that person or company, every time there's a question about the percentage being paid on the loan that was needed to finance that, the focus was not about what could be achieved to support the purpose, it was about are they making too much profit from this?
And it feels like that's really held back the charity sector from leading in the impact space - because it feels unable to underwrite anything that generates private profit and I think that's one of the reasons I think there's been a shift away from purpose, where the motive becomes all important to actually saying well how do we justify this, so we can justify it by measuring the impact and then, then we can maybe say well actually that salary is very small, in the context of the impact it's having but it’s why my role involves social ventures as well as charities, because, increasingly the organizations and people tackling the world's biggest problems are not charities, despite the fact that they’re set up to solve those problems they are social ventures backed by a mix of private and institutional capital.
Eleanor Kaye | NVP:
I think you're right Chris, the scrutiny charities come under due to some of the work we do we have very kind backers who provide scholarships for our students who, without those scholarships would not be able to take part, but if we were a charity, the scholarship process is extensive, invasive, it's just not what we're about at Newton and it's very difficult as a company that's trying to do the right thing and try and have serious impact and then get scrutinized about how we spend the money, whereas we work as a not for profit but we're not a charity and so there's this terrible line of like companies who want to help, but they want to donate in a charitable way, and they want to have full oversight over exactly where that money goes and that's just not real life that's just not the reality of working in a not for profit. I do feel for charities who genuinely wants to do good and are so scrutinized about every single penny it's just not helping anyone, like you said.
NESTA is a charity - we're actually a charitable foundation, but we are able to make investments for profit. So as I was saying earlier, we invest in the kind of social ventures Chris, I think you're talking about so fully commercial companies but that have a social intent as part of their proposition and the way we can do that as a charitable foundation is by saying, if we make a profit on those investments, it goes back into the charity for public benefit so that money is recycled so we have to justify the investments that we're making on the basis of the social impact that they're going to have.
To justify against the public benefit test, but there is a way of making investments for profit, as long as that money is recycled back in support of the charitable object, and I think another point I wanted to make on this was, as a social venture you cut up your options, if you set up as a charity, you can't raise equity funding, as Eleanor saying, there are so many constraints, but you can achieve profit and purpose in other types of entities and the lawyers amongst us will be much more qualified to advise on what those look like, but you keep your options open if you go down the private company route, but you can bake into your constitution, a social purpose.
I always think about mainstream corporates, probably simplistically, at one end of the spectrum and social ventures at the other, and in the sort of centre of the bell curve we've got your average organization that has an opportunity to do something without changing its status or structure and a couple of things that we mentioned earlier, I think Steve mentioned it around B Corp status and also things like The Better Business Act and so these are ways in which we're seeing organizations think about, not just how they can present themselves to the markets that they operate in but actually how they can use those initiatives as frameworks to start to change the way they do things internally.
A question for anyone but probably a question for Chris or Steve, as they mentioned these initiatives, what do we feel about The Better Business Act and what do we feel about B Corp? Is it enough, is it the right approach?
It's definitely a step in the right direction and I guess it's a starting point and I don't know whether there's anyone else on today's call who is a signatory to any of those or is certified, I mentioned earlier we're a B Corp and I would say it's probably one of the proudest things about working for our business is that we are a B Corp and it's a marketing tool and we attract people who want to work for an organization that is a B Corp. I certainly believe that it frames for us all the decisions that we make from a strategic perspective.
But I think the fact that you have to recertify on a regular basis, every three years now, and it's brutal you know you're changing your articles if you've never done it before, but even when you're going through the process and, second, third time as we're going through at the moment - it's a lot of time and effort to do it.
But it, it means that you're doing it for the for the right reasons, and I think it's back to the point that Sean was making earlier - this isn't necessary about impact investing but any business that is signed up to being a B Corp - Patagonia is obviously one of the most famous ones out there, I think you it becomes incredibly aspirational to run an organization like that where you can be profitable, but it's with purpose. And you're acting in the best interest of all stakeholders, and I think right now that's probably the most thorough of all of the processes to go through, and it becomes that kind of kitemark - it will evolve, but the bar keeps going up, we’re having to hit higher targets now than we were when we first certified in 2015 and again in 2017.
For you Steve is it actually making you do things differently? Or is it making you report harder and collect data harder?
