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Making a profit from making a difference – FT.com

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August 5, 2012 5:40 am

Making a profit from making a difference

By Sophia Grene

Sustainable logging carried out in Cameroon in the Congo Basin natural woodland©GettySustainable logging carried out in Cameroon in the Congo Basin natural woodland: preserving forests is just one project impact investing can help

To many, investment is purely about generating a return on their money, but a growing band of wealthy individuals and institutions are seeking to achieve a little more.

“There’s a growing hunger from the wealthy to go beyond how to spend it, understanding if they don’t engage with these [social and environmental] issues, social problems will arrive on their doorstep,” says Paul Szkiler, chief executive of Truestone Impact Investment.

Impact investing, most commonly defined as investments made with the intention of helping to solve a social or environmental problem as well as generating a financial return, has seen growing interest from investors, particularly since the financial crisis.

It covers a wide range of areas, from microfinance to private equity in developing markets and even “social bonds”, an innovative way for governments to fund services provided by non-state bodies on a payment-for-results basis.

The term impact investing was coined by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007 and a year later the Global Impact Investors Network was launched. Since then, investment managers and intermediaries report a steady increase in interest in the sector, but it is hard to pin down a reliable figure, given the sector’s fragmented nature and the difficulty of defining it.

For one of the most developed and codified sectors of the impact investing world – microfinance – estimates as of 2010 vary from $7bn invested (from Swiss microfinance manager and adviser Symbiotics) to $24bn committed (from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor), demonstrating the difficulty of getting a sense of the size of the sector.

The GIIN definition is frequently adopted: “Impact investments are investments made into companies, organisations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return”, but even that leaves a number of queries, such as whether that financial return is expected to match market returns or if it comes second in any conflict between it and the social impact.

In general, practitioners and investors are keen to make a distinction between “social impact first” investments, where the investor is prepared to sacrifice some financial return in exchange for the belief their money is doing good, and “social and financial” investments, where the investment product aims to produce returns comparable with the market.

“The second type appeals more to high net worth individuals,” says François Passant, executive director at Eurosif, the European social investment forum. “It’s got that entrepreneurial spin that resonates with them.” For people who got rich by building their own business, it feels more appropriate to help others by encouraging them to work for themselves than to give money, he explains.

Mr Szkiler remembers a presentation to JPMorgan about his business: “The global research guys were saying ‘hmm, that’s ambitious’, but the wealth management people said ‘that’s exactly what we’re looking for for our clients’.”

Truestone is about to start fundraising for its Global Impact Fund, which aims to return an annualised 8 to 10 per cent net over the medium-to-long term. With a six month lock-up period, the fund does require investors to be prepared to take a longer-term view, but Mr Szkiler is confident of reaching his target of £40m.

Institutional investors are not immune to the appeal of doing well by doing good, he adds. “We see institutional investors in that area, but so far really only the giants,” he says. Their motives may not be precisely the same as those of individuals: “There’s an element of looking for stable financial returns, even if modest, that are decorrelated with the rest of financial markets.

“There’s also a reputational benefit for the large institutional investor, and there is the concept of universal ownership,” he adds.

The theory of universal ownership states that beneficial owners in a fund not only have an interest in direct financial returns but also in making sure their investments work towards improving the world in which the investors live.

The categorisation of an investment vehicle as impact investment does not always come from the promoter. Nikko Asset Management has two World Bank Green Bond funds, invested in the triple-A issuer’s bonds – proceeds from which are used to fund climate change mitigation projects.

“We didn’t set it up as an impact bond, but it falls in that direction naturally,” says Stuart Kinnersley, Nikko’s European chief investment officer. “Investors are getting this positive externality in addition to the market returns you would expect.”

Nikko’s institutional vehicle has seen approaches from investors specifically interested because they have identified it as an impact opportunity. “Many people are questioning the current model of capitalism,” points out Mr Kinnersley. A version that makes explicit use of the structures of capitalism to improve the world seems attractive to many of those questioners.

Unsurprisingly, development financial institutions such as the German KfW bank or Triodos Bank are interested in impact investing, as are many charities that rely on income from an endowment and prefer to make investments related to their mission rather than arbitrary unrelated investments.

In the UK, there are plans afoot to raise the profile of impact investing and make it more accessible to retail investors. This is the aim of the Social Stock Exchange, likely to launch some time next year.

It is the brainchild of Pradeep Jethi, a former product developer at the London Stock Exchange, and is backed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the UK’s Big Society Capital.

