This piece was originally posted on Next Billion.
Last week, 1,600 venture capitalists, philanthropists and entrepreneurs gathered at the 2012 Social Capital Markets conference to discuss the question at the heart of impact investing: How can investments do well while also doing good? Consistent with the in-depth nature of SOCAP, panels examined every aspect of capital flows, including how to structure a business, how to move an idea from a prototype to scale, and where to invest for maximum impact. The resulting conversations gave rise to multiple technical suggestions—and one paradigm shift. In order to do well and do good, multiple conference participants argued, investors must incorporate a gender lens into their portfolio.
One session at the end of the week explored an investment that capitalizes on the social, environmental, and financial returns made possible by the gender lens approach. This investment would yield huge returns for women, children and families, and even for the planet itself. And while some might see it as an “odd duck,” as moderator Peggy Clark, vice president of Policy Programs at The Aspen Institute and executive director of Aspen Global Health and Development, described it, panelists confirmed that it is imperative, a triple-bottom-line investment. “It’s really impossible to make a serious dent in the development challenges we face today without addressing this issue,” explained Karl Hofmann, CEO of Population Services International (PSI).
Then why, Clark pushed, has such a powerful investment been historically limited to support from philanthropy and grants? Was it an undeveloped idea stuck in R&D? Was the potential market not large enough to incentivize investors?
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