While investing has historically focused on profits alone, there is a growing shift towards impact investment - a type of socially responsible investment that aims to generate social and environmental impacts in addition to monetary profits. In contrast to charitable giving, impact investing seeks to fund organizations such as non-profits or clean technology with the intent to reclaim profits and reinvest.
Although impact investing is growing and expected to increase, little is known about why and how philanthropic organizations choose to engage in impact investing. In order to answer critical questions regarding the impact investing sector, Leeds PhD candidate Jessica Jones is interested in understanding what organizational factors overcome the barriers of risk, financial acumen, and uncertainty to lead firms to engage in this newer form of allocating capital.
In addition to being interesting and important research, this project also provides a research opportunity for undergraduate students. Currently working with two student assistants, the project is developing undergraduate students’ research skills as they work with the data and assist Jessica Jones in her data collection. Keep reading to find out how you can get involved!
A Conversation with Jessica Jones
CESR: How did you get interested in this topic?
Jessica Jones: Working for both the public and private sector, I witnessed the challenge for many enterprises to acquire the appropriate funding for the particular organizational need. For example, a social enterprise may be willing to take a donation of a particular profit even if it meant drifting towards a new product offering because the donor encouraged it. Or, follow on investments only took place for those with high-status connections, leaving behind many entrepreneurs and nonprofits with little access to a funding network. Ultimately, I became interested in how the investor-entrepreneur relationship begins, and how the partnership influences the trajectory of these social organizations.
CESR: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
JJ: Too often investors and investment seekers misalign, which is a potentially life-altering consequence given the types of social and environmental problems investment seekers are solving. I aim to help both investors and entrepreneurs curious about seeking or allocating investment dollars how to a) make themselves available (increase the pipeline) and b) allocate the appropriate capital for the appropriate solution.
CESR: Who does this research benefit?
JJ: My hope is that it will inform both investment seekers and investors- working alongside development organizations, foundations, and communities working together to help allocate money in the most effective way possible. I also intend this research to inform our classrooms as students become more interested in socially-focused organizations, whether it’s working for one, starting one, or investing in one.
CESR: Why is understanding Impact Investing so important?
JJ: The sector is estimated to have a $250 billion market, and over 76% of millennials see investment decisions as a way to express their social, political and environmental values,” (Emma Kennedy, CNN.com). Impact investing is relevant for not only for existing investors and organizations seeking capital, but the youngest generation of individuals growing up to believe what they do matters. Impact investing is likely to become relevant to most individuals in our society in one way or another. Getting a grasp on how we allocate these funds through research may help empower those who see alignment of their money and values.
CESR: Can you tell us about any interesting findings?
JJ: My work is currently focused on private foundations and their rate of adopting impact investing practices. While foundations are set up with the mission of giving to a charitable purpose, only <1% of all foundations actually invest in the same purposes (Lily Foundation, 2004). Impact investment vehicles, such as program-related investments, enable foundations to advance any charitable purpose to any kind of entity. These returns are then recycled out to new charitable purposes, multiplying the impact a foundation can have. My research looks at which foundations are willing to do this kind of investment by examining different characteristics of the foundations’ identity, structure, and personnel. Our hope is to unlock the elements that both enable and constrain foundations from doing this important work.
CESR: Where do you see the future of impact investing?
JJ: I see a world in which every investor has a unique toolkit of investment vehicles that align with each form of capital necessary to support social and environmental change. Right now it’s as if everyone only uses a hammer and expects the output to look the same- but there are many powerful and versatile tools that may be more appropriate in certain contexts. My hope is that the wide spectrum of capital covers the wide spectrum of needs for solving social and environmental issues.
CESR: How can we get involved with your research?
JJ: This is a long-term effort! We are always looking for more students with an interest to get involved in the research- data collection, interviews, analysis, etc.
Want to get involved? Jessica is looking for new research assistants to continue helping her with this project! Contact Jess.Jones@colorado.edu for more information!
Interested in getting involved with research as an undergraduate? See more opportunities here!
Stay up to date with the latest research! Sign up to receive CESR’s newsletter for the latest research, job opportunities, sustainable business news, and more!