White House and Aspen Institute Co-Convene Meeting on Impact Economy

June 21, 2011

I am excited to share that tomorrow, June 22, the White House and the Aspen Institute are co-convening a first-of-its-kind meeting on the Impact Economy.  This session is bringing together investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and executives along with policy makers to explore the issues that are reshaping our economic landscape with better jobs, higher profits and greater impacts.  I am proud that the Impact Economy Initiative, a project of the Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI) program, is working directly with the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation at the White House to enable this event.

We have defined the Impact Economy at Aspen to describe the twin forces of supply and demand, impact investing and social entrepreneurship that are driving systemic change in the US and around the world.  This process has been dramatic.  Already we know that more than $50 billion of assets under management are associated with impact investments.  The recent launch of the ImpactAssets 50, a new index of such funds, only underscores their growing prominence.  The announcement of the latest class of Echoing Green Fellows reaffirms the realities of social entrepreneurs as the frontline of change around the world. 

It is great to see the government beginning to play a role.

There is a trend across the country of interest in creating an economic environment that also focuses on impact.  Over the past few weeks there have been some notable events. The National Conference on Service and Volunteering in New Orleans reaffirms the important role of service as a driver of the new capital markets of social change.  The New York Legislature just approved landmark legislation to create a new corporate form.  And Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s request for information on Social Impact Bonds has elicited a public response by Social Finance US, a dynamic new intermediary in the field of impact capital.

Tomorrow’s conference is another step in building this economy, focusing on the role of business and how the policy environment that strengthens this nascent field can cohere these emerging commercial trends into a stronger marketplace. 

We already have seen that President Obama and his Administration are committed to the agenda of entrepreneurship, jobs and innovation.  This has been evident through their support for new programs like Start-Up America, the new Impact Fund derived from the SBIC program at the SBA, and the recent creation of Select USA, an initiative heralded even by critics, to support private-sector job creation by encouraging foreign direct investment in the United States.  But despite these important moves, this conference seems to represent an important step forward on numerous levels.

First, the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and the National Economic Council (NEC) are leading the charge.  Their engagement suggests that the highest levels are paying attention to the impact investing and social entrepreneurship.  When DPC and NEC get involved, the issue has arrived.

Second, the White House is framing the issue as an effort to build an Impact Economy.  This is important because it seems to reflect that the Administration acknowledges the need for holistic thinking in this realm.  It’s not only about catalyzing capital flows or creating new firms, but rather, about developing an integrated approach that considers all facets of the issue.  Such coherence bodes well for a long-term approach to the issues. 

Third, the decision to collaborate with the Impact Economy Initiative here at the Aspen Institute demonstrates a healthy measure of openness to outside ideas.  It is encouraging to see the Administration reaching out to other organizations for ideas and support.  It’s a healthy admission that the best ideas are not resident in government but can come from experts and practitioners working outside the political process.

This meeting is the first of its kind, but Aspen has a deep competence in these issues.  Programs such as ANDE, ASCEND and the Economic Opportunities Program have been thinking about these issues for some time.  Building on the meeting and the momentum of these various initiatives, PSI will release a report later this summer to detail the findings of the White House convening on the Impact Economy.  I expect that it will be circulated broadly to share our thoughts about how to move forward with the right mix of policies and programs to facilitate the field and create jobs that drive economic return and social impact.  In this manner, the meeting will be an important step forward but actually only the first stride in a very long journey.