Reflections on the Impact Investment Summit

Bella Conyngham, Associate Engagement Manager (NSW and ACT) Philanthropy Australia Thu, 6 Apr 2023

Bella Conyngham, Philanthropy Australia’s Associate Engagement Manager (NSW and ACT), reflects on the key trends and take-aways from the Impact Investment Summit held in Sydney on 30-31 March 2023. 

What is impact investing? 

The Global Impact Investing Network defines impact investments as those made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. The impact investment market provides capital to address the world’s most pressing sector challenges and has been of growing interest to the philanthropic world – especially the next generation of givers. 

Unlocking barriers to impact – wisdom, action, courage 

Hundreds of people gathered to sit in on a plethora of inspiring sessions at the Impact Investment Summit in Sydney. Pioneers at the vanguard of impact, including Philanthropy Australia’s CEO Jack Heath and board member Amanda Miller spoke of the trends, barriers and opportunities in impact investing. 

Themes of wisdom, courage and action were common threads woven throughout the discourse of the conference. From these principles, we were guided into conversations in a way that brought participants together for the pursuit of a common goal – creating more positive impact.  

Catalytic capital vs gifts of capital?  

There is maturing understanding of the intersect between philanthropy and impact investing. We heard that philanthropy provides catalytic funding and often plays the role of being “the risk capital of risk capital”. The phrase casts philanthropists as venture capitalists for society – able to direct funds to the kinds of projects that are often too unproven to receive traditional funding.  

Philanthropic funding is secured to take “first loss” positions, so that social enterprises are able to grow to be “investment ready”. Tom Hall, Global Head Social Impact and Philanthropy at UBS, spoke about how this blended finance model is required to chase impact. That is, partnerships between different kinds of funders are critical to realise the huge new market opportunities – USD$12 trillion to be exact. 

Backing gender equity represents huge untapped potential 

Between the breakfast on the Orange Bond Initiative, the panel session on gender lens investment and the evening soiree celebrating women, it was clear that the strive for investing in gender equity is a key force at play. It was however, startling to learn that just 0.7% of venture capital in 2021 went to women-led start-ups, so it’s clear there are investment opportunities in this space. Panelists urged the audience to have a gender compass and to take a holistic view in how we employ a gender lens to giving, investing and impact.  

Rebalance of power is still a key issue 

Danny Almagor, Co-Founder of Small Giants Academy, facilitated a philosophy salon on the first day of the conference. Aptly named Winners Take All, it was an exploration of power and impact. The session asked participants to question the role of philanthropy in the context of entrenched power imbalances. Initiatives such as participatory grant-making are becoming more widely used, along with the practice of ceding grant-making power to affected community members and constituencies. It is clear the sector is working to shift power. The question is, how can we significantly move this dial even further?  

Use your networks  

The panel Creating Solutions for Driving Impact covered how members from a range of family foundations, businesses and offices have started on their impact-investing journey. The consistent message was to reach out to others in the sector – especially those already doing it. Consultants such as Australian Impact Investments and the Social Impact Hub would get you started. There are plenty of people willing to help, so the best first step is to reach out.  

Confidence in the future 

As the peak body for philanthropy across Australia, we see it as our responsibility to support the sector in growing its impact. The conference gave us confidence in the fact that there are many committed organisations and individuals collaborating to drive positive social and environmental change across the nation. I was inspired by the incredible fortitude displayed in the sector. 

Learn more on blended finance 

Join us for our latest collaboration with the Social Impact Hub for the following event to learn more about impact investing: 

Impact Investing in Practice: Using Blended Finance 

Thursday 27 April, 12pm-1.30pm AEST 

Register ($49 for Philanthropy Australia members; $79 for non-members)