Ennovent and WWF Switzerland announced the winners of their Tropical Forest Challenge this past Monday. The winners came from two categories: company and startup. Launched in May 2012, the WWF Switzerland Tropical Forest Challenge is a global initiative managed by Ennovent on behalf of WWF Switzerland to discover the best for-profit enterprises from around the world that have a positive impact on the conservation of tropical forest biodiversity.
The winners are endorsed by WWF Switzerland as best solution providers and are awarded global visibility, networking and capacity building opportunities from the challenge partners such as, Good Company, Sustainatopia and Thomson Reuters Foundations’. These Challenge rewards are important as many early-stage entrepreneurs face resource gaps – such as networks and training – that inhibit their ability to scale high potential ventures.
Every fall at Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), the who’s who of impact investing and social enterprise convene in San Francisco to network and share stories about topics like market-based solutions to poverty, social stock exchanges, and just how much capital is waiting to be deployed to solve the world’s toughest problems. It’s inspiring to be sure, especially the growth in the number and diversity of participation. It’s no longer the sole domain of Ashoka, Skoll, and Schwab who have paved the way for so many others. Today, mainstream Banks from Europe to Asia, fund managers, and wealth advisors are sending a signal that doing good and doing well is a more enlightened form of capitalism.
But behind all the feel-good energy and promises that impact investing will be a $50 billion industry by 2020, there are gaps in the story line and challenges that we must confront as a community. First, there is no clear definition of an impact investor. The industry brings together those who are primarily driven by a financial bottom line (finance first) with those who are seeking to optimize a social return without making a loss (impact first), and finally grant makers who are aiming to improve the efficiency of philanthropic capital (largely foundations). Their world views are different, their expected returns are different, and how they use the same vocabulary (e.g. impact, viability, and sustainability) varies widely.