Impact Investing Congress 2017 – Learnings for Switzerland

On January 24th 2017 the 2nd Impact Investing Congress took place at Grünenhof Zurich.

Around 140 participants – business angels, investors, social entrepreneurs as well as representatives of banks, large corporates and public authorities – came together to discuss the current state and future of Impact Investing in Europe and Switzerland in particular.

After a welcome address by Markus Assfalg (Director Division of Business and Economic Development, Canton Zurich) that highlighted the leading position Switzerland has within the financial system and the importance of supporting and promoting innovative within it if this is to be maintained as well as an introduction to Impact Investing by seif’s CEO and Founder Prof. Mariana Christen Jakob, five inspiring key players of the field shared their experiences: Caroline Mason (CEO, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation), Rod Schwartz (CEO, ClearlySo), Dr. Martin Vogelsang (Germany Country Representative, EVPA), Antoni Ballabriga (Global Head of Responsible Business, BBVA), Phyllis Costanza (CEO, UBS Optimus Foundation). In the afternoon participants were invited to join several workshop sessions, allowing a deeper and interactive discussion in smaller groups. The workshops were divided in three overarching themes: Building a new ecosystem, New roles for the actors and Good practice and lessons learned. At the same time, 8 social entrepreneurs had the chance to present their enterprises to the audience at the Congress market place. For further information about the speeches and workshop topics as well as interviews with the speakers please refer to the Congress brochure.

The Congress closed with a panel discussion about “What is next for the Swiss Impact Investing field?” moderated by Jürgen Solms (Head Private Equity & Managing Director, Bonafide). The panellists, which included Sabine Döbeli (CEO, Swiss Sustainable Finance), Philipp Cottier (Head Equity Investments & Member of the Executive Management, ResponsAbility), Fabio Segura (Head of International Programs, Jacobs Foundation) and Kostis Tselenis (Head of Investments, Quadia), agreed that the future of Impact Investing in Switzerland is looking bright, with a growing interest among investors and investment managers in the topic. But they also sparked some discussion when the point of whether existing products were simply being repackage as “impact” was raised. Some fear the missing opportunities this will bring not only for the financial sector as a whole, but also for those working to bring about social and environmental changes. Consequently, they asked for making a clear distinction between them and other traditional financial products. Others, on the other hand, saw the terminology as not important and pointed out the potential dangerous implications of referring only to some money as “good money”. (Swiss Sustainable Finance has written an article on the panel and the learnings for Switzerland. You can read it here.

Generally speaking, however, the Congress has shown that the social and environmental problems that we face today also represent profitable business opportunities. These opportunities are attracting an increasing inflow of innovative private capital as well as investors who want to make an impact with their wealth. In this sense, it is increasingly becoming clearer to all actors, especially those outside the field, that it is possible to have social return and financial return at the same time – without these two elements jeopardising each other. Yet, it was also made clear the importance of defining how specific impacts are measured to further foster this market, and the need for good real life examples if large financial institutions are to fully jump in the field.

But the Impact Investing field offers opportunities for foundations too thanks to its excellent combination of investment and impact. For example, the UBS Optimus Foundation stated that there is an extra 1.4 trillion dollars needed each year to reach the world’s ambitious sustainable development goals. To get this money, a shift in mindset is needed – It’s definitely not about more of the same, but rather the creation of new financial models and instruments as well as co-creation and co-investment. What is needed are scalable and replicable solutions.

Looking ahead there was no doubt among those talking at the Congress that impact investing will gain evermore importance within Switzerland, with new complementary innovative initiatives being developed and more co-investments and co-operations between philanthropic and/or financial organisations happening within the next five years. What it is more, it was hoped that by 2022 having a basic sustainability level within all investment would be the new norm.

seif would like to thank the speakers as well as the participants for this interesting and inspiring day.