by Paul DiLeo
In the long-running discussions about social impact, there are prominent and respected investors and managers who continue to argue that good intentions, perhaps captured in a robust and compelling mission statement, are sufficient to confirm the impact character of a company. In this view, an impact investor needs to review a company’s stated social goals at the time of investment, but thereafter need only focus on the commercial success of the business, on the assumption that the social benefit will automatically follow from the intent; the company doesn’t need to track and report on its success in achieving its social goals.
Grassroots believes that now that it is 2016, good intentions are a necessary starting point for an impact business, but are inadequate and must be followed up with rigorous management and reporting on outputs and outcomes based on a well-articulated theory of change that takes advantage of the latest research on what works and what does not: identifying indicators, setting goals, measuring progress towards goals, and then using those goals to reassess strategy and operations. In our view, investors who are satisfied with ex ante intentions are inadvertently demoting the impact side of the double bottom line to a secondary and non-critical priority in the objectives of the business. In many cases, it appears that this demotion is due to an outdated appreciation of the current state of impact metrics.