Europe’s venture philanthropists “define identity” with new charter

Venture philanthropists and other impact investors across Europe are signing a new charter committing to uphold certain principles in their work and defining themselves as “investors for impact” in contrast to “investors with impact”.

The European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) marked its fifteenth birthday yesterday by launching the Charter of Investors for Impact at its annual conference in The Hague, where the Queen of the Netherlands (pictured above second left) was guest of honour.

The organisation, which has around 300 members, launched a report which assesses the venture philanthropy movement’s journey so far, as well as looking towards its future. Alongside the 100-page report, the charter sets out ten commitments which include to “uphold high ethical standards” and to “put the final beneficiaries at the centre of the solutions”.

The charter is the articulation of our DNA in a way that creates coherence and alignment

Welcoming the 750 delegates from 63 countries to the event on 6 November, the CEO of EVPA, Steven Serneels, said: “After 15 years, we are teenagers. We are looking for an identity.”

He said that the venture philanthropy movement needed an identity “not to ringfence ourselves” but “to be clear about what we can deliver and what we cannot deliver”.

The report, 15 Years of Impact: Taking stock and looking ahead outlines the need for the distinction between the two groups of investors. It says: “As more capital becomes available for solving social issues, and more and diverse players enter the impact ecosystem, questions arise regarding impact washing and impact integrity.”

Impact integrity, adds the report, is “fundamental for the credibility of the entire social impact investment movement”.

EVPA defines “investors for impact” as capital providers which put social purpose organisations at the centre of their investments, taking risks that no other investors can or will take. Examples include charitable foundations that have moved into venture philanthropy in recent years, and they often support early-stage ventures. These organisations are the core members of EVPA.

“Investors with impact”, on the other hand, need to guarantee a certain financial return on their investments alongside the impact returns. Examples include institutional investors, and they often scale successful business models.

The charter, said EVPA member Audrey Selian, director of Rianta Capital, “is the articulation of our DNA in a way that creates coherence and alignment. It is an opportunity for us as a collective to understand what unifies us.”

Queen Máxima joins discussions

Serneels presented a copy of the report to Queen Máxima, who attended the opening morning of the event. The Queen is an Argentinian former financier who is widely admired by Dutch people and well-known for her work to promote inclusive finance worldwide.

The Queen attended several workshops where she took part in round-table discussions. She also spent some time talking to EVPA members, including Daniel Brewer, CEO of impact investment firm Resonance, who highlighted the UK’s Social Investment Tax Relief system, and Neven Marinovic, president of the Euclid Network and co-founder of Smart Kolektiv in Serbia, with whom she discussed the challenges of supporting entrepreneurship in post-Communist societies.

Reflections on the EVPA’s beginnings

During the welcome events, four of the EVPA’s founder members took to the stage to reflect on the organisation’s early days.

American Doug Miller (pictured above far right), who had a long career in private equity before becoming the founding chairman of EVPA, described how the organisation began as a discussion between four people in his London flat in 2002 before the organisation was formally created in 2004. 

The first annual conference in 2005 had 135 attendees.

Miller said: “We identified the problems, we have made progress... but the problems themselves have grown."

He closed his message with a call to action to his colleagues, his voice cracking with emotion. “There needs to be a big sense of urgency,” he said. “I think about my kids and my grandkids and what kind of society we want them to grow up in.”

Talking to Pioneers Post after the opening addresses, EVPA chair Felipe Santos, pointed to figures from the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, which put the size of the global "impact/community investing" sector at $444bn with an annual growth rate of 33%. 

Serneels said: "It's not about the size of the sector, but it's innovation money, it's seed capital to set something in motion. The role and success of the sector isn't about the size, it's about what we deliver in terms of solutions."

He added that it was important to gain recognition of what the movement did among other organisations involved in different types of social investment, impact investment and sustainable and responsible investment. 

"They are our allies, but we want them to recognise our role in delivering social innovations that are robust and scalable and which have an impact."

Pioneers Post was a media partner at the 2019 EVPA Annual Conference. Our reporters’ travel costs were covered by the organisers. Header photo: Spring Roll Media/EVPA.

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