Moving Minds, Moving Money: SOCAP/Europe in Amsterdam

Zahid Torres-Rahman

On Monday, I attended the launch of SOCAP Europe in Amsterdam. Founded in 2008, as a “multi-platform organization dedicated to the flow of capital towards social good”, SOCAP has already established itself as one of the leading events on the impact investment calendar in the US, but this is the first time the event has come to Europe.

The session was opened by the HRH Princess Maxima of Netherlands, UN Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance. She argued the case for extending access to finance to poor entrepreneurs, and backing this with effective business development support.

The panel that followed brought together some of the movers and shakers in impact investment, and made the point that impact investment presents a huge opportunity and is not just a passing fad. The only spark of contention came from a debate about whether, as one delegate, Cliff Prior, Tweeted, “the future of social investment will come from revolutionary new players or evolution of existing financiers”.

For me the most inspiring part of the evening was the chance to hear about and meet some of the entrepreneurs who received the SOCAPEurope Scholarships.

Tuesday, the first full day was packed with insights and fascinating stories (see my Tweet-by-Tweet account). The messages that stood out for me were:

  • There is an explosive growth in impact investing, though challenges remain (e.g. measuring impact; moving to the mainstream without losing mission; finding investible businesses; getting good fund management staff). Some cautioned against getting to carried away the excitement of impact investing and downplaying the challenges.
  • Mainstreaming requires working in partnership – including with government and companies. There was recognition by a couple of speakers of the important role that large corporations can play (for example through leveraging their value chains to reach SMEs) but I was surprised by the scepticism that existed among many about working with big business. But I was even more surprised by the concern that some people had with profit.
  • The importance of small and medium enterprises and finding ways to finance the “missing middle” of those businesses too big for micro-finance and too small for mainstream banks.

For me the stand out speech of the day (and I have to say there were many good ones) was neither from an investor nor an entrepreneur, but from a priest – James Kimisoi, from the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya, who spoke from the heart about the benefits solar power devices have brought to the communities he serves. His was the final presentation of the day, and he ended it with a call to action: “Hand outs don’t do any good. Investment changes lives. My message to you is come and invest in rural Africa”.

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