Originally launched in the winter of 2011, the Centre for Impact Investing (CII) – located in the heart of Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District – has become a burgeoning focal point for the production and dissemination of research on sustainability issues, environmental social and corporate governance (ESG), and socially responsible investing (SRI). As per their self-declared mission statement, the goal of CII is to “increase awareness and effectiveness of social finance in catalyzing new capital, new talent, and initiatives aimed at tackling social and environmental problems in Canada.” By virtue of its location within Canada’s premier social innovation facility, CII works closely alongside the original MaRS Foundation – focused on Medical and Related Sciences – and it also maintains a close partnership with the Social Innovation Generation (SiG).
The creation of the Centre for Impact Investing is indelibly rooted in the desire to understand and alleviate what its founders view at the most pressing issues of the day – primarily global, untenable crises such as widespread poverty, famine, environmental degradation, rampant corruption, and social malaise on the whole. With these disturbing trends threatening to throw more “fuel on the fire” in an already perilous age of tense geopolitical relations around the globe, corporations, academics, investors, advisors, and other concerned individuals are increasingly turning to social responsibility for answers in the quest to lay the base for a new, sustainable world for future generations. The Centre for Impact Investing is a herald of such efforts, particularly through the practice of impact investing (as its name suggests), wherein ethical shareholders sink money into socially responsible projects and funds that strive to promote sustainable development efforts in the areas of environmental, social, and corporate governance.
As exemplary as this venture sounds, many people are still asking the same question – why now? Crises of global proportions have existed throughout history and have continued unabated until today, so what are the reasons that have compelled investors to jump the SRI/ESG bandwagon and develop initiatives like the CII within MaRS at this point in time? The answer is simple – “a shift in thinking is taking place”. As such, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the “Earth Summit”) can be seen as a catalyst which gave credence and urgency to the idea of sustainable development and social responsibility in a way that no major world meeting had ever done prior. With the severity of unsustainable practices in the spheres of environmental, social, and corporate governance remaining a widespread reality since 1992, individuals, nations, corporations, NGOs, IGOs, and other actors have progressively pooled resources in an effort to develop new strategies that will ensure the healthy development of international markets, while simultaneously securing the future of the environment as well as that of local communities around the world.
Impact investing – also known as “Mission Related Investing” (MRI) – was adopted by the Centre for Impact Investing and other promulgators of SRI/ESG principles as a prime mechanism for pursuing objectives within the caveat of sustainable development. While the notion of impact investing is a rather recent one, its viability has caught on with major firms and actors in the Canadian business and financial sectors, to the point that the Toronto Stock Exchange and CII this past summer announced that they would be “partnering to support impact investing in Canada”, an industry that already holds some $2 billion in assets. Furthermore, the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance released a report of its own that predicted the impact investing industry would expand to $30 billion in asset holdings across various sectors, which for “any government looking to promote both economic development and the prudent use of public resources” would be “hard to ignore”.
The opportunities are endless for this emerging sector within the corporate world, a detail that has not gone unnoticed by major financial and business conglomerates such as J.P. Morgan and the Rockefeller Foundation, two investment giants which “deemed impact investing to be a new global asset class with the potential to reach $1-trillion globally.” Canadian investors and companies are well placed to enjoy the rewards of this new market, and across the country there are “more than 30 impact funds that hold over $200 million in total assets and a combined portfolio of over 150 individual deals.” In order to become a Canadian (and possibly global) leader in impact investing, the MaRS Centre has developed a host of tools to further its raison d’état, including “a solid resource and research base, capital expertise and networks, strong relationships with partners, the use of global infrastructure, access to consolidated resources, investment-ready ventures and seasoned entrepreneurs, and a community of experts and emerging talent built through MaRS networks, programs, and services.”
For updates on developments and initiatives taking place at MaRS CII and elsewhere in the social finance and impact investing community, visit SocialFinance.ca, a program organized under MaRS that “brings together the voices of social finance practitioners and thought leaders across the country and internationally”. SocialFinance.ca offers a resourceful social media program that features blogs, tweets, and an online platform with many resources on social finance and impact investing.