Earlier this month, Barrie Landry, Ed Shapiro, and Sasha Chanoff hosted a dinner for Frank Giustra, philanthropist and founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, to introduce the Ascend Venture Fund (AVF) to some of Boston’s thought leaders, philanthropists, and investors, including members of New England International Donors.
Ascend Venture Fund and Impact Investing in the Refugee Space
At a recent dinner to discuss a new impact investing opportunity to support Greece and refugees, Frank Guistra shared his story about stepping into the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the night on the shores of Greece as a boat of refugees arrived. A mother trying to get off the boat handed Frank her two-year-old child while others around them wept, sang, prayed, and rejoiced at making it to safety.
Frank’s commitment to Greece and refugees started at that moment and led to the creation of the Ascend Venture Fund, which supports the social and economic integration of refugee communities in Greece through increased access to quality employment.
To achieve this goal, AVF will invest in Greek businesses that are growing and are committed to hiring vulnerable Greek nationals and refugees. AVF aims to raise an initial ten million euros and has already received commitments from a number of investors, and is in the final stages of securing funding from the Open Society Foundation.
Impact investing in the refugee space is a growing field according to Andrew Stern, a guest at the dinner who shared information about the Refugee Investment Network, which aims to draw attention to AVF, and is the first impact investing and blended finance collaborative dedicated to creating long-term solutions to global forced displacement.
But how does one measure the impact of helping refugees to find work? Amy Slaughter, a winner of the 2018 Schwab Foundation / World Economic Forum Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award, spoke about the Refugee Self Reliance Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative which is creating the Self Reliance Index, a tool to measure the success of efforts around the world that help refugees stand on their own two feet.
Investing to support refugees has a great deal of promise in terms of capital ready to be deployed, including George Soro’s 2016 announcement of a half-billion dollars to invest in programs and companies benefiting refugees and host communities. But to date there are few investment-ready opportunities. Dinner attendees engaged in a discussion about the opportunities and challenges of impact investing in the refugee space.
Willy Foote, the founder of Root Capital, highlighted the fact that investments in true frontier markets characterized by instability may not always yield the projected return. “It’s important to align expectations up front with investors and identify and measure other key aspects of social impact in addition to financial gains,” he said.
Noubar Afeyan, a founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and the Aurora Prize, agreed with Willy and expressed interest in finding a way to identify the impact of philanthropic projects by measuring and quantifying the resultant social value.
Deborah Frieze, Founder and President of the Boston Impact Initiative, highlighted a concern about letting the market benefit from forced displacement, and cautioned about the importance of ensuring that financial returns alone don’t dominate this emerging field. Her remarks were similar to insight from Klaus Schwab’s new book, Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution in which he writes that businesses should align their values and growth opportunities with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Jackie Vanderbrug, co-author of Gender Lens Investing, talked about the early stages of gender lens investing and how there was a need to reframe the issue from solely “benefiting a select group” to including and highlighting the benefits to society overall.
Frank shared aspirations about how the Ascend Venture Fund could become a catalyst and road map for additional funding in the impact investing space to support refugees and host communities.
Overall, it’s clear that investment dollars dwarf philanthropic dollars, and that there is an unprecedented need and a great opportunity to harness the power of the private sector in support of refugees and their host communities.
Barrie Landry and Ed Shapiro shared final words about the importance of collaboration, and the value of bringing together leaders to work in partnership toward common goals.