Sunday, December 15, 2013

Magical Thinking at Intersection of Commerce and Positive Social Change

Laura Callanan, currently of the Institute of Business and Social Impact at Berkeley, and one of the most thoughtful and experienced folks working in the impact investing field, has crafted a great piece warning of the magical thinking that so many people use when working at the intersection of commerce and positive social change.

We all know the shortcomings of public and corporate silos and intuitively understand that weaving together the best elements of each in the form of "innovative hybrids" like social impact bonds and impact investing is necessary to address some of the complex problems facing the world.

But I agree with Laura that we need to create structures that really work rather than just assuming that somehow magic will happen when we pull together commerce and social change.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gucci to the rescue: Has philanthropy become just another luxury product?

I typically read the FT's "How To Spend It" weekend supplement as a naughty voyeuristic pleasure - a chance to look at the lives of the watch-wearing, jewelry-toting caste through the ironic yet somehow respectful tone that the FT brings to such topics.  

I was then very surprised to read an intriguing article this weekend by the FT's Fashion writer, Vanessa Friedman, outlining Gucci's launch of Chime for Change, a "global campaign to raise funds and awareness for girls' and women's empowerment."

Gucci created Chime for Change to bring its consumers to a crowdsourcing platform called Catapult where they can select pre-vetted NGOs - all of this occurs in a highly branded setting.   Chime for Change is a trademark of Gucci.  This is not your aunt's CSR initiative.  

Friedman succinctly summed up the challenges facing Chime for Change and Gucci as "the contemporary conundrum of how to navigate between an industry based on indulgence, the imperative to demonstrate commitment beyond the creative, and the concerns about profiteering do-goodism that may follow."

Chime for Change has raised $4 million from a high-profile concert (Madonna, Gloria Steinem, etc.) in the UK this summer.  The concert was underwritten by Gucci and attendees could donate the cost of their ticket to an NGO of their choice on Catapult.  Chime is also raising money for specific projects on its site.  

My fellow impact investment colleague Margot Brandenburg, a fellow at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, was quoted on the challenges of branded movements: “The truth is, for the price of one luxury handbag, you can easily give food and water to a family in a challenged area for a year.  A ‘branded’ movement makes facing that reality unavoidable – which can create a lot of discomfort for a consumer. On the other hand, it also lays bare the contradictions we all live with every day.” 

I'm not sure what I should think about this:  

Is philanthropy becoming just another luxury product manufactured for those who already have to feel better about getting more?  


Can corporate brands serve as powerful vehicles for positive change in the world when other institutions are not?

I guess time will tell. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Morgan Stanley announces major impact investing initiative

Morgan Stanley has launched a new sustainable investing initiative.  As several of the major financial institutions (re)enter the impact investing arena, I hope they can bring new capital to address important issues even though their existing client platforms have not been able to move the products through their traditional channels.