Social Impact Measurement TIG Week: Three Questions From a Newcomer About Measuring Social Impact in Impact Investing by Andrea Azevedo

Hi, I am Andrea Azevedo, a monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) practitioner who very recently moved from leading MEL in the social justice sector to the brave new world of impact management and measurement (IMM) for impact investments with Soros Economic Development Fund.

In this blog, I want to share three questions with MEL practitioners entering the impact investing community and who, like me and many others, believe that the private sector must step up in its contributions to advance equity, inclusivity, and justice in society and in its measurement of those contributions.

What impact are we measuring? I know, this is a big one to start with! As a newcomer, I was surprised by how much confusion still exists in the impact investment space around what is impact. This confusion reflects how the sector still struggles to converge towards a common definition of impact and to the practical challenge of ensuring it is applied consistently. The recent discussions around ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) metrics are a good example. Even when talking with experienced actors in the field, it was visible that the lines were blurred between how a company or a fund manager responsibly manage their risks and opportunities on ESG issues and what positive impact they strive to achieve in the world. This question is being openly discussed by people far more experienced in this field than I am. Centering efforts around clearly defining what impact on people and planet impact investors aim to have becomes imperative to avoid this confusion and to ensure we are measuring what matters.

How can contemporary debates in the evaluation community influence ‘new actors’ in this space, such as impact investors and social enterprises? Transformative, equity-focused, principles-focused indigenous evaluation… a lot has happened in the past decade or so to push evaluation professionals to rethink power in evaluation practices: who has it, who doesn’t, and what we can do differently to use evaluation as a tool to advance social justice. The fact that these discussions are alive in the impact investment space – the recent inclusion of racial equity as a theme in IRIS+ (a collection of indicators used by many impact investors) being a good example of it— offers a great opportunity to continue exploring the issue of power in how we measure social progress in impact investment. I wonder how we, as an evaluation community, can use what we learned about power to influence these new actors and what we can learn from their experiences.    

Where is learning in impact investment? Accountability towards consumers and investors is the main force behind the push for better measurement and assurance in impact investing, but what role does learning play in protecting the integrity of the field? I recently attended an impact investment event in London and only heard the words ‘learning’ and ‘transparency’ twice. Surprisingly to me, it didn’t come from venture capitalists interested in failing fast to learn, or companies trying to make measurement easier across the investment field. It came from big public institutional investors (e.g. banks, pension funds) that need to show their constituencies they are making good decisions with public money when investing for impact. I would love to engage with resources and peers who are exploring this question in their practice and, like me, believe that measurement is just the beginning of the conversation. A more dynamic view of what evaluative thinking has to offer to this space can only make it stronger.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Social Impact Measurement TIG 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

3 thoughts on “Social Impact Measurement TIG Week: Three Questions From a Newcomer About Measuring Social Impact in Impact Investing by Andrea Azevedo”

  1. In the NY Times today (1/27/2023), “Politicians Push Back on Having E.S.G. Funds” by Ron Lieber, is worth reading as it relates to this post. Lieber says the big challenge is the differences of opinion about what constitutes an asset manager’s fiduciary duty. Some states, such as Louisiana are disinvesting in ESG’s, because “it is necessary to protect Louisiana from actions and policies that would actively seek to hamstring our fossil fuel sector”. Mr. Lieber said he had hoped to ask the state spokesman about how he balances short-term interests with the long-term interests that ESG funds might better deliver over time. Th concept of short-term gain/benefits versus long-term gain/benefits need to be factored into these discussions. Thanks for this post!

    1. Whoops – sorry, the date of the article was 1/30/2023. I was looking at my calendar that was flipped ahead to February!

  2. This is a great post. I am an evaluator for impact as well in a developing field. Are there other resources or connections that can be recommended?

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