Investing for impact

Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, and Myrna Atalla, executive director of venture philanthropy organisation, Alfanar, discuss what corporations, philanthropists, and impact investors can do to support social enterprises.

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About the episode

A new generation of entrepreneurs are setting up mission-driven businesses to solve social problems in a job-creating sustainable way. Social enterprises come in all shapes and sizes and span a variety of sectors and markets. Some focus on the provision of goods, like handicrafts or food, while others offer services such as online translation, access to off-grid energy or microfinance.

But for all the success stories, many social enterprises are still struggling to either scale effectively and compete in a for-profit marketplace or wean themselves off a dependency on grant funding.

In this episode of The Impact Room, we look at how the social enterprise ecosystem has grown over the past two decades, examine the ingredients for success, and hear how impact investment is changing the game.

Seaweed farmers in Paje, Zanzibar, employed by Mwani Zanzibar, a social enterprise, that harvests seaweed sustainably to make skincare products and create local jobs. Photo: Tommy Trenchard (Panos Pictures)

Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, a nonprofit that has pioneered the investment of patient capital into social business, shares her thoughts about how innovative partnerships can help scale and sustain impact-driven start-ups.

The author of New York Times best seller The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor, Novogratz speaks passionately about Acumen’s investees, talks about her hopes for achieving moonshot goals, such as universal electricity access, and gives some advice to philanthropists about how they can back social enterprises effectively.

Alfanar executive director Myrna Atalla, meanwhile, explains the opportunity for philanthropy to support mission-driven businesses and reflects on the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs focussed on impact and climate-related issues.

Atalla also shares details of Alfanar’s two new initiatives, a US$50m regional impact investment fund, and a $5m pooled fund to provide operating grants and zero interest loans to organisations driving women's economic empowerment in the MENA region.

About the host

Maysa Jalbout is a leader in international development and philanthropy. Her previous roles include founding CEO of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, a $1bn philanthropic initiative based in Dubai, and founding CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation. Maysa is a visiting scholar at MIT and ASU, and a non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Find her on Twitter @MaysaJalbout.