Dean Hand is Chief Research Officer at the Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN), and she’s had extensive experience with impact measurement and management.
The GIIN is a pivotal player in developing a global set of impact measurement and management tools that investors rely on.
In this episode, Dean explains both the origins and the utility of the leading frameworks that the GIIN manages. We also explore the broader alphabet soup of frameworks, standards and principles that are out there.
The Impact Stack
This podcast was one of the initial conversations that inspired the long-form research paper, The Impact Stack. The insights and ideas discussed made me realise that impact measurement frameworks had consolidated, it’s an inflection point.
The report captures the core set of systems that leading impact investors are using today.
Listen on Soundcloud
On this episode…
This episode is a practical guide for impact practitioners on the current state of Impact Measurement and Management (IMM).
The market has realised the importance of using consistent systems, and the frameworks are starting to consolidate, they’re harmonising.
We’re at an inflection point, and Dean Hand is the ideal person to help us understand what the new world of IMM looks like.
My key takeaway this week…
“I was hoping we would end up defining a best practice model for stacking the various impact frameworks together. But what became clear, is that there’s no one-size-fits all approach, and instead, it’s more like a recipe, with a range of ingredients to choose from, to suit your needs.”
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By Dee Brown
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Dean, great to have you here today. Thanks for giving us some time.
It’s a pleasure. Nice to see you, John
Impact measurement is something we talk a lot about on this show. But I’ve never dedicated a whole episode to it. And I couldn’t think of a better guest to get us started. No pressure, no pressure at all. To start off with some of the basics, let’s just jump into how do you define impact measurement? What does it mean to you.
So I always think that you can’t really talk about impact measurement without the word management in there. For me, the two things go hand in hand and are synonymous, in many ways, because there’s such an important relationship between them.
I think very importantly, that investors are really trying to aim for trying to understand what’s happening in their portfolio in order to do something else. And that is really the kind of management bit if you think about it, in other words, you don’t just measure for measurement sake, what you’re trying to actually do is get to a point where you can actually make decisions about what to do with what you found. So really helps you to get to know your portfolio, for example, or investment, if it’s a single investment, and be able to actually then make those decisions accordingly. But it really is in the eye of what that investor actually wants to achieve.
I think we’re at an interesting point right now. And I think our audience will appreciate the hard work that impact investors do to measure the financial returns of their investments, as well as the social and environmental impacts. And while there are centuries of global accounting standards to cover the finance side, there’s no universal standard for impact measurement. But what we are seeing is some genuine harmonisation there. And GIIN has been central to this, and so can you help us understand the journey from the early days of the GINN and how the IRIS+ system of metrics evolved?
Sure. I love your comparison with the financial industry, because I often have to remind ourselves that it took the financial industry almost 150 years to get to this point. So sometimes we need to just be a little bit gentle on ourselves in terms of how much work is actually involved in getting to the point of where we are now. And we are at an interesting juncture.
I think one of the things before I talk a little bit about the IRIS+ system, and how we got here is important to actually remember is that there are many kinds of purposes that people are actually looking for from their investments.
So firstly, some of it relates to just the basics of actual disclosures. Some of it also relates to how we label and define things, okay. And some of it also relates to what we’re actually trying to do to advance our investment practices in a particular way. So I think that’s part of the problem with why people get so confused. And we can come back to that.
But let me revert to IRIS+ as a system. And really what it is, is it’s a system that allows an investor to be able to actually understand their measurement and management of their portfolio in order to be able to optimise their performance.
Its origin story is really interesting, because where it started 10 or 12 years ago, it was really to try and firstly just harmonise across the definitions that actually existed out there, mostly in microfinance to a certain extent, but it really just tried to say, what are all the definitions to describe the same thing, because at that stage, there were so many different ways of describing just one particular data point. And the idea was to try and harmonise those, in a number of different ways, but largely to get people into a common language and a common taxonomy.