No, definitely do things differently we've had to make some difficult decisions and, for instance, as an example, we worked in a service office, so we can't control our office environment and, to that end that sort of leads us down the path of making potentially some internal decisions in the not too distant future, as to where we relocate to so we can have control over our own environment and we've looked at shifting pension plans and the like as well, even looking at changing banks, so no actually it's very much about action, action-orientated, to use a phrase, rather than it just being about reporting on it.
That's really, really encouraging we're even starting to see law firms become B Crops so it must be getting some traction. Chris any final thoughts on the role of those sorts of initiatives? The role of government programs, things like The Better Business Act?
Chris Willis Pickup:
So two points. One of them: I completely agree with Steve – clients who’ve gone through the B Corp certification process say that it's gruelling and one of the only downsides of the program really is the burden for a small company – they can be a bit excluded from it when they're trying to do everything else at once, you need a certain scale really to engage with it, and I know it has different levels, but you need a certain scale to have the time and attention to pay to it and terms of what's coming down the line I think it's interesting, the Better Business Act campaign actually uses a version of the B Corp wording that you put in the articles, with an extra bit about zero harm, but I think it will looking ahead of how, how is the B corp starting to develop, I think we're going to see B Corps coming under pressure to put not just that we’re for this blend of purposes: people, planet and profit and we're going to do impact reporting, I think the next thing will be ‘and we're also committed to zero harm’, so I think that's the next step for B Corps and that's already wrapped up in the Better Business Act.
I think, to make a quick comment on the Better Business Act, what it’ll basically do is force all companies to focus on people. At least in the legal changes that make people involved in all companies for a blend of people, planet and profit and I think in the campaigning tool that's very effective, that we should be saying yes, the corporate sector should be balancing those. I have a slight concern: if you just automatically press a button and all the oil companies have those things it's not really going to bring about positive change. So what comes next? Well maybe shareholder activism, maybe shareholder legal claims against companies that are breaching those duties but actually it's not necessarily changing hearts and minds it's just changing the legal framework and I worry slightly about, looking at the data protection changes - that can be some very positive things, but it's also a huge gravy train for the consultants and other people, including some lawyers to advise on this kind of stuff and it takes the focus away from what's actually the impact of your organization so I’d quite like to be in a world where The Better Business Act wasn’t actually anything other than a campaigning exercise, but um but nonetheless if it came in, it would set a standard.
So certainly I feel with a number of these initiatives, whether it's ESG reporting, carbon reporting, the reporting that’s required for accreditation - the focus is very much on what you're doing rather than what you're trying to achieve and it's about inputs, rather than outputs and I think the theme that's run through today's conversation is actually the more we think about, and are able to articulate, and then measure what we're actually trying to achieve rather than the things that we're doing we'll get a closer connection with that impact on whatever the relevant stakeholder groups are and then we're dealing with, I'm going to open the floor up in a second for any further comments or questions or stories or anecdotes from all of you on the screen and conscious, many of you have contributed already, but it’d be great to hear more and talking about responsibility - Eleanor has got parental responsibility so I know she has to jump off the line, so I just wanted to, before you do Eleanor, thank you very much for your contribution, it’s been really interesting to hear about the program and I'm sure will all be looking up and seeing how we can help.
Eleanor Kaye | NVP:
Thank you so much, I'm going to put my email in the chat so if anyone would like to discuss further then I'd love to be in touch, so thank you so much for having me everyone and enjoy the rest of the talk.
So, the floor is now open if anyone has any sort of reflections on what we've heard today or any practical insights or problems they've not been able solve that they wanted to share and get info on?
Yeah I have one for Chris actually, a really, really interesting one for Chris Willis-Pickup. Sorry to ambush you Chris, but I’ve found in the journey, we've heard Steve saying he's looking at banks and different pension funds and so on, have you found in your experience that actually one of the last adopters to looking at impact investing and indeed ESG investing seems to be charities? I mean maybe it's just particularly the ones that I know but they seem almost scared of ESG and impact investing, Chris have you got any insight on that one for us?
