Field-Building that Lasts: Ten Tactics for the Impact Investing Industry

Successful fields of practice must be capable of transforming themselves over time in response to the forces of change, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of their core mission and enhancing their impacts on the ground. This capacity must now be embedded in the genetic code of the impact investing industry. If the leaders and funders of this dynamic new industry can make this happen, then the new field will flourish and sustain itself across the globe. More importantly, impact investing will be much better able to fulfill its promise of improving the lives of poor and vulnerable people by generating large-scale, durable solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems.

1. Support network coordinators who are pluralistic and non-proprietary

The hosts of impact investing networks at the regional or country levels must be entrepreneurial and results driven, and deploy viable business models. Plus, above all, they should view the field in a pluralistic and non-proprietary way. It is also likely that coordinators with this orientation will themselves be open to learning and adapting the network to changing conditions and needs as their efforts move forward.

2. Commit to the long term and stay the course

Field-building is a long-haul exercise. It takes 20–25 years – about the length of one generation – to build a permanent, self-sustaining field of practice or industry. Understanding this is essential for industry leaders as well as for funders. This kind of long-term accompaniment enables a field of practice to adjust, adapt and reinvent itself over time, while staying true to its original mission.

3. Engage and support a core group of allies to advance the field-building process

Through a combination of convening, networking, knowledge-production, grant-making and investing, industry leaders and funders should work together over time at the regional and country levels to engage and support a core group of allies in order to drive the field- building process. In most cases, it will make sense for this core group to include representatives of each of the main actor categories in the impact investing industry: asset owners, asset managers, demand-side actors and service providers.

4. Catalyze a blend of grants and investments from diverse sources

Resilient fields are supported by diversified revenue streams. Impact investing leaders and funders must work hard to mobilize a mix of grants and investments from a wide range of sources: high net worth individuals and family offices, foundations, trusts, non-profits, pension funds, investment banks, credit unions, corporations, development finance institutions, development agencies and government departments.

5. Co-create and co-brand new knowledge products

Impact investing leaders of national or regional networks should consider working with foundations, investment banks and other institutional players to co-create and co-brand new knowledge products to promote awareness and a better understanding of impact investing. This knowledge co-creation not only accompanied, but also informed, the learning and adaptation and further growth of the field as it advanced forward, reinforcing the durability of the field they were building.

6. Energetically engage both the mainstream and social media

In the Rockefeller Foundation’s early work to help launch the impact investing industry, it also featured sustained engagement with both mainstream media (mainly via print and electronic newspapers and magazines) and social media (blogs, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc), particularly in the areas of business, finance, philanthropy and development.

7. Use evaluation to advance learning, accountability and performance

Resilient fields make use of independent evaluations on a continuous and rigorous basis for the purposes of learning, accountability and performance. Leaders and funders alike must be open to learning from (and talking frankly about) failure and mixed results as well as successful interventions. The products of evaluations – reports, presentations, videos – also should be shared widely across the field.

8. Put theory of change at the center, and interrogate it relentlessly

In planning and implementing, as well as evaluating interventions in a field, it is crucial to develop, assess and adapt the theory of change of each significant action. Stakeholders from all constituencies can and should be engaged in designing and assessing the theory of change of an intervention. The key to using these tools effectively is to interrogate theories of change, relentlessly and continuously, in order to improve the actions of the industry at all levels.

9. Nurture new talent, and create viable career pathways for younger professionals

Programs for training, education and mentoring of younger professionals can be designed, tested, refined and adapted over time, as the impact investing industry and the world economy evolve. At the same time, employers in the industry must work to create viable career pathways that provide a progression of more responsible roles and improved compensation packages that will enable young professionals to stay in the field while building their families and assets.

10. Expect real life, and be prepared to deal with it

No matter how many achievements a field of practice realizes, bad things can still happen. Again, the case of the microfinance industry is instructive. Anticipating the risks of bad things happening, and acquiring the skills and systems to address them, will both signify and strengthen the fortitude of the impact investing field.