SIM TIG Week: The unavoidable impact of impact by Nicole Martens

Hi, I’m Nicole Martens, head of Africa and Middle East at Principles for Responsible Investment. On leaving university, as a development economist and bleeding-heart activist, I was determined to dedicate my career to making a difference. I wanted to use my newly acquired skillset to improve the socioeconomic circumstance of my fellow Africans. In support of this ambition, there were two things I was determined to avoid: the mining and/or financial services sector and the field of monitoring and evaluation.

My perception of mining and financial services was that these industries were plagued by a plethora of ethical pitfalls due to their ruthlessly exploitative nature. My avoidance of monitoring and evaluation stemmed from my utter fear of the practice, viewing it as arcane and potentially pointless in the absence of true commitment to improvement.

About three weeks into my first job as an economic consultant, I had already begun advising mining and financial services companies on issues of socio-economic development. Over the next few years I worked on numerous projects for companies like this, including impact assessments—some of which were definitely exercises in marketing.

A few years later I was working exclusively with private equity investors, advising on the environmental, social, and governance aspects of African projects.

Right now, I work exclusively with financial services sector players, specifically investors, who often have mining interests. My conversations with these stakeholders have increasingly focused on impact measurement and management. And just like that, the things that I had hoped to avoid my entire career are now a part of my day-to-day.

Recently, the interest of investors has expanded to include the impact of their portfolios. This is largely in response to three things: increasing acceptance that understanding and accounting for impact is financially material; growing consumer demand for impact reporting in addition to reports on financial performance; and increasing regulatory pressure to consider the impacts of investments beyond financial return.

Lesson Learned:

Investors now want to understand what is meant by impact, which frameworks and tools to use, how to assess materiality, and how to report on the impact of their investments in a useful way for making decisions. And it’s more than just a passing fad. Responsible investment trends globally mean that if they want to succeed in today’s world of investment (and tomorrow’s), investors must understand, measure, and monitor impact. And they need to do it quickly and effectively.

As a result, my day-to-day work now increasingly incorporates investment impact and its measurement.

While I do still believe that mining and financial services are inherently exploitative, I have grown to embrace the fact that I can work with, rather than against, these industries to create change. And while I do still believe that monitoring and evaluation are largely arcane fields, I am more convinced every day that these practices can genuinely improving impact —which, despite the betrayal I may feel to my underdeveloped, fresh-out-of-varsity self, fills me with a great optimism about the future of the African circumstance.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Social Impact Measurement Week with our colleagues in the Social Impact Measurement Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SIM TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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