Big Issue Invest: Thinking outside the impact box

Head of impact Sasha Afanasieva discusses creating impact in transitioning companies

In this video interview, Big Issue Invest head of impact Sasha Afanasieva says not to get too bogged down in measurement frameworks, to always keep in mind your ultimate goal and to think about how impact can be created outside top-scoring ESG organisations.

The full transcript is below:

NT: What are you using to measure impact?

SA: The key thing is we really think about what the organisation is doing. So in a way, we have an idea for the theory of change. And, together with the organisation, we would typically map out outputs and outcomes that they’re trying to achieve. And think about that as a kind of a thesis for investment.

But then in terms of how we report, we use UN SDGs as a context of our investments. And we also use Impact Management Project framework to again think about the organisation’s impact.

NT: What would you say to firms at the start of the journey reporting impact?

SA: I think it’s really important to think what is the change that you’re trying to have? I’ve worked a lot with social enterprises and helping them come up with their own impact management strategy and things like this. A lot of the time there is distraction from various approaches and various kind of tools that you can use.

And so, for instance, what funders want to see, what kind of data they’re asking you for. It’s really important to think about what is your ultimate goal? What is the social, environmental change that you want to have? And from that, then start thinking about how to measure it.

Sometimes we work with organisations where it’s very difficult to measure what they’re doing quantitatively and, in this case, I would say it’s fine to write case studies and get stories and all the ways of capturing impact. It’s really thinking about what is important for your organisation and not to be steered by what others are doing.

NT: Or get bogged down in the different frameworks.

SA: Yeah, absolutely.

NT: So then what do you think the next thing is going to be once we’ve got over this measurement fixation?

SA: In public markets, a lot of funds are thinking about ESG, and they invest in organisations that already have very strong ESG credentials. But that creates a risk that some companies that aren’t doing so well in terms of ESG, for instance brown companies, are actually lagging behind in terms of environmental metrics and things.

There’s the opportunity to actually work and invest in companies like this and invest into transition projects that will enable them to be more environmentally friendly, as an example. So it’s thinking about that kind of impact. How can the investor work with their investees? How can they engage with them and influence them and nudge them towards creating more social impact or environmental impact as a whole?

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Natasha Turner

Natasha is global deputy editor at ESG Clarity, part of the Bonhill Group, and has been a financial journalist for six years. She has been shortlisted for Story of the Year and Investment Journalist of...