“I want to use my capitalist skills to make the world a better place,” says Mr Jethi. “If we don’t do something, capitalism will eat itself.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.

LEAP Zones: A Legal, Economic, Administrative and Political Framework for Free Cities

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Mark Klugmann

April 20, 2012 | Universidad Francisco Marroquín | 10 min
Click here to watch the video. An excellent session on the importance of legal, administrative and political structures to stimulate economic development.
http://newmedia.ufm.edu/klugmannleapzones
Mark Klugmann is the creator of the LEAP Zones model (a legal, economic, administrative and political framework for a free city/charter city. He served in the White House as speechwriter to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; then, he moved to Chile where he helped Jose Piñera to create the International Center for Pension Reform.
In El Salvador, he assisted two governments in reforming pensions, telecom, ports, dollarization, labor rationalization, security policy and family legislation, collaborating with Juan Jose Daboub and Manuel Hinds. <b>In Honduras, he began working with President Porfirio Lobo, then leader of the Congress. He also collaborated with Octavio Sánchez who launched and leads the creation of Special Development Regions for Honduras, based on the LEAP Zones model that Klugmann created and brought to Honduras. Klugmann has lectured on his methodology at the World Bank and Harvard’s Kennedy School, testified on reforms before legislative committees in the US, UK and Chile, and worked closely with 6 governments in Latin America. He is on the board of Americans for Tax Reform Foundation.

Doughnuts Defeating Poverty – NYT.com

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OP-ED COLUMNIST

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Published: July 4, 2012 53 Comments

MASUMBA, Malawi

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times

Biti Rose Nasoni in the village of Masumba, Malawi.

If you want to understand some of the best new ideas to chip away at global poverty, an excellent place to start is the Nasoni family hut here in the southern African nation of Malawi.

Alfred Nasoni and his wife, Biti Rose, have had seven children in this village of Masumba. Two died without ever seeing a doctor. Alfred and Biti Rose pulled their eldest son out of school in the fourth grade because, they said, they couldn’t afford $5 in school costs for a term. And they farmed only part of their 2.5 acre plot because they lacked money for seeds.

Yet poverty is sometimes romanticized, and it’s more complicated than that. Alfred, 45, told me that even as his children were starving, he spent an average of $2 a week on local moonshine and 50 cents on cigarettes. He added that he also spent $2 or more a week buying sex from local girls — even though AIDS is widespread.

All this hints at an uncomfortable truth: The suffering associated with poverty is sometimes caused not only by low incomes but also by self-destructive pathologies. In central Kenya, a recently published government study found that men, on average, spent more of their salaries on alcohol than on food.

It’s a vicious circle: despair leads people to self-medicate in ways that compound the despair.

Yet there are escape hatches. In 2005, Biti Rose joined a village savings group founded by CARE, the international aid group. These “village savings and loans” are among the hottest ideas in development work. They now serve some six million people in 58 countries.

After recent financial crises, plenty of Americans love to hate banks, but many of the world’s poor don’t have that luxury: more than 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have a bank account, according to a landmark World Bank report, “Measuring Financial Inclusion.”

The poor typically receive a pile of cash once or twice a year, at the end of a harvest, and then have no good way to save it. That increases the risk that some of it will be squandered.

In some African countries, cellphones are emerging as the new banking system. But here, and in much of the world, the solution is savings groups like Biti Rose’s. She and 19 other members met weekly and each deposited the equivalent of about 10 cents. The money was then lent out to members, and CARE coached them on how to start small businesses.

With a loan of $2, Biti Rose started making and selling a local version of doughnuts, which she initially sold for 2 cents each. “People really liked my doughnuts,” she noted, and soon she was making several dollars a day in profit. Inspired by her example, Alfred began growing vegetables and selling them; he turned out to be a shrewd businessman as well.

Seeing an upward trajectory in the family fortunes, Alfred cut out the girlfriends and curbed his drinking, he says.

Biti Rose and Alfred then had the resources to buy seed and fertilizer for all their own land and to lease an additional two acres as well. These days, they hire up to 10 farm laborers to work for them. In the old days, they harvested less than one bag of corn a year; this year, their harvest filled seven ox carts.

All savers aren’t that successful, of course, but there’s no doubt that the nudge to save money and start businesses can be transformative and self-sustaining. CARE moved on in 2009 to take its model to more needy areas in Malawi, but the savings groups around this village multiplied anyway. Other farmers envied Biti Rose and Alfred replacing their leaky grass roof with a tin one, and they decided to start their own savings groups. The idea has even spread, without CARE’s help, across the border to villages in Mozambique.

