Laura FOOSE opened the session and underlined its main purpose: discussing practical and innovative approaches taken by financial service providers and asset managers to measure and incentivise positive social outcomes. She presented the panellists, representing SPTF member organisations and frontrunners in the field of outcome measurement and management. Before diving into the content of the session, Foose made a point of clarification on the difference between social impact and outcomes, where outcomes look at measuring change, and not attribution.
She then reflected on how far the market has come in recognising the importance of measuring and evaluating outcomes, highlighting that ‘doing no harm’ should not be the end goal of an organisation, but rather to create value for clients.
Foose then explained that the Universal Standards for Social Performance Management (USSPM) stress that social outcomes are more likely to be achieved when organisations have the following: a strong focus on their social goals; governance that is knowledgeable and supportive of those goals; employees that are well recruited, treated and trained to help achieve their goals; and a robust system in place to design products and services that meet clients’ needs and preferences.
She noted that the session would be divided into three parts and would explore: 1) The business case for social outcomes measurement; 2) How you do it; and 3) What the challenges and next steps are for these institutions.
Maya KOBALIA, from MFI JSC MFO Crystal (Georgia), explained that outcome measurement mainly revolves around trust and better decision-making, namely: 1) It helps companies understand their customers and develop suitable products and services; 2) In the collection of customer data, it reveals gaps and opportunities, supporting investors in making decisions on where to allocate capital; 3) It collaborates to more effective marketing campaigns; 4) It helps investors and companies to earn trust with key stakeholders, which can speed and smoothen operations.
Viktoria POPOVA, from Incofin Investment Management, highlighted that, being an impact investor, Incofin has embedded in its mission to create social outcomes. Popova noted that measuring these outcomes is part of Incofin’s philosophy, since it allows the organisation and its investees to monitor, analyse and ultimately act upon them. She clarified that this is converted into the organisation’s impact methodology, which ensures a rigorous and credible impact assessment before the investment decision and during implementation.
Popova further elaborated on why Incofin has outcome measurement at the core of its business strategy: 1) It helps improve investment decisions by allowing it to invest in organisations that are highly-committed in generating positive change; 2) It increases transparency among asset owners and ensures aligned and timely reporting; 3) It helps its portfolio companies to improve their client targeting, product design and access to funding.
Anna KANZE, from Grassroots Capital Management, elaborated that achieving the SDGs is integral to the organisation’s processes and business model as an impact investor. She explained that Grassroots has to manage the needs and objectives of its portfolio companies as well as of its investors. In this respect, Kanze noted one of the main steps is to gain the buy-in of the portfolio companies from the start, and make sure that the data collected are useful for decision-making by the time the investor makes an investment.
Kanze further explained that Grassroots carefully selects the companies, so as to safeguard that they are driven by their social mission, and have resources allocated for this goal. However, she acknowledged that it is often difficult to collect and use quantifiable and reliable data on social outcomes. Kanze explained that the industry has made a lot of progress with the Universal Standards and the SPI4, but that it needs to go beyond in order to reach its social goals and to measure them in a reliable way.
Foose then posed a few questions to the speakers. The first question revolved around how impact investors structure funds, and how their thinking evolved into structuring performance-based funds. Kanze revealed that Grassroots is developing a fund that will better link gender-focused outcomes. She elaborated that this fund will be based on the SIINC model (Social Impact Incentives), where donor funding will be used to reward companies for achieving pre-agreed gender-related outcomes. This is essentially different from previous funds, which did not go past output indicators.
Popova mentioned that Incofin also has a system to compare performance of investee companies at the due diligence stage, where social and environmental assessment is carried out to decide which investment decisions to take. At this point, decisions are driven by output data, but Incofin is starting to implement outcome-level assessments with some of its investees in order to track their impact.
Foose asked the different speakers to provide case studies on how organisations measure outcomes. Popova said that it is very challenging to collect comparable outcome data across investees, since each of them has a unique social mission and maturity level of data collection. However, as an impact investor, Incofin wants to know what is happening at the level of its investees’ end clients. This is why Incofin has started to implement “impact dashboards” with its equity investees, which help to track those outcome indicators that make sense in accordance with their individual social mission. This work is supported through tailored technical assistance.
Kobalia added that Crystal and Incofin came together in 2018 to define their individual impact thesis and to pick the most relevant SDGs, and to build specific indicators to ensure their measurement. She revealed that the biggest lesson learned for Crystal, and toughest part of the process, was to get all parties aligned on the same page. Kobalia also recommended organisations to engage specialised consultants and other experts to understand and adapt questionnaires and other material to the local context. She added that it is also important to align the language; for example, by using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and/or other terminology that makes sense to customers. Kobalia finally revealed that Crystal chose SDGs which were aligned to its 5-year development strategy, adapted to the Georgian reality.
Kanze further elaborated on incentive-based frameworks, arguing that companies that have social missions, and that are acting on achieving them, are often perceived to be less commercially viable. She defended that although these companies are just as commercially viable as companies that prioritise financial returns, outcomes measurement does have a cost. The companies should be incentivised/compensated, but they can only become visible if investors are able to get concrete data on their social outcomes.
Cécile LAPENU presented MetODD-SDG, an assessment tool developed by CERISE, which allows mission-driven businesses to measure their contribution to the SDGs from micro-level indicators. She highlighted the tool’s importance as the new frontier to measure outcome by practitioners, in terms of tracking and substantiating the clients’ changes, as well as for investors and donors that want to report on achievements. Lapenu explained that the tool consists of 2 sides: client outcome (low level) and SDGs (high level), where the 17 SDGs are composed of 169 targets, herewith interpreted as small and concrete social missions. These are linked to macro-economic indicators that can be benchmarked against national level data. She also elaborated on the implementation of the tool, which consists of 6 steps logically organised along the impact chain, and pointed out it is freely available on CERISE’s website.
The short discussion firstly addressed the feasibility for MFIs to implement outcome measurement processes. Kanze agreed that MFIs should not undertake processes they are not staffed for, and defended that TA from investors should be available if needed. Kobalia noted that measuring social outcomes should be part of the working schedule of an MFI, while Lapenu complemented that indicators should be actionable, but not overwhelming or too simplistic.
Regarding the contextualisation of outcome measurement data, Kanze responded that, not only should data be country-specific, but also institution-specific. She argued that data should be linked to what an organisation wants to achieve. Popova added that organisations should not put upfront criteria that do not reflect what local investees are doing, and that setting the minimum criteria should be an integrated approach.