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G8 Summit 2013: Why Impact Investment Deserves Our Attention

Posted: 06/17/2013 3:11 pm

Winston Churchill said it best when he concluded, "democracy is the worst form of government ....except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

The same can also be said about capitalism. In the past several decades, international markets have pulled millions out of poverty, unlocked life-changing technological and scientific innovation, and raised our global standard of living to unprecedented levels. But, distressingly, far too many people are being left out. This is true everywhere, including in the United States, where the wealthiest one percent now own 43 percent of the country's wealth compared to just 25 percent in 1950. Globally, the numbers are equally concerning since the 1.2 billion poorest people account for only one per cent of world consumption, while the billion richest consume 72 per cent. Clearly, this disproportion warrants urgent attention.

Today, the G8 is being formally assembled in Enniskillen to consider, among many other things, how our international economic system can address this inequity, recognizing its enormous human cost and the threat it poses to global stability. Daunting though that is, we are far from discouraged. In fact, we know firsthand that market-based solutions can be a powerful way to create jobs and deliver services to those who need them -- at the scale required in a world of seven billion people. And we are especially heartened to see a new movement afoot called "social" impact investing, which explicitly seeks to apply the power of the market to help solve stubborn economic and social challenges.

Simply put, "impact investments" are those that generate social or environmental value, as well as financial return. The enthusiasm surrounding this concept represents a paradigm shift: an understanding that market-based tools, imperfect as they are, can be leveraged to help even those who have been left behind by global capitalism. This year alone, impact investors will channel billions of dollars to fund transformative solutions in sectors as diverse as sustainable agriculture, affordable housing, clean energy technology and financial services for the poor. And, earlier this month, the United Nations High-Level Panel identified impact investing as a viable "third way" for post-2015 sustainable development.

One well-known example of impact investing is M-Pesa, a private sector mobile money and payment service that has transformed the Kenyan economy. Launched in 2007, it now provides 15 million Kenyans -- the vast majority of whom had previously no access to traditional bank accounts -- the opportunity to deposit, withdraw and transfer funds through their mobile phones. M-Pesa's adoption has been so astounding that it now handles 80 transactions every second, which amount to nearly a third of Kenya's $33.6 billion GDP.

What is not widely known, however, is the fact that M-Pesa is the direct output of a public-private partnership. Its seed capital came from Vodafone and the U.K.'s Department for International Development. Both took a chance on the then-unproven idea that a mobile platform could leapfrog traditional banking infrastructure and provide financial services to the poor.

M-Pesa is a great example of how impact investing aligns incentives between the private and public sectors to create enormous social benefit. In the U.S., we have launched a social impact bond project at Riker's Island Correctional Facility in Queens, New York. The aim of the initiative is to cut re-offending through intensive education, training and counseling to young inmates. Goldman Sachs is providing the initial funding and Bloomberg Philanthropies is offering a loan guarantee, with MDRC, a leading non-profit organization, overseeing the project.

The City of New York will act as broker. If recidivism drops significantly, it will pay out on the contract. If it does not -- and there are no savings from the reduction in re-incarceration -- the taxpayers won't have to pay a thing.

Social impact bonds have their origins in the U.K., where policymakers have been admirably forward-looking in their embrace of these and similar innovations. To his credit, U.K. Prime Minister Cameron has leveraged his G8 chairmanship to bring impact investing to the next level. On June 6, in London,Cameron assembled leaders from civil society, government and the private sector to flesh out exactly how it can be incorporated more systematically into the G8's problem solving toolbox, as they gather at Lough Erne.

As Americans, we are pleased to see the United States at the forefront of these efforts as well. Along with activity at the state level, like the Riker's Island venture, the U.S. Government has also supported a national Social Innovation Fund to scale non-profits with proven track records. And, just last week, USAID and DFID announced the creation of Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV), which is designed to source solutions from anywhere in the world, test them using rigorous methods and staged financing, and bring to scale those that offer more value for money than standard practice. GDIV will unlock investment capital from both private and public sectors, to scale solutions commercially or through public sector adoption.

Like democracy, impact investing is far from perfect. But we have seen first-hand at eBay and PayPal how market-based solutions can change millions of people's lives for the better.

We have great unfinished business to attend to. While market-based approaches -- and impact investing in particular -- are not a silver bullet, they must form part of the solution to our development challenges. We call upon G8 leaders to grant them the thoughtful due diligence that they deserve.

Pierre Omidyar is founder and chairman of eBay, Inc. and founding partner of Omidyar Network. Matt Bannick is managing partner of Omidyar Network and former president of PayPal and eBay International.

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  • Barroso, Medvedev, Noda, Harper, Hollande, Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Monti, Van Rompuy

    World leaders attend the family photo session during the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Md., Saturday, May 19, 2012. From left are European Commission President Jose' Manuel Barroso, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minster David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

  • Stephen Harper

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives for the closing briefing at the G-8 summit Saturday, May 19, 2012 in Camp David, Md. The summit brought together leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, Britain, Russia, and Japan in an effort to figure out how to tame Europe's debt crisis while also increasing the demand for goods and spurring job growth. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Dmitry Medvedev

    Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks to reporters following the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Md., Saturday, May 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Francois Hollande

    French President Francois Hollande walks to greet reporters following the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Md., Saturday, May 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • President Barack Obama arrives to brief journalists following the G-8 Summit Saturday, May 19, 2012 at Camp David, Md. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Hollande, Obama, Cameron, Medvedev

    World leaders attend the first working session of the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Md, Saturday, May 19, 2012. From left are French President Francois Hollande, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

  • Monti, Cameron, Merkel, Hollande, Obama, Harper, Noda, Medvedev, Manuel

    World leaders walk to the family photo session at the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Md., Saturday, May 19, 2012. From bottom to top, left to right are Italian Premier Mario Monti, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Second row from left are, French President Francois Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama. Shown at the rear from bottom to top are, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, top left, and European Commission President Jose Manuel, top right. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)


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