Chris Willis Pickup:
This is definitely a live issue the charities are consulting on responsible investment guidance and it goes back to a point that Lisa was making very clearly earlier which is that charities can invest in profit making businesses and they can broadly do so in a way that is consistent with ESG principles, but charity trustees have an overriding duty to sort of maximize the money they make for their charities and when they're doing it with an investment hat on then it's largely a financial assessment, or at least the traditional analysis is. It's a financial exercise and you invest in what makes the most money to the charity, because the impact doesn't come from what you're investing in, the impact comes from the use of that money within your charity to spend on charitable purposes, and their very traditional legal analysis at least is: you make as much money as you can from your investments without any regard for you for your purpose or particularly wider ESG principles.
If you're a medical research charity you don't exist for climate change, you exist in a different category you exist for medical research, so you shouldn't be accepting a lower investment return in order to benefit the climate, you might be able to do it if it's supporting medical research, maybe you wouldn't invest in a tobacco company because it's not consistent but it's quite hard, or trustees have found it quite hard to justify the climate-favourable investment when they're not a charity that has anything to do normally with climate.
And there’s a big campaign at the moment that says the climate is relevant for all of us and for all charities and that's an ongoing debate in the sector, but I think they felt a little bit hamstrung by this quite rigid demarcation between financial investment, and that's treated in one way by the tax authorities, and if you don't stick within the box you get hit with a ton of tax charges as a charity, and then mission-related investments, which is where they’re a crisis or homelessness charity, and then they have a crisis venture studio and they're investing to achieve their mission, they're not solely doing that on financial they can invest because it's a very intuitive mission but there's a whole middle area, known as mix native investments which are not widely accepted by HMRC and feel a bit more uncomfortable for charities, so I think one of the reasons they're slow adopters is, to be frank, there's lots of volunteer boards and they’re generally risk averse, but the other reason is because the legal framework really encourage that but we might see that improve with this new response on future responsible investment guidance might help a little bit.
Thank you very much.
Thanks Chris that was really interesting and I was completely unaware of that debate, so that's a really interesting insight and the general discussion about the role of charities is an important one and I’m conscious that when I opened the discussion we were talking about business and individual and government and I didn't mention charities at all, which probably tells its own story.
Jill I come to you.
Thank you. Hello everybody I'm Jill Ridley-Smith, I sit on several Boards as a Non-Exec Director and one of them is the Digital Catapult organization which some of you might be familiar with and it's one of the Catapult Network, which are part-government funded, innovation organizations designed to further economic growth in the UK and my point, I just want to make two points. Firstly, I'd really like to see something more from government about how to measure impact – we’re funded through Innovate UK and I don't see a great deal of leadership coming from them about this topic.
One of the things we've had to do as a Catapult is try and analyse our impact and look really, really carefully at impact measurement so our goal is to, through advanced digital technologies, further UK economic growth. So how do we evidence that we're doing that, how do we evidence that spending the money on innovation inparticular is producing the right outcomes? We're just going through a project at the moment that I've been involved with which I cannot tell you has blown my head in terms of the economists and the academics who are involved, trying to measure this stuff.
And I keep saying to our in-house economist, we have to make this so that the everyday person can end up understanding what you're doing. And I will carry on banging that drum as we go forward, because I mean I literally, and I'm an economist in my original degree, although you can tell that was probably quite a few years ago, I did not understand 50% of the proposals that were put forward by these people who measure impact.
And just to sort of wrap it up, we're driving this and we will report back to Innovate UK as to what we're doing, but why is it not coming from them? What is the Government doing to put some standards and frameworks in place? So that's my input into the discussion.
Really important questions, and I think wherever the frameworks come from, my takeaway is we need more frameworks, we need things that people can engage with and try - wherever that comes from that's an important priority.
I can't see any more hands up so just to wrap up, I’m going to give our three remaining key contributors an opportunity, perhaps, to leave you with a thought or two, at a practical level, what might you want to go away and think about in terms of your own organization and how you can start to get impact on the agenda.
Perhaps I’ll come to Chris first.
Chris Willis Pickup:
I think my overall thought is that there is a sort of period of convergence, I hope, of discussion and convergence going on as Jill has just said about what standards there are. There’s a lot of work going on, looking at how to measure things, what should be measured, what it kind of should look like and I don't think anyone really has the answers to that yet, although there's been a lot of very good work, and I think for the individual organizations, the best place to start is to look at their own: look at what they know best, the way to do it and how can they improve what they do, how can they can improve environmental impact or find a way to offer their services in a way that is more diverse or supports people who are less privileged and that is what people know best, and probably with some time and attention they can find ways to have much greater impact by spending time thinking about their own organization, rather than necessarily spending a lot of time externally, trying to sort of map over the different standards: I do think they're helpful but I think we'll probably find in 10 years there’s a much more useful framework that everyone can start to use and, at the moment, it's still feels like it's slightly for the consultants and experts to kind of work through it, I haven't quite yet seen the version that every business can use.