I came across IRIS+ for the first time when I was kind of cutting my teeth in the investment industry, when it was IRIS 1.0. We’re now talking about IRIS 5.0 or 6.0. And so we’ve gone through these very rigorous iteration processes in order to be able to make sure that this taxonomy actually has single definitions for each data point. In each case, those are very carefully worked out with experts in thematic areas, in order to be able to make sure that we’re not just thinking up pieces of information around various sectors.
The GIIN doesn’t try and be an expert in every single sector. But what we do is draw in a whole lot of players so for example, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) when it comes to talking about quality jobs, so that we can actually build a set of core metrics around a particular theme, based on that empirical evidence; what should that metric look like?
On top of that what’s also happened is actually harmonising various other frameworks that sit within this frame in order to be able to actually say; How does this metric link to the SDGs, for example, or the Joint Indicators that most DFI’s use, or the HIPSO for example. To be able to actually harmonise those frameworks across the metrics, to make it really easy for people to actually use.
So that’s really the origin story of how it actually came about, you know, there’s a whole series of puzzle pieces around it, that that have built out from it. But I’ll come to those in a minute, if that’s something that you want to actually explore. But let me stop there on just the IRIS+ taxonomy and system and how it actually came to be.
Well, that’s right. And I really appreciate that. And it is good to keep it modular. And there’s so many pieces of the puzzle. And in some ways, this process of harmonisation is trying to reduce those and consolidate and find how the biggest pieces connect together. And IRIS+, built by the GIIN is very good at connecting. And so could you help us understand some of the other major puzzle pieces that investors are using, you’ve got the IFC’s operating principles for impact management is a key one, also the Impact Management Project.
For investors that may not be deeply ensconced in this world, if they were sort of starting to think about we really want to engage with this impact investing world but impact measurement just seems so complex, is there sort of a best practice model for pulling these pieces together.
And let me just fess up with something that I think is actually important maybe to put in context for your listeners here is that I come from a research background. That’s my bread and butter. That’s what I look at, I listened to whether it’s via data or research that we might conduct empirically, or even anecdotally, to investors and what they actually struggle with.
The GINN, obviously, and impact investing by its very nature, a fundamental tenet is impact measurement and management. That’s what defines it in many respects. But I am more of the research orientation than just the IMM experts specifically.
So the way in which I understand this is that investors are often using frameworks for different things. So if we look at the Operating Principles for Impact Management, for example, that really speaks to process, it really speaks to nine principles that say, if you follow these kinds of processes, chances are you have a good or solid basis on which to run your impact management portfolio.
One of the things from a research point of view that is very curious for us, is that what we don’t know about those processes is whether there is a relationship between those processes, and the impact outputs that we might seek at any point in time. In other words, the results of your impact performance.
That’s where a kind of research gap actually exists at the moment. But putting that aside, because if we waited for a perfect world, we wouldn’t do anything. Those principles are really good, solid basis on which an investment manager might want to start an investment practice.
What they need to probably tie it up with is a set of metrics to be able to actually say, because some of the principles do talk to; set targets, set goals. Now, how do you do that you use that with a set of metrics. So that’s an example of how you can actually use those two frameworks, call it that, in a harmonised way.
In other words, they’re suiting different purposes. And it’s the same thing with an impact classification system, which is the impact management projects ABC system, for example, which interestingly, we’ve just integrated, and acquired into the IRIS+ system. So within that, we are now starting to do cross-walks between the way in which you might map a portfolio in the ABCs, for example, and how that speaks to the impact metrics that sit within the IRIS+ system.
And that’s an important kind of, maybe those are two examples, if I can put it that way that help you understand how to use frameworks in different ways. So some people are using frameworks for example, to understand their risk, so an ESG investor might do that or use a particular framework to do that. Some are trying to understand how their portfolio maps in a way that they can compare it to another investor for example. Some are trying to understand their processes in order to be able to actually make sure that they’re following good practices, and others are trying to put all those together.
That’s great. Really, really great to see how those pieces fit together. I think that’s really valuable, really practical lessons for people. And we’re talking a lot about definitions. Communication is where I come from, from a lot of these things. And something that comes up a lot, but I think we are starting to get a better feel for it, is this idea of additionality?
