Thursday, January 31, 2013

IRR v/s Social Impact: Do financial institutions necessarily go through this dilemma?

The news on Times of India Social Impact Awards & what Nicolas Aguzin, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan- Asia-Pacific said during his speech there about JPM's commitment to its social responsibility triggered a cackle of thoughts that're simultaneously standalone, contradictory, inter-connected and inter-dependent;

  • CSR (Corporate Social REPONSIBILITY) isn’t necessarily the same as CSI (Corporate Social IMPACT)
  • Given all the progress out there in the science of measuring impact, it’s possible a lot of companies have figured out OR will figure out sooner than later, how they could reposition their CSR as CSI
  • In an effort to make their social impact measurable, it’s possible that corporates' inadvertently project & expect social-change in a defined, time-bound (& not practicable) fashion?   - While objectivity & accountability are a must, through my wife’s  work in the development sector (at an implementation level..), I could sense/ witness how some inappropriately designed impact measures of a funding organization can/ have killed or maimed a promising social initiative, which if supported on a longer term could've indeed resulted in replicable, scalable & sustainable social change
  • Finally, if not blatantly so, at the very root most CSR initiatives tend to carefully (& smartly?) avoid any conflict of interest with the organization’s business goals – while this is understandable since the very purpose of a business is NOT social impact but profitability in the longer-term, it definitely makes more long-term business sense to ‘tangibly’ align the CSR/ CSI with an organization’s core business mission. While I wouldn’t risk associating this with the “social business model” of Prof. Muhammad Yunus, I’d think it’s nevertheless related, but limited to formulating the CSR plan – Social-Aligned Business Responsibility-SaBRe anyone?? :-) 

While attempting to apply, superimpose the above ethos onto the social sensitivity of the investing universe out there, I could only come up with a posse of questions, but no obvious answers – ponder this;

  • What would amount to a social impact of a financial institution (LP)? – i.e. apart from making sure the eventual investments (through GPs) are in alignment with certain mandated geo-political guidelines – I do see some institutions following macro-level charters like the Equator principle et al & that’s no doubt a great start, but not sure if that’s comprehensive enough in all complex geological, social contexts and effective for what length of a long-term?
  • In a climate where the accepted investment efficiency measures employed are the time-bound investment-to-exit cycles & IRR, is there a safety catch, any checks & measures that’d  ensure sustenance of an innovative enterprise that may have a greater social impact, if not an eye-popping ROI?

Food for thought…