Focus on what you know best - sound advice, thanks Chris. Lisa?
I wanted to pick up on what Kevin was talking about earlier in his organization and it just kind of prompted me to think that whether it’s ESG or impact, if businesses want to become more responsible it's not about a tick box exercise it's about culture and leadership and if your culture and your leadership don't reflect the values of what you want to achieve, then it's a bit of a non-starter, so thinking about - is the leadership authentic in its intent in terms of these kind of more diverse objectives and, if so, how can those values be embedded into the culture and embedded across the organization?
Yeah absolutely, it all comes back to culture and I’ll finish up this session by telling you a bit about a podcast we're about to release which touched on that topic, thanks Lisa.
So, final word Steve.
I echo the sentiments of both Lisa and Chris, I guess I'll leave you with a word of encouragement, perhaps more than anything else. This is, to the wider business world and charity world, as you say, it’s all very new and It’s not east. We are talking about a paradigm shift here.
And we're not all going to have the answers overnight in any shape or form and the sorts of challenges that Kevin's described are very, very commonplace and there will be all sorts of challenges along the way, we're not going to solve it in a heartbeat and I think what we'll find is there will be many bumps in the road, but I think what we know is that it's absolutely got a degree of momentum behind it now, which means I certainly believe it's here to stay and, to the extent, that there's no bad time to start: one doesn't need to get to the top overnight, it's cultural and I think it's an extremely exciting time and that, for me, I think, is an important thing to hold on to. There's a lot here to be excited about - it's not going to be easy, it will be difficult, but you know it is an amazing time to be in in any industry, I think, because it's all changing at pace.
Really encouraging yeah, I like that Steve, thank you.
Ashley, you actually just put your hand up so I'll give you the last word.
Ashley Duque Kienzle:
Yes, thank you, so I just wanted to say then - how do we take momentum? So, we're all obviously very passionate about this - Lisa talks about encouraging government to do more, she was talking about how we all have our place to play, but how do we make that a voice that actually wants to be reckoned with, if you will? Because imagine the consumers, like the normal people, like me who actually make to make a change but don’t know how to. How can we take this and materialize it into something that's actually going to make a change?
It's a really good question and I think we certainly see The Zebra Project as part of that - it's about giving a voice to people so that sort of collective experience can be shared and that collective encouragement can be shared, but ultimately, for me anyway I think, yes it's important to give a voice to it, but it's also important, and perhaps this goes to Steve's closing comments to not be discouraged by the scale of the challenge. At the end of the day, we can all walk into our businesses tomorrow and start to do some little things that add up in a year's time or two years’ time, or will serve as an inspiration to our colleagues around us and start to change the organizational dialogue and the organizational experience, so I think for me it's important to have the right narrative there, but it's also important just to take personal responsibility and back to what Chris said – start with what you know best, which is what you can do and what you can influence, but you’re right Ashley it’s a really important question.
I'm very conscious of time and so I’m going to going to wrap things up, I thought I’d just mention the podcast we're about to release which may be of interest to you, which is one we recorded a few weeks ago with an Associate at Harvard – a lady called Donna hicks who has had a career – I can see Ashley smiling - had a career in conflict resolution, international conflict resolution and has worked all over the world, including working with Desmond Tutu in relation to the Northern Ireland peace process and reconciliation and she has written a couple of books - her latest book is called Leading with Dignity and it's about this concept of dignity and how we can actually use our appreciation of dignity to inform how we build positive cultures in our organization. She takes her learning from conflict resolution in Central America and Northern Ireland and the Israel, Palestine conflicts and takes that into the business world, so it was a really interesting podcast and I think we've touched on some of the themes in a tan gentle way today so I’d encourage you, when we release it in the next few days, to engage with that podcast.
But look, thanks everybody for your contributions, thanks, particularly to Lisa and Chris and Steve for stepping up to the plate and sharing their own experiences and look forward to next Zebra Campfire Event.