For a long time, that was central to classifying impact, and there was some confusion about it. But I think, recently, it’s given way to this idea of contribution. So I’d wonder how the GINN views this, this word,
We think that contribution is a crucial element of impact investing, we think that it speaks enormously to one of the characteristics that we have of impact investing as part of the definition of how it is that you actually understand and manage your portfolio.
Now, the only way in which you can actually do that is really to understand the inputs that you are making as an investor. Those inputs, for example, could be the obvious one, which is your capital. Okay. But it’s also the other ones that are perhaps not so obvious. So for example, the terms under which you either place that capital in an equity deal, for example, or in a debt transaction, does the loan get recalled very quickly or slowly? Or is there some patience in the debt structure that you’re putting together for a particular investment, those terms all contribute to the success or the outcome of both the financial performance, as well as the impact performance.
Other things that our inputs are our technical assistance, for example. And sometimes even things like relationships that you might have with your investee company? And understanding what the impact of this of this investment is on the ground with those that ultimately feel the results of what you’re trying to achieve from an impact point of view.
Does it meet their needs, for example? And how are you using that information? So contribution is a crucial element of this whole process. And it provides a feedback loop that allows investors to be able to actually make decisions. If I exit suddenly, for example, as opposed to in consort with the investee company and the needs that they are trying to service. Does that make a difference in terms of the long term sustainable results that I’m trying to actually achieve as an investor?
Those are crucial pieces of feedback that help an investor make a decision about the timing of an exit, for example, and the terms of that exit. So contribution is absolutely crucial.
I think, you know, in the early days of and I have a few wrinkles, here to be able to speak about the early days, and that I’ve probably had more rubber on the road experience in terms of just trying to do this both practically in an investment company, and then also on the research and knowledge side of it.
But what is critical is being able to, for an investor, you know, the idea of additionality probably was born out of kind of like this idea of thinking about how do we make a difference. And the only conclusion that people in the absence of any other information is to say, well, if this investment somehow did something that wasn’t there before. Unfortunately, there was also almost I mean, it’s a noble thought and useful on some level, but very useless, if you can’t, in fact, actually easily track that. And it doesn’t, in fact, actually help you to make adjustments to your investment strategy.
And so, you know, there’s no usefulness beyond the idea of additionality, in terms of portfolio management and the management of your results, that contribution offers in a much better and stronger way. I might not have strung that sentence together very neatly, but I hope you do understand what I’m saying.
No, I think so. I think I think contribution really is the key piece and understanding the investor contribution to a company. And you covered off on yes, there’s capital, but there’s also management skills, having a long time horizon. I think that that’s really come through and we get a bit mixed up with are we judging the impact of the company or are we judging the impact of the investor and they’re both leading towards the beneficiaries perspective, they’re both one and the same thing. But from those individual groups. We need to think about it and measure it.
Yeah. So so maybe they’re not quite one in the same thing, but they’re both very valuable. They both offer enormously important information. Perhaps the emphasis and I say emphasis, not in an effort to actually say that investor contribution is more important than an investee contribution. It’s not, they’re just different. But the focus where we’re helping investors is to focus on investor contribution and how it is that they’re using those feedback loops to be able to actually address changes in their portfolio.
A piece of work that we’re doing at the GIIN at the moment is to work with investors that primarily focus on listed equities as an asset class. Now, traditionally, most people have said, well, impact investing can’t play a role there. And people have sort of said, well, we can kind of do proxy voting and things like that. And proxy voting is really, it serves a purpose, but it’s not really going to help you make a difference. And what investors are starting to do there is to actually say, what’s my contribution here? How do I actually build consortia of shareholders in order to be, I mean, those kinds of blocks are being very useful on the financial side, to push an impact agenda forward. And so that becomes quite crucial to be able to actually think about contribution as being a series of feedback loops that helped me as an investor engage in ways that are fundamentally different if I didn’t have that information.
I think impact in listed markets is contentious, but really interesting, and we can’t ignore the listed markets, you know, huge, huge potential for impact there. And you talked about voting, I often think is engagement as really being that where the rubber hits the road to lever for change. Do you think there are some other elements that they can drive that contribution?
