Deepening Community Across WES’ Mission Investing Partners to Advance Collective Impact and Action
By Matthias Pries, Impact Investing Manager
“Sometimes you have to be together in a physical space with folks to forge trust and build genuine relationships and connection.”
Betty Francisco, CEO of Boston Impact Initiative
This idea captures the inspiration for World Education Services’ inaugural investee partner gathering. In late October, ahead of the SOCAP23 conference, we brought our partners together to forge trust, nurture relationships, share expertise, and gather insights on how we can collectively influence the field.
Since 2020, WES has formed 25 investment partnerships and committed over $9.8 million of capital to solutions that increase access to opportunity, build wealth, shift power, and advance justice for migrants and communities of color in the United States and Canada. These organizations are led by early-stage entrepreneurs, emerging fund managers, and ecosystem builders that are proximate to the problems they’re seeking to solve. The timing for this first gathering was intentional. Not only have we reached a critical mass of partners to form a community, but we sit at an inflection point with our investment strategy and seek to incorporate the perspective and voices of our partners throughout this work, so that it may be in better service to them.
We hosted the gathering on a historic boat, and with the San Francisco Bay as our backdrop the day began as all days should, by getting to know one another over good food.
We then moved into a series of conversations expertly facilitated by Sonia Sarkar of Healing Capital. The conversations were largely driven by the interests of our partners, prompted by questions focused on the tangible shifts that are needed in the sector, the collective actions or advocacy required to facilitate those shifts, and the role of WES and our community in bringing about this change. The time together was too short, but the rich discussion surfaced many shared experiences and desires for our sector. These included a redefining of investor and investee roles and incentives, improvements in data to facilitate progress, and the importance of transparency in relationship and movement building.
1. Redefining roles, responsibilities, and incentives is critical to advancing equity.
Throughout the day there were calls to redefine and restructure traditional investment industry roles, responsibilities, and incentives in order to advance equity and level the investment playing field. Specifically, an improved power balance between investors and investees with respect to investment structures and terms was identified as a critical and necessary shift. There were calls for investors at all levels to be held to the same standards in terms of the value-add services they provide to their portfolios, with this accountability designated as critical to building the field. The untapped opportunity of performance-linked, and impact-linked, compensation was specified as one method of aligning incentives across investment partnerships. A clear sentiment was the need for a shift in the relationships and power dynamics of private sector investment, from a hierarchical ‘one-to-many’ approach to a model based on trusted partnerships and collective accountability.
“The same way we are held to the fire in terms of how much value we are adding to portfolio companies […] having Limited Partners held to the same standard would be really catalytic to this entire set of emerging fund managers.”
Yigal Kerszenbaum, JFFVentures
At WES, we seek to support our partners beyond the check, that is, we provide not only financial capital, but also human, social, and political capital to deepen our impact. Our trust-based and integrated capital approach – like that employed by our partner REAL People’s Fund – seeks to meet founders and fund managers where they are, providing right-sized capital and coalescing on terms to further our collective mission. Our partnership with Common Future on the Action Lab on Participatory Investing led to the co-creation of a toolkit that forms an important bridge from commitment to action for investors who are willing to re-write the roles in investment decision-making.
2. Improvements in data access and quality underpin many other required shifts in the sector.
Several partners spoke of the importance of data in moving the field forward and identified the need for a more enabling environment to foster higher quality data at both the investment and industry level. Critically, there was a call to help early-stage entrepreneurs and fund managers collect and use impact data, and to more equitably share the burden and cost of this data collection across partners. Data were also seen as critical for supporting a redefining of industry standards, aligning incentives and assigning value. We also noted that data collection and analysis itself is not sufficient to effect change. In order to catalyze the shifts we want to see in our sector, it is necessary to increase collaboration and develop the structures and processes that transform data into informed action.
“What is the data on the societal benefit of [an investment] that makes it more on par with ‘market’?”
Lauren Grattan, Mission Driven Finance
Alongside our investments, WES has also provided grants to partners to help strengthen capacity across key areas such as impact measurement and management. We have also partnered to enhance data and learning within the field of impact investing. New Power Labs is one such partner that is engaging in collaborative research to improve field data quality and quantity of data in the field, particularly around understanding equitable flows of capital. Beyond data gathering, initiatives like the People & Capital Data Partnership map investment and philanthropic capital flows, providing key insights into diversity gaps within portfolios to help transform data into informed action.
3. Transparency is a beacon of trust that is vital for collective action.
The theme of SOCAP23 was “Facing Urgency: Impact at the Speed of Trust,” highlighting trust as the foundation for the collaboration that is needed to take urgent action. In light of this theme, our conversation was a fitting prologue to the conference. In our gathering, transparency was named as a cornerstone for building trust in any investment partnership. There was a call for increased transparency from investors on investment strategy, decision-making processes, and financial and impact reporting requirements. Transparency was seen as critical not only for building trust in the investor-investee relationship, but also to bring other investors into the fold. Throughout the day, the conversation returned to the importance of mobilizing investors for collective action on a scale that can meaningfully shift industry practices.
“People need to see examples […] storytelling is such a powerful tool to bring others along.”
Alison Lingane, Project Equity
WES is seeking to reshape the role of trust in investing and is demonstrating a trust-based investing approach. This practice begins with forming authentic relationships based on mutual respect, transparency, learning, and accountability. We’ve made strides big and small – from making our due diligence process and investment criteria publicly available to reimagining governance. During our gathering we took our work a step further and presented a draft of our new Investment Policy Statement, which names investee and community partners as key stakeholders who offer guidance to and input on our investment approach. We view providing an opportunity for our partners to comment on and shape our investment strategy as critical to building trust and establishing mutual accountability. The statement also ensures that we are crafting a strategy that better serves our partners and advances our mission. Going forward, we will share more on our trust-based investing approach, in the hopes that we will inspire other capital allocators on similar journeys.
Our partner gathering ended with an evening reception, where we shared food, drink, and stories with a broader group of partners and peers. We hope this day was the first of many for our investee partners and look forward to nurturing a community that collaborates towards a more equitable and just future. Over the next year, we hope to adopt new practices and develop new avenues for sharing our collective narrative and impact. Stay tuned for more!