Impact Investing Can Advance Economic Mobility in America

December 11, 2014

Contact: Lori Severens
Ascend at the Aspen Institute
Tel: 202.736.2920,
Tricia Primrose, 917-679-9585,
Peter Barden, 917-763-7352,

Survey and Report Demonstrate Successes and Opportunities to Help Low-Income Families Climb the Socioeconomic Ladder

Washington, DC, December 11, 2014 – The Aspen Institute today released its report The Bottom Line: Investing for Impact on Economic Mobility in the US showing how investors are making significant impact investments in education, economic security, and health and well-being that are advancing economic mobility for low-income families. These investments are yielding social and financial results and creating models for other investors to follow.

“As a country, we have long believed in the “American Dream” – through hard work and opportunity, we can reach our goals. But with millions struggling, those dreams are being eroded. Social and economic mobility has stagnated, and inequality is rising. Not only are families at risk but so is our nation’s economic security,” said Anne Mosle, vice president of the Aspen Institute.

The Survey

The Aspen Institute, in partnership with the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, conducted its survey of active and emerging investors to assess activity and interest related to investments in education, economic security, and health and well-being. Target respondents included private and community foundations, boutique investment funds, private financial institutions, and private wealth managers and institutional consultants. From the survey:

  • Thirty-nine individuals responded, representing 32 institutional investors from across investor types.
  • Nearly 69 percent of respondents invest in the study’s target impact areas of education, economic assets, and health and well-being.
  • For these respondents, impact investing is not a new practice. Sixty-four percent indicated they have been active impact investors for more than 10 years.
  • Among all respondents, the average investment transaction size varied from less than $100,000 to more than $10 million. Of target impact area investors, the majority of respondents indicated an average transaction size between $100,000 and $3 million.

Point of View Essays and Deals at a Glance

Philanthropic, business, and nonprofit leaders active in the sector contributed a series of thought-provoking essays offering their insights and lessons. These include Clara Miller, F.B. Heron Foundation; Kate Wolford, McKnight Foundation; Audrey Choi, Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing; and Kyle Zimmer and Jane Robinson, First Book.

The report also contains snapshots of deals, including work by the Calvert Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and Living Cities.

The Report

The Bottom Line: Investing for Impact on Economic Mobility in the US takes an in-depth look at how impact investments in education, economic security, and health and well-being can advance economic mobility in low-income families. The report details critical aspects of investing in each.


  • Investing beyond school infrastructure to educational outcomes;
  • Focusing on quality and efficiency; and,
  • Leveraging intermediaries to deploy large amounts of capital effectively.

Economic assets:

  • Using diverse forms of capital to initiate and sustain economic opportunity;
  • Collaborating to invest in local ecosystems; and,
  • Leveraging data to scale what works and eliminate barriers.

Health and well-being:

  • Reducing disparities in access and quality of care;
  • Managing the costs of care; and,
  • Investing in health systems.

Success Stories

The research also yielded numerous case studies demonstrating measurable success from the impact investments.

Acelero Learning: Closing the Achievement Gap in Early Education

Acelero is a for-profit social enterprise committed to closing the achievement gap for children and families served by Head Start Programs. Founded by Aaron Lieberman and Henry Wilde, Acelero Learning is a prime example of how both financial and human resources from across sectors can be leveraged to design and employ a market-based approach to improving outcomes for low-income children and families in the US.

Acelero Learning serves 5,000 low-income children directly, preparing them to enter kindergarten, with another 20,000 benefitting from the school’s tools, training, and resources. The program not only tracks 30 indicators of student progress, but requires parents to sign a contract to read to their children at least 20 minutes each night, while offering them effectiveness coaching and other help.

What they have achieved with their relentless focus on results for families is year-to-year gains with their children on standardized tests that are 50% higher than Head Start programs overall.

Center for Employment Opportunities, US Social Finance and Bank of America: Tackling Recidivism

This pay-for-success contract, issued by the state of New York, is the first such contract to be offered directly to individual qualified investors and is aimed at measurably reducing criminal recidivism. Within it, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) offers job training to 2,000 clients in New York City and Rochester. Bank of America Merrill Lynch offered the investment to its private banking clients.

CEO estimates intensive job support for people coming out of incarceration saves $60,000 per individual per year. New York State, for example, pays about half of that, or $85 for each bed-day saved.

Investors will start to receive repayments if the project reduces the number of nights the clients in CEO’s target group spend back in prison by at least 8 percent, compared to a similar group that does not receive CEO’s services.

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will evaluate a randomized control trial that compares the employment and recidivism outcomes of the 2,000 participants served by CEO with a control group referred by parole officers to traditional service providers.

Over the past year, the Aspen Institute has documented lessons learned from the impact/mission-driven investment field and the developing strategies and tools to apply market-based solutions toward efforts that can create economic security and promote educational success, as well as improve the health and well-being of low-income families across the US.

The research and report are a project of Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation.

Ascend at the Aspen Institute is the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move vulnerable children and their parents toward educational success and economic security. We take a two-generation approach to our work – focusing on children and their parents together. We bring a gender and a racial equity lens to our analysis. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI) seeks to inform and maximize the impact of philanthropists, social investors, and the organizations they support. The program’s theory of change rests on the premise that if leaders have clarity about their values, are collaborative in their approach to problem-solving, and are aware of the strategies and potential partnerships available to them, they are more likely to succeed in advancing the social good. PSI’s Impact Economy Initiative, which was launched in 2010, seeks to build and assess models for investments and enterprises that generate both financial profit and positive social or environmental returns. Learn more at

The Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business aims to prepare current and future leaders to make responsible management decisions that yield both economic and social value. Through practical training for global business leaders, the initiative promotes transformative solutions to and impactful investments in the world’s significant challenges in health and well-being, economic growth, the environment, and international development. It is led by Distinguished Professor of the Practice Bill Novelli and Executive Director Ladan Manteghi. Learn more at


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