The role of policy for increased focus on the social impact of investment and finance

The theme of the role of politics was discussed in various forms and in various sessions during SOCAP13. Clearly the role of politics is important, but also the role is changing, with new patterns of interaction emerging to address societal challenges. These challenges touch diverse areas, such as climate, health, environment, jobs, poverty and exclusion.

President Obama sees impact investment as part of America’s economic strategy, Jonathan Greenblatt underlined during a plenary session. Greenblatt is President Obama’s director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation but also a member of the task force on impact investment initiated by British Prime Minister David Cameron in June this year in conjunction with the G8. This task force, whose members were announced at SOCAP13, will report on their work in a year’s time and provide policy recommendations. Meanwhile, the OECD also launched a project to explore how impact investment can contribute to global societal development.

One theme that became increasingly apparent was that impact investment challenges our notions on the distinctions and roles of stakeholders in the private, public and the third sector. The boundaries are becoming increasingly fluid, and increased focus on societal challenges spur new cross-collaborations and becomes increasingly important in a more holistic and long-term approach.

Two of the themes during the conference, health and oceans, illustrated this. In the health sector it was clear that investments to address global health challenges, whether linked to an aging population in the western world or global poverty and exclusion, require focus on creating good conditions for health. Thereby access to health care is clearly associated with, for example, living conditions, livelihoods and exclusion.

Among the many specific examples was M2M, Mother to Mother, where HIV-positive pregnant mothers receive health coaching by women who have experience being in the same situation. This initiative started in South Africa but has been so successful that it is now being integrated into the public health system in countries like Kenya and more. The book “Solution Revolution”, which was launched in conjunction with SOCAP13, is packed with examples from around the world, illustrating how business, the public sector and social entrepreneurs in new forms of collaboration are solving difficult problems in society.

Regulatory framework and the functioning of markets was another theme where the role of politics came to the forefront in many sessions. Among others, this showed up in several sessions that raised the strong future trend of the emergence of what is called ”the collaborative economy” or ”the sharing economy”. This trend is partly based on a shift from ownership to access as the base for consumption and social platforms that enable the sharing of cars (e.g. Uber), housing (e.g. AirBnB), knowledge and time (e.g. Task Rabbit) and more.

Natalie Foster, who recently launched the site and the network Peers to support the emergence of ”the sharing economy”, meant that we can redefine the way we create value and build businesses. How we sustainably can manage the earth’s resources and how we create meaning and build community and trust. She stressed the role of politics to transform and adapt regulatory frameworks and institutions to meet this trend. Nathalie Foster brought, together with Jeremiah Owyang and Hunter Lovins, an interesting argument – that policy has an important role in creating a shift from what they called the degenerative economy, where they meant we now find ourselves, towards a regenerative economy. Such a regenerative economy has ground rules that give companies incentives to seize business opportunities that reinforce progress towards a sustainable society. All three seemed to agree that ”the collaborative economy” is an important element of such a shift. Jeremiah predicted that a major step forward can take place when big companies seriously co-create with individual users and citizens and make them an integral part of their value chains.

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