Measuring the "Impact" in Impact Investing

Without solid metrics to quantifiably measure results in social and environmental terms, the whole “impact” part of “impact investing” would be worthless. The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) is working to build an understanding around impact measurement, and they have collaborated with their members, TriLinc included, to write a report on the “State of Measurement: Practice in the SGB Sector,” which was released this past month.

ANDE is a global network of organizations that propel entrepreneurship in emerging markets with a mission to understand the impact of supporting small and growing businesses (SGBs). As a rule of thumb, they aim to create a measurement system to figure out how well companies are doing, and help them to improve.

Recently, ANDE conducted a survey and follow-up phone interviews with 34 of its members. TriLinc’s Marni Hodder and Kathryn Haugen contributed to the survey and participated in a follow-up phone interview. TriLinc helped ANDE gain an understanding of the struggles and triumphs it has endured thus far with impact measurement. Further, Joan Trant and Ms. Haugen joined the network on a Metrics group working call to help make changes and improve upon the rough draft of report.

As depicted in the report, ANDE found that most impact investors in this market are operating using three key “lenses:” collecting metrics related to both the scale and depth of impact, tracking economic development indicators such as job creation, and collecting specialized sector metrics to benchmark their portfolios. Then, a majority of firms and funds report these results to their current funders, and often use the results in their discussions with prospective investors.

However, 40% of ANDE’s survey respondents indicated that they believe the largest challenge they face is the lack of stability and resources for their investees concerning their impact measurement. Additionally, social metrics need to “balance and align” with financial performance indicators. This would place greater emphasis on transparency and attribution, as well as help to develop more efficient and effective ways of data collection and management.

All in all, there has been tremendous advancements in measurements in the past five years. ANDE has been encouraged by the organizations they surveyed, who have all either implemented some measurement strategy or are in the process of doing so, lending to their early efforts centered around the need for such “accountability” (Metrics 1.0) and “standardization” (Metrics 2.0), and are now moving on to “value creation” (Metrics 3.0). Together, they have proved it is possible to collaboratively create reasonable, sustainable metrics that funds and investors across the globe can utilize.