A couple of months ago I got a call from a consultant for me to share my experience on social
innovation in Malaysia. Four days later I was on a plane to the Middle East to speak to about 150
corporate and government stakeholders on social investment.
I had prepared my slides before travelling, but at a day before the talk, I got worried whether I was
on point. I mean, these were corporate finance people who have been invited by their government
to look at social investment in a serious way. Should I angle the talk on investing or on impact? That
night I frantically reworked my slides as best I can based on what I think the audience would like to
So I changed things. Basically, I put it this way – make a case for impact first. Then if the investor
understands impact, they will appreciate both the financial and social returns they are getting. I
assumed they will.
At the end of it I told the funders and investors, that there are three ways to go about investing for
One, they can invest in impact projects where the government provides backing. This is particularly
relevant for complex social issues that are difficult to monetise (for example, mental health issues,
drug-use issues, etc.)
Two, they can invest in projects that provide both financial and social returns. This works for projects
that have investible products and services that are sustainable (for example, education programmes,
energy projects, building homes or water and sanitation, etc.)
Three, they can themselves commission projects that are aligned with their own corporate vales and
priorities. Or they can pool resources with other funders and investors on these projects (for
example, creating jobs or economic opportunities that serves a relevant customer base, etc.)
Social investment is the input that goes to output interventions, that lead to outcomes and impact.
The point is, we need to align the output, outcome and impact with the values of the people who
provide the input, which are the resources that funders, investors and commissioners provide.
I hope the way I way I presented social investment made sense to them. I didn’t just want to tell
them how it works, but why and how it would work for them. If you are presenting on a similar topic
you should approach it this way and help them formulate their own thinking based on the ideas you
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