Felix Oldenburg, the Europe and Germany director of Ashoka, an association of social entrepreneurs, has launched a radical critique of impact investing, according to the Web site nextbillion.net.
In a Q&A on the site, he was quoted as saying, "Quite frankly, impact investors are sitting at the end of an oil pipeline, waiting for the riches to gush out, but they are finding few deals. The most common complaint from impact investors is the low deal flow in their industry, since there are so few social enterprises that meet their [often narrow] requirements for investment. Some investors invest anyway, producing not only failing deals but also damaging the investees with their stringent requirements."
For those of you who went cross-eyed about midway through that salvo (as I did), I will save you the time of re-reading to understand what he is carping about: There is too much money chasing too few deals.
A statistic that is quoted ad nauseum in the impact investing space is the $50 billion under management now that is expected to rise to $500 billion invested in impact investments over the next decade, according to a joint report by the Rockefeller Foundation and JP Morgan.
Cut to the International Finance Corp.'s recent stat that there is about $3 trillion worth of deals to be had in the impact investing space around the globe, and it makes you wonder about Oldenburg's premise.
Okay, but how 'bout them returns?
In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Kevin Starr, director of the Mulago Foundation and the Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program, writes, "For all the hoopla, the definition of impact investing is still a dog's breakfast."
Confused again? Me too. What is with these guys? Anyway, he goes on in a marginally more cogent fashion: "Impact investing is the practice of putting money-loans or equity-into impact-focused organizations, while expecting less than a market rate of return. Investments that provide a big return don't count: The market will take care of those, and we don't need conferences to get people to put money into them."
Okay, maybe not so clear. The whine is about impact investments underperforming and investors waiting to get their money back rather than just giving it away.
Financial advisors looking to get into the impact investing space take a hard look at the IFC's numbers and ponder the fact that 155 countries are considered developing and a majority of the world's population right along with them.
Developing means growth, people, and that means there are lots of good deals with good returns to be had.
So ignore the noise. Listen to what's clear.