Yeah. So I mean, it is fair to say that, you know, much of impact investing has gathered ground in private markets. But public market actors are increasingly starting to play with exactly what it is that we can do. And I mean, in our last investor survey, this was the second biggest asset class that was growing in terms of the number of investments that investors were actually making.
So it tells you something that, that this is increasingly an asset class where impact investors are seeking to figure out how it is that they engage. Now, obviously, it’s a little bit more difficult. And you can’t just cut and paste what private markets have done into public markets. And so there are a series of working groups to try and figure that puzzle out.
But some of them are related to things like, firstly, what are our targets with these kinds of investments. So some of the listed market investors are thinking about, Hold on a second, maybe I need to actually define my priorities here and my targets a little bit better than I am at the moment. In other words, to avoid being so broad, and to try and in fact, actually say this is what it is that I actually want to achieve. And so when I go in with proxy votes, or at an AGM, or engagement or talk to management, if I’m a big enough bloc, I do it with a particular agenda in mind.
Now, that might sound fairly basic. But what we found is that a lot of even sometimes institutional asset owners that might use a range of asset classes, including public equities, don’t do this probably, effectively enough, they’re often very keen to get to the measurement side of things, but not necessarily in the context of having set those priorities and targets in the first place.
There’s a nuance to that as well, that setting targets is one thing, but doing it in the understanding of what the context data actually looks like, is absolutely crucial. In other words, if I don’t know the size of the problem that I’m trying to solve, how can I set a target? When I don’t know the nature of that problem?
John Treadgold 18:50
Definitely, oh look, you use my favourite word. And that’s nuance. And that’s what we’re always trying to dig into is read between the lines and find that detail. And you’re really thorough. And I just wonder, this is getting into a bit more of a personal mode. But what brought you into this space, what sort of got you excited about the world of financial services and trying to find a different way and deeper metrics and more nuance?
It’s such a big question, John, and I sometimes struggled to answer it without getting very emotional. But I did not start out in finance, or an impact measurement and management or in research at all. What I started out was I grew up as you can gather from my accent in South Africa, and grew up in an environment and a family where we looked very carefully beyond just the boundaries of our very privileged picket fence.
And in South Africa, I was born in the in the heat in the 60s and the heat of apartheid. I went to high school in one of the first integrated schools in South Africa, but run by a bunch of crazy Catholic nuns, who were not going to accept the fact that separate education was on the statute books. And so open their school to everybody.
Most of my high school years were in the 70s, which was a very tumultuous, violent, messy time in South Africa’s history. And so it was right in my face. And I couldn’t help myself, I think I terrified my mother completely about trying to getting involved in in what was the early foundations of an anti apartheid movement. And my mother, at that point, realised that people died doing this, people gave up lots to do this, I lived with a lot of shame for many, many years about the fact that I didn’t do enough. And that I could retreat to my very privileged position in a leafy suburb somewhere, because there was a group areas act that actually dictated where people lived and didn’t live, or couldn’t live.
So it was a long journey, eventually, to get to a point of just looking at the world and recognising that it is not a fair place, and that it is not fair for everyone. And that that isn’t okay. And what was I going to do about it? Most of my friends were immigrating to places like Australia, or the UK, or Canada or whatever. And at the time, my partner and I made a decision that we were not. And if we were not, what was the contribution that we were going to make. And that was, that was a crucial kind of decision point.
South Africa went through an absolutely amazing and miraculous transition in 1994. And which I proud to be part of in some way. But the transformation of a society is a much more systemic thing that takes years and decades and generations. And I’m in for the long haul, if that makes sense. And so I feel very, very strongly about these issues, not only within a South African context, but also globally. There are many systems and we see them daily, that are just not working for people and for planet.
That includes our financial systems, and our food systems. I mean, we’re about to see a really, really, really tragic situation play out in most of the emerging markets, because one of the major food baskets in the world, Ukraine, is not going to be able to distribute its harvest to mostly the developing world. And I don’t think people have comprehended what that means, in some kind of way.