Yet I think there’s something going on here beyond microsavings and entrepreneurship.Esther Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of an exceptionally good book called “Poor Economics,” argues that outside interventions sometimes work partly when they give poor people hope. That’s precisely what I’ve seen in many countries: Assistance succeeds when it gives people a feeling that a better outcome is possible, and those hopes become self-fulfilling as people work more industriously and invest more wisely.

For Alfred and Biti Rose, their hopes are now focused on their younger children (the oldest has married). Biti Rose never went to school at all, but she is planning to send her younger children to university.

She is also planning future purchases, including the first television in the area. But don’t think Biti Rose is going to kick back. She sees the TV as an investment.

“I’m a businesswoman,” she said firmly. “I can’t give anything away. If there’s a soccer match or something, anybody who comes in my house to watch will have to pay a fee.”

Global poverty: A fall to cheer – The Economist

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For the first time ever, the number of poor people is declining everywhere

Mar 3rd 2012 | from the print edition

 

 

THE past four years have seen the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and the biggest food-price increases since the 1970s. That must surely have swollen the ranks of the poor.

Wrong. The best estimates for global poverty come from the World Bank’s Development Research Group, which has just updated from 2005 its figures for those living in absolute poverty (not be confused with the relative measure commonly used in rich countries). The new estimates show that in 2008, the first year of the finance-and-food crisis, both the number and share of the population living on less than $1.25 a day (at 2005 prices, the most commonly accepted poverty line) was falling in every part of the world. This was the first instance of declines across the board since the bank started collecting the figures in 1981 (see chart).

 

The estimates for 2010 are partial but, says the bank, they show global poverty that year was half its 1990 level. The world reached the UN’s “millennium development goal” of halving world poverty between 1990 and 2015 five years early. This implies that the long-term rate of poverty reduction—slightly over one percentage point a year—continued unabated in 2008-10, despite the dual crisis.

A lot of the credit goes to China. Half the long-term rate of decline is attributable to that country alone, which has taken 660m people out of poverty since 1981. China also accounts for most of the extraordinary progress in East Asia, which in the early 1980s had the highest incidence of poverty in the world, with 77% of the population below $1.25 a day. In 2008 the share was just 14%. If you exclude China, the numbers are less impressive. Of the roughly 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2008, 1.1 billion of them were outside China. That number barely budged between 1981 and 2008, an outcome that Martin Ravallion, the director of the bank’s Development Research Group, calls “sobering”.

If China accounts for the largest share of the long-term improvement, Africa has seen the largest recent turnaround. Its poverty headcount rose at every three-year interval between 1981 and 2005, the only continent where this happened. The number almost doubled from 205m in 1981 to 395m in 2005. But in 2008 it fell by 12m, or five percentage points, to 47%—the first time less than half of Africans have been below the poverty line. The number of poor people had also been rising (from much lower levels) in Latin America and in eastern Europe and Central Asia. These regions have reversed the trend since 2000.

All this is good news. It reflects the long-run success of China, the impact of social programmes in Latin America and recent economic growth in Africa. It is also a result of the counter-cyclical fiscal expansions that many developing countries, notably China, embarked on in response to the 2007-08 crisis. Many economists (including some at the World Bank itself) were sceptical about these programmes, fearing they would prove inflationary, inefficient and ill-timed. In fact, the programmes helped make poor and middle-income countries more resilient.

The poverty data chime with other evidence. Estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation that the number of hungry people soared from 875m in 2005 to 1 billion in 2009 turned out to be wrong, and were quietly dropped. Derek Headey of the International Food Policy Research Institute has shown that despite the world food-price spike, people’s assessment of their own food situation in most poor and middle-income countries was better in 2008 than it had been in 2006.

Most of the progress has been concentrated among the poorest of the poor—those who make less than $1.25 a day. The bank’s figures show only a small drop in the number of those who make less than $2 a day, from 2.59 billion in 1981 to 2.44 billion in 2008 (though the fall from a peak of 2.92 billion in 1999 has been more impressive). According to Mr Ravallion, poverty-reduction policies seem to help most at the very bottom. In 1981, 645m people lived on between $1.25 and $2 a day. By 2008 that number had almost doubled to 1.16 billion. Even if many of these middling poor move up, their places are often taken by those who have just escaped from absolute poverty; population growth does the rest. The poorest of the poor seem to have escaped the worst of the post-2007 downturn. But the growth in the middling poor shows there is much to be done.

from the print edition | Finance and economics