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Deconstructing Impact Investing

By Paul BrestLibrary

Originally published in Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2013

There has been an increasing realization that, along with philanthropy and government aid, private enterprise can contribute to solving social and environmental problems. At the same time, a growing number of investors are expressing a desire to “do good while doing well.” These are impact investors, who seek opportunities for financial investments that produce social or environmental benefits. However, the rapid growth of the field of impact investing has been accompanied by questions about how to assess impact, and concerns about potentially unrealistic expectations of simultaneously achieving social impact and market-rate returns.

This article is addressed to impact investors who wish to know whether their investments will actually contribute to achieving their social or environmental (hereafter, simply “social”) objectives. We introduce three basic parameters of impact: enterprise impact, investment impact, and nonmonetary impact. Enterprise impact is the social value of the goods, services, or other benefits provided by the investee enterprise. Investment impact is a particular investor’s financial contribution to the social value created by an enterprise. Nonmonetary impact reflects the various contributions, besides dollars, that investors, fund managers, and others may make to the enterprise’s social value.

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Deconstructing Impact Investing