PR & thought leadership

Impact investing needs storytellers

Carolyn McMaster | October 6, 2015

The SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) conference kicks off tonight. More than 2,700 people—mostly impact investors and social enterprises—will stream into Fort Mason in San Francisco to attend programs and make connections over the following three days.

I’m going to be there this year, and it has gotten me thinking about the story of impact investing and social capital. Mainstream business media are covering this arena more seriously and more frequently (a quick search of the New York Times came up with 46 articles). Big financial institutions are forming impact investing divisions at a rapid clip (even Bain jumped in this year). It seems as if new impact investing firms are forming all the time.

But while the sector is growing in size and importance, the story still largely languishes in the sustainability ghetto. Mainstream journalists cover impact investing as an interesting—if fringey and possibly suspect—trend. That needs to change, and fast. Impact investing is (I believe) one of the keys to getting our world out of the mess it’s in.

Here are three key changes I’d like to see in media coverage:

  • There’s an accurate portrayal of the extent of the sector, and reporters write about the growing number of social enterprises and the increasingly well-developed network of funders that support them.
  • Readers get more context, and journalists show how impact investing strategies are affecting the investing and capital markets generally.
  • We see the bigger picture of collective impact on business and people.

Mainly, I want to see impact investing covered as a normal aspect of the financial sector—the term impact investing no longer needs to be introduced as new or alien. That has happened with sustainability, which went from the margins to mainstream in a dozen or so years. And it could happen with impact investing.

But most reporters and editors aren’t going to write about it with more understanding or depth unless impact investors start telling the story in language and with examples that everyone understands—and business writers pay attention to. It’s up to the sector’s leaders to shape the narrative and work with journalists to tell a great story.


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