Amit Bouri, Global Impact Investing Network
Amit Bouri, considered a pioneer in impact investing, co-founded the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) in 2009 following the publication of the Monitor Institute’s landmark report, Investing for Social and Environmental Impact. As CEO of GIIN, Bouri leads the largest global community of impact investors dedicated to scaling, measuring and integrating the social and environmental factors in all investment decisions, thereby mobilizing more capital toward impact.
What sparked your interest in launching the Global Impact Investing Network?
Before launching the GIIN, I was working for the Monitor Institute, an experience that helped me understand the potential of how investment dollars could help drive social and environmental impact. While in my role, I was constantly wondering: “What would it take at a systemic scale to move the needle on global inequality, advancements in global health and turning the tide on climate change?”
What I found was that this idea requires more than just driving transactional value. It requires a network where investors can share best practices and opportunities on a global scale and connect nodes of leadership where ideas can flow, with the end effect of moving capital toward positive impact. This is what led to the founding of the GIIN and then, subsequently, our IRIS+ system, which is designed to provide investors with common and standardized metrics to understand the impact. Our work with IRIS+ explores areas where investors are focused, such as mitigating climate change, promoting sustainable agriculture, addressing racial and gender inequality, and more.
What has environmental, social and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) integration done to either clarify or confuse impact investing?
We believe ESG and DEI integration are helping to set the stage for impact investing. Here’s a bit of a breakdown in what we’re seeing:
Many investors view ESG through a lens of financial materiality or factors that an accountant would consider as tied to financial performance. For example, having good worker safety policies can reduce the risk of an incident or disaster that could have financial implications for a company.
Impact investing considers financial materiality as a starting point but takes it a step further by designing strategies to move the needle on the world’s biggest problems. An impact-investing strategy prioritizes addressing social or environmental problems in addition to generating financial return as an investment goal and measuring your progress toward that goal.
We are also seeing a backlash against ESG in the United States that takes peoples’ eyes off the ball. Ultimately, we need to make sure we have an economy that is operating in a clean, sustainable way; a system that works for investors; and, ultimately, an economy that works for people and the planet. ESG, DEI and impact investing will continue to play a role in that future.
Impact investors must have an intention to make a positive impact on the world on specific issues like, for example, sustainable agriculture, financial inclusion, clean energy, affordable housing, racial equity and beyond. Our goal is for investors to translate those good intentions into real impact through standardized metrics and benchmarks. This is incredibly valuable because it focuses investors beyond intentions and goals to operational metrics and performance. We want investors to look beyond the “old ways” of doing business and use impact performance benchmarks that drive a “race to the top” when it comes to realizing results for people on our planet.
What evidence exists to prove that over time, aligned investing creates either superior or dilutive financial returns?
This question comes up quite frequently — which is natural and understandable, as there are many misconceptions out there. There are qualitative and quantitative data points derived from surveys to understand if impact investors achieve both their financial and impact goals. In fact, our research has shown that about 90% of impact investors say they are meeting or exceeding the financial return objectives. These findings, as well as the growing demand from the retail market for impactful investment options, have opened the market to a broader set of mainstream investors who have adopted impact-investing strategies, committed large amounts of capital, and put their reputation and brand on the line. We’ve also found that many family offices are extremely interested in impact investing and are launching their own impact strategies as well.
What is your longer-term hope for impact investing and the importance of measurement in the field?
Our vision for impact investing is that it becomes integrated into all types of investments and asset classes. One day, we see all investors looking to ramp up the positive impact of their investments and manage their negative impacts. If we’re able to do that, we’ll transform the world and create an economy that works for all people. An economy that helps create products, housing, food, health and beyond that serves our lowest-income populations in addition to supporting high-quality jobs that allow families to live with dignity. To do this, the IRIS+ metrics need to become widespread and built into the way investors think beyond financial profit, where values drive economies and we deliver for our communities and the world more broadly.
Interview by Phillip W. Fisher, founder of Mission Throttle in suburban Detroit, an organization dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in communities; and Douglas Bitonti Stewart, executive director of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, also in suburban Detroit, whose mission is to enrich humanity by strengthening and empowering children and families in need.