So these systems, these major systems are not working. And so how do we actually change them? And so my small part is about knowledge and research and being able to actually expand on that in a way that helps people understand what they’re doing with their money in a way that is useful.
So I think there’s a lot in the financial systems that need to change as well. And what does that look like? It looks like knowing what your investments are doing, whether you are the person in the street, you know, I look at my own portfolio, my own little pension fund, which is teeny tiny compared to some of the ones that I talked to. And so what is that actually doing? Yes, it’s providing me with something that I might hope to retire to. But does it also contribute the world in which I want to retire to as well, because I not only want to have enough money, but I also want to be able to actually retire to a place that not only me, but the people that I care about in my close circle and my broader circle, are also taken care of. So I just, you know, intrinsically feel that that’s something that is important for all of us.
Oh, thank you, Dean, thank you for sharing that. I think we’ve talked about a lot of the nuts and bolts of impact investing but it really is so important to bring that back down to ground and talk about the need, you know, the origins of it in terms of trying to right some of this inequality. And as you said, this lack of fairness, and really brings it home to how important it isn’t, as you said, more important than ever was wars and likely famine, that sort of thing. Could talk about that all day, but I will keep us on train.
And we’ve talked about a lot of the origin stories. We’ve talked about the frameworks and how they’ve built up. And that’s I think, a lot talking about impact practice. But the next step is talking about performance, which is really exciting. GIIN’s done a lot of work there, built the COMPASS system. And now it’s all about putting together some benchmarks. So can you tell us about the progress there.
Yeah, so the origin story for that I think is also important is that even though we knew investors could might be able to measure their performance there, and whether they were doing that with metrics or processes as we’ve talked about in terms of those different kind of frameworks to use to do that.
One of the things that we started recognising was that impact investors were struggling to understand whether their performance was actually good enough. If I, for example, was interested in financial inclusion, and wanted to know that I could serve as 10,000 clients with responsible financial services products, at the base of the of the pyramid, as it were, I wanted to know whether 10,000 clients was actually some kind of measure of good enough. Now, the only way in which I can do that, or one of the only ways in which I can do that is if I know what my peers are doing. Okay, in the same area, or I know whether that is actually contributing to let’s just say, a sustainable development goal that specifically has that as a target?
How much did I as an investor need to contribute to solving that bigger problem. Up until now investors have not been able to do that, they’ve not been able to compare their performance in a normalised way, or a weighted way with their peers, and the extent of the problem that they’re actually trying to solve. So the GIIN has been working on this, this has been a three-four year research project. We’ve obviously published things along the way, where we first of all said, we asked ourselves a couple of basic questions, the first iteration of this, we said, Is this even feasible? And so our early study in this area was we pick two themes. And we said, let’s just try and do a test case, is it feasible. We had very small samples, a lot of people criticised us for having very small samples, we said, we’re not worried about the sample, we’re just trying to ask the question, is it in fact, actually feasible? And we figured out that, in fact, it was.
The next question that we actually asked us to say, is there a methodical way in which you can do this? In other words, that across a number of themes, is there a pattern in which you can actually do this, and that’s what really gave birth to a methodology. We published it as an open public good, and called it COMPASS. But it really is a method to be able to actually say, to investors and to service providers, here’s how you can do it, go and build some things.
What we also discovered in that process was it investors needed to perhaps have not just one data point that told them something of their portfolio, they actually needed a couple, a handful of them, one to tell them how much they were doing. Okay, how fast they were doing it. And thirdly, how effectively they were doing it, or how efficiently they were doing it for every dollar of investment they made. So just those things were telling us that they needed a handful of pieces of information to do that.
So what we did when building the benchmark is that it’s a proof of concept is that we’re, we’re actually saying, Okay, let’s take our own methodology. And let’s in fact, actually build something and see whether you can actually benchmark performance in a particular theme, we chose a theme, because it’s where most investors across many of their portfolios, and we knew this, from our own research have most of their assets allocated to or a good deal of them allocated to it. So that’s why we chose financial services and focused on financial inclusion. And that’s what we produced and launched earlier this year.
