Optimism for the Impact Economy

July 18, 2011


It’s certainly not a term that leaps to mind when looking at the US economy these days. Job growth is stagnating quickly. Economic growth outlooks are grim, at best. Oh, and the government may default on some of our obligations in a few weeks.

But focusing on these headlines misses an important story – the steady and progressively positive developments of the Impact Economy, a phenomenon propelled by the trends of social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

Almost a month ago, we co-convened a first-of-its-kind meeting in partnership with the White House to bring together leaders from the Impact Economy and the policy world. As the participants themselves described it, theere was a palpable energy at the end, a sense that we are moving the ball downfield. The investors, entrepreneurs, academics, activists and government officials coalesced around one overarching question: what can we do to grow this nascent market?

Let me quell some of your excitement… there is no easy solution to this question. Indeed, the extraordinary complexity of the core issues, from social metrics to building financial systems, was a recurring theme of the day. Nevertheless, I believe this meeting could be the tipping point of a larger push towards greater collaboration among the various stakeholders in the Impact Economy.

Here at Aspen, we are working hard to pull together a thorough recounting of this event in the form a detailed policy report.  This should be ready for public consumption by the end of the summer.  We hope it will serve as a launching pad on these issues moving forward.

In the meantime, I want to highlight some excellent pieces that provided a rich and varied set of perspectives of  the White House gathering:

An interview with noted academic Cathy Clark.  As founder of the Research Initiative on Social Entrepreneurship (RISE) at Columbia Business School, current Director of CASE at Duke‘s Initiative on Impact Investing, chair of the Investors’ Circle board of directors and a founding member of the GIIRS Standards Advisory Council, Cathy is one of the most active people in the field working at the juncture of policy and practice.  She offers a thorough recap of the highlights of the convening and some pointers on the road ahead.

Louisiana has been hit hard in the past several years by natural disasters and burdened by a slow economic recovery.  Life City , a membership-based organization that supports the development of green businesses in Louisiana, is among the groups leading the charge to rebuild the region in a sustainable and stable manner.  Its founder, Elizabeth Shephard, attended the meeting and provided an interesting recap of the event and its impact.

Melody Barnes currently serves as Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council  at the White House.  She is charged with managing the domestic agenda, encompassing a broad range of issues, including social innovation and civic participation.  She gave keynote remarks at the event, then shared thoughts on the White House blog after the event in a piece entitled, “Building an Impact Economy”.

The Calvert Foundation has been among the pioneers of this movement.  Its CEO Lisa Hall is a former Treasury official who is considered among the leading experts in the US on community finance.  She writes on how this event could shed much needed light on an emerging sector of our economy