The Editors' Post: Neighbours on a mission

The EU's eastern and southern neighbours gather in Tbilisi to trade their best ideas for developing a nascent impact economy, backed by a “huge” European Commission presence. Plus, we meet “human switchboard” and gender finance champion Suzanne Biegel. This week's view from the Pioneers Post newsroom.

Tbilisi might not be on your radar yet. But the capital city of Georgia isn’t only a hidden gem for visitors. You’ll also find offices of impact investment firms BlueOrchard and ResponsAbility, a tech startup scene with potential to spark social and environmental change – and, since last year, the country’s first impact fund.

This week, Tbilisi was also host to a gathering of impact advocates from what the EU calls the “Eastern Partnership” countries (Georgia plus Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine), and from its southern neighbours in the Middle East and North Africa. It sounds, perhaps, like an odd mix to bring together. But the idea behind EVPA’s Impact in the Neighbourhood conference was to connect two of its programmes and, with a nascent impact investment sector in both regions, to give people a chance to learn from each other as well as from speakers a bit further along the process – from Portugal, Poland, Croatia, Czechia and more. 

The countries are also united by what EVPA describes as a “challenging socio-political context” – a vast understatement in some cases. As one speaker pointed out, ‘neighbourhood’ has connotations of warmth and safety – far from the reality when there is fighting on one’s borders. In one session, the facilitators asked us to come up with a vision for a future impact ecosystem in the region, and then write down something we could start, stop and continue right now to help us get there. One group, under ‘stop’, wrote one word: war. 

The EVPA projects are funded by the European Union as part of its neighbourhood and enlargement policies (Georgia officially applied for EU membership last year). Even among countries that will never join the bloc, it’s clearly in the EU’s interest to promote stability and alignment with western values – but, I was told, it’s also about supporting sustainable economic development and the green and digital transition. The EU is one of the biggest donors in these regions. But teaming up with EVPA was “a new approach, an ecosystem approach, an approach to truly dive into scalability, impact transformation”, the European Commission’s Hoa-Binh Adjemian said. Indeed, the EC was itself, in a sense, an impact investor, he said. “But we still feel that there's something missing… how can we have more impact?”

The reason why we came here in such a huge delegation from the European Commission is to discuss with you and to try to crack the ‘how’

“The reason we came here in such a huge delegation from the European Commission is to discuss with you, to explore, and to try to crack the ‘how’”, Adjemian continued. “How can we scale and how can we meet these challenges?”

Human switchboard

Our latest Pioneer Interview is with gender-lens investing powerhouse Suzanne Biegel. Her long-time friend and colleague, Joy Anderson, described her as a sort of “human switchboard” – a brilliant image that captures someone dedicated to connecting the right people so they can get good stuff done. I sat down with Suzanne in her London home recently to hear her story: it involves Harry Potter, bears, a place named Eden – and now, a mission that matters more than anything.


A flurry of reports came out this week that didn’t make it to our news coverage but are worth highlighting here. The Possibilists, an alliance of 20 youth social innovation networks, found that fewer than one in 10 young social innovators can live off of their social change ventures – but, despite financial insecurity and climate anxiety, young changemakers have high levels of life satisfaction. Social Enterprise UK and the coalition behind Social Value 2032, which aims to see social value influence all public sector procurement as well as spending by large private companies, published their roadmap. Another report highlighted the value of enterprise grants – grants that encourage charities and social enterprises to increase or maintain their income from selling services or goods. And Big Society Capital published its 2022 annual review, highlighting a sharp drop in net profits, driven by reduced valuation gains in its social impact investment portfolio as financial assets globally were hit by economic instability.


This week's top stories:

Suzanne Biegel: ‘It took me having a fatal illness to come back to my original self'

Institutional investors fastest-growing source of capital for impact investment managers, new GIIN survey reveals

Top 100 social enterprises in UK revealed: NatWest SE100 2023


Photo: Participants at this week's Impact in the Neighbourhood conference (credit: EVPA)

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