So for the first time, if you think about it, investors are able to actually gauge what is good enough performance actually look like. How do I stack up next to my peers? Now, there may be some rude awakenings in that. A lot of impact investors like the good news story, and when they get the feedback that okay, maybe my peer is actually doing better than me, it should force you to ask questions. Why is that? What are they doing? That’s different? What could I do to improve? And so we come back to this decision point again which I think is important,
and why financial inclusion?
Our investor surveys over many years told us that, in fact, actually a good deal of impact investors investment portfolios, their assets under management was allocated to financial inclusion, whether it’s a sign of idiocy or not, the GIIN doesn’t always choose the easiest things to actually do.
So we literally said, we want to roll out benchmarks going forward as a proof of concept. The next stage would be to scale these and we hope that others and invite others to actually build alongside us, as well or separately to us doesn’t matter as long as people are building. But we chose those sectors based on where most of the assets under management are currently allocated to financial services or financial inclusion, and microfinance was a big one, by its nature.
The next one is agriculture, which is arguably a much more difficult sector because it’s so diverse, crop yields are different geographies are different, that’s what we’re working out now. We’ve we’re currently building that benchmark at the moment as a proof of concept.
Very good. And that’s it this comparison. I mean, it’s always been a challenge, even within a portfolio, let alone with your peers. And so at least making a differentiation between sectors is really clear. Really important. Have you mapped out what you think of those major sectors? I mean, you mentioned financial inclusion, agriculture, is there sort of a list to how we can collate them?
So we see it as a bit of a matrix. And, you know, I was part of developing the impact investing industry in South Africa. And part of that was, was really developing those early products. And what we realised was exactly the point that you’re making is, is that it was very difficult to actually compare an investment in housing to one in agriculture, particularly if you’ve got a multifocal portfolio.
What we found was that there’s a cross cutting thing that we’re actually trying to address, so that we find that in what we’re doing with this benchmark work is each benchmark may have a vertical in terms of the theme, but there are horizontal layers that go across.
So for example, gender is one, equality is another, you could put those two together, greenhouse gas emissions is another one, quality jobs is another one that crosses a multitude of them now, I won’t do it perfectly in every vertical. But those if you think of a benchmark as being a vertical, and then woven through that is another benchmark, if you want to, that crosses horizontally.
And that’s we think we haven’t got there yet. But we think that that’s the way in which you build a portfolio view, at the moment we’re looking at an investment view.
Very good. That’s amazing that that’s really helped me tie that together. And there’s obvious linkages, there are similarities to the SDGs, which cover off on some of those horizontal layers. But look, this has been great. We went right back to the beginning talked about some of the origins. And we’re right here now talking about where, you know, GINN is looking forward, and the hopes and aspirations.
I think that was a really a really practical, really useful wrap up of where we’ve been and where we’re going. But before I let you go, it would be great to get a book recommendation,
The book that I’m currently reading at the moment is called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. And it’s by deep brown, and it is a, an indigenous history of the American West. And I think that it speaks to me so strongly about the way in which we view history, because often we’re taught it in schools as a series of facts. But in fact, it is actually depending on how you view it. And there’s so little documented evidence of the history of the American West, and in fact, actually the history of any country or region or mechanism, if you think about it, from the perspective of different stakeholders in the actual lived experience of that history.
I think it’s really important to kind of link that back, I spoke earlier a little bit about my experience of growing up in an apartheid context. And it really is, in the eye of the beholder. How you want to see things and I think it’s important sometimes just to be able to actually also bring that through to measurement, what are we looking for, to be able to make the decisions that we want to make? And how does that actually link back to how we choose to see things?
Definitely. And I look and that can be echoed in Australia as well with the history and the whitewashing of colonialization here, and there have been some great books Dark Emu is one that comes through a lot, trying to rewrite that history and dig into some of the stories that were being told.
Well, look, Dean, thank you for this really great, sort of broad overview. And, and it sounds like you guys are working hard, so we’ll have to catch up again in the future and catch up on progress.
Thank you so much. John is lovely to talk to you too. And thank you for the honour of being able to talk to you today.
Pleasure, thanks Dean.