A Performance Measurement System for Social Investors is Unveiled

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September 24, 2011; Source: Christian Science Monitor | We’d love to know what you think! Recently, a grading system to evaluate social impact was unveiled at the Clinton Global Initiative. Leaders hope this performance measure will motivate more companies, foundations and individuals to invest in philanthropic efforts.

The Global Impact Investing Rating System, or GIIRS, aims to answer the question, “How do you know where your money can best be used?” Alvaro Rodriguez, head of IGNIA, one of 25 social investment funds that completed a GIIRS pilot, told the Christian Science Monitor that “this rating system is putting your feet to the fire. You said you’re trying to have a positive impact—are you meeting that promise or not?”

It is estimated that today there are more than 300 social-venture funds, with the field expected to grow to $400 billion in assets and a potential $183 billion in profits by 2020, according to J.P. Morgan.

To achieve this growth, investors will need to become aware of impact investing and be convinced that it produces both financial and social returns. This has been hard to prove without clear standards to measure “impact performance”. GIIRS, a product of the independent nonprofit B-Lab, uses social impact metrics to track impact in “consumer-friendly” language.

 A tiered fee structure was developed for investors to access reports that simplify research and investment decisions. Companies pay between $1,250 and $15,000 to be rated to attract investors or identify areas of improvement.

Some observers feel that GIIRS still faces challenges before it can be deemed a success. Will businesses actually react to feedback? Can they take constructive criticism and improve? Is it applicable to diverse industries and regions? How GIIRS fits into the matrix of social investing is still unclear.

Investment leaders say a combination of investor interest and effective measurement tools can mean moving from intention to action. It remains to be seen whether this approach can direct meaningful dollars to meet the needs of our society while boosting the portfolios of investors.—Nancy Knoche