“Macro indicators show good performance, but below the surface, there are economic and social issues that threaten the cohesion of Ghanaian society.” With these words of both optimism and caution, Hamdiya Ismailia, the General Manager of the Venture Capital Trust Fund and Chair of Impact Investing Ghana (IIGh) debuted IIGh to a room full of stakeholders in Ecobank Ghana’s brand-new auditorium.
Impact investing itself lives in a world of contradictions trying to resolve themselves. “Impact investing is not philanthropy. We have moved past that,” said Ismailia. This is the central tension in impact investing. You invest to create social and environmental impact, but you also expect returns. It is an industry that is not just trying to prove that you can have your cake and eat it too, but that if you don’t, eventually there will be no cake left for anyone.
This renewed push for impact investing in Ghana specifically, and more broadly around the world, comes out of necessity. According to Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the Chief of Mission at the International Organization for Migration, $5 to 7 trillion are needed each year to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a bold collection of 17 goals set by the UN General Assembly in 2015 to be achieved by 2030. Like the Millennium Development Goals that came before them, they include such stretch goals as ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Gender Equality’. It will take an equally bold combination of innovation in policy, implementation, and financing to achieve them.
A 2014 study out of the Harvard Kennedy School funded by UBS calculated that foundations hold more than $1.5T in assets. Foundations invest philanthropic capital (foundation assets) and both operate and make grants out of the income generated by their assets. While it’s hard to pin down the total amount of overall foundation spending, foundation expenditures are somewhere around $150B annually. It’s a lot of money, but it does not get close to the capital needed to achieve the SDGs. It’s only like one-and-a-half SoftBank Vision Funds. Some of the SDG funding needs to come from the traditional capital markets. According to Sam Yeboah, the Founder of Mirepa Capital Ltd and the IIGh Taskforce Board Representative, “achieving our social and environmental goals requires the deliberate catalyzing of impact investing to address unmet societal needs.”
Ghana is taking deliberate steps to do just that. They are joining the Global Steering Group for Impact Investing, a group started by the G7 in 2013 to catalyze the development of and collaboration within the sector. They are only the second Sub-Saharan African country, after South Africa, to join the group. At the IIGh launch event on June 18th, Sir Harvey McGrath, Chair of Big Society Capital and the UK National Advisory Board on Impact Investing, applauded the Government of Ghana for being the first government in the world to align their budget to a baseline SDG report.
So, will it work? Ismaila is optimistic because “Impact Investing Ghana is a private sector-led membership organization comprising leading players in Ghana’s entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and funding ecosystem.” The majority-female group takes to heart SDG 17, ‘Partnerships for the Goals’. “Leveraging our collective stakeholder strengths, we know we can make significant strides in achieving the SDGs and our development in practical terms,” she added.
Early stage investing is hard. Investing in emerging markets is hard. Creating real, sustained social impact is hard. Combining the three will not be easy, but IIGh understands the road ahead.
Amma Gyamo, Partnerships Lead for IIGh, said, “We have a lot of work to do but first we will take a step back and engage with innovative research partners to map out and present clear, concrete public policy recommendations to address the main development challenges facing our country and region.”