Impact investing: Moral option or obligation?

ERNOP Science and Society Seminar: Impact investing: Moral option or obligation?

By Dr. Volker Then from the Centre for Social Investment at the University of Heidelberg

Discussant: Ewelina Oblacewicz from the OECD Centre on Philanthropy

Date: October 12, 2021, 10.00-11.00 AM (CET)

About this seminar

This year is characterized by the covid-19 crisis situation and the ensuing climate emergency. They both suggest that the public good will no longer be reserved to the domain of the public and charitable sectors and will have to be a call on the market as well. This will lead into a challenging discussion for the philanthropic sector and its roles.

While the seminar is not to sing the neo-liberal gospel of the market, it does enable professionals within the European philanthropy sector to be better prepared for a discussion about the rigour and the standards applied to such market instruments aiming at the public good. Given the current emergencies, impact investing could be considered an important driver of innovation within the sector.

A recent market study from the Centre of Social Investment in Heidelberg on impact investing in Germany indicated a strong growth dynamic for the field in the last five years with foundations as a strong driver. Impact investing is still in its infancy compared to the capital market, and it is also marginal compared to the field of philanthropy, but the margins have reached the billions.

The seminar will start from the huge societal challenges that currently characterize our world in a way unprecedented for a long time. It will address the competition of different sectors – if that is still an appropriate category – to the public good. While philanthropy and the non-profit sector as a response to market and state failure have long been discussed, it is increasingly relevant to consider market actors themselves as contributors to the public good. Facing huge investments needs such as those marked by the SDGs all three sectors need to contribute their share. Philanthropy sees itself in a new and challenging competitive situation. What are the responses on both sides, what are effective strategies available?

The seminar aims at a shared discussion of impact investment and philanthropy professionals. It targets the different European impact investment initiatives, associations and country groups of the Global Steering Group on Impact Investment and attempts to inspire a shared debate.

About the Center for Social Investment at the University of Heidelberg

The Centre for Social Investment (CSI) is a research centre at the Max-Weber-Institute for Sociology in the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of Heidelberg University. It sees itself as an interdisciplinary centre in research, education and training as well as a transdisciplinary partner for the third sector.

The central research topics of the CSI are, in addition to the eponymous social investments and innovations, foundations, civil society and the social economy. Special attention is paid to innovative cross-border research – be it between sectors or between forms of organizations. From a comparative or often exploratory perspective, research projects are carried out at national, European and international levels. The CSI’s research contributes to fundamental theoretical understanding, applied knowledge and political and strategic debates in civil society and the third sector, thus defining this area alongside the market and the state.

CSI research aims to contribute to the shaping of self-perceptions of the third sector, to analyze its legal, economic and social framework conditions, and to contribute to increasing the effectiveness of social enterprises. Our research results are communicated to the public not only through teaching and professional qualification mechanisms and publications, but also put into practice through cross-sector transdiciplinary formats of cooperation on social innovation formats, e.g. in innovation laboratories.

About Dr Volker Then

Dr. Volker Then is Executive Director of the Centre for Social Investment (CSI) of Heidelberg University. As Founding Director of the Centre he unites his interest in research relevant to society with his engagement for social impact in practice. Before joining Heidelberg University he followed that passion as a senior programme officer of the Bertelsmann Foundation. Among the areas of his continued interest count civil society and intermediary institutions, social capital, but also high impact philanthropy, the strategy development of organisations, and social impact measurement.

Next to publications he concentrates on other formats of communicating CSI research results to public policy and practice. This has recently included the invitation to serve as a member of the National Advisory Board of the G8-Social Impact Investment Task Force since 2014, but also expert hearings and briefings for the European Parliament, German Bundestag, speaker contributions to academic as well as professional conferences and meetings. Volker Then has many years of experience in serving as a volunteer board members of numerous foundations, sector and professional associations, as well as related publications.

About the OECD Centre on Philanthropy

Private philanthropy is a growing source of funding for middle and low income countries – supporting global public health, education, agriculture, gender equality or clean energy. However, reliable, comparable and publicly available information on philanthropic funding, priorities and behaviours is surprisingly scarce. This lack of data and evidence has limited philanthropy’s potential to engage, collaborate or co-fund key issues outlined in Agenda 2030, together with other actors working in developing and emerging countries.

The OECD Centre on Philanthropy contributes to the global demand for more and better data and analysis on global philanthropy for development. It brings together relevant efforts from existing research centres and projects, expands the OECD database, and provides research and analysis on global trends and impact of philanthropy for development in the context of the 2030 Agenda.