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Bono challenges impact investing for being “hippy-ish” about financial performance…while others debate impact

At last week’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England, the music icon doubled down on his diss of impact investing as an excuse “for good people to do bad deals” (see video). If we want to really have an impact, “we can’t be hippy-ish about this. This isn’t camp,” he said in an interview with Jeff Skoll.

Bono is an investor in and sits on the board of TPG’s Rise Fund (Skoll’s also an investor in the fund), which is seeking to raise $2 billion and, presumably, will be the exception to his critique.

It’s not clear whether Bono’s list of do-gooders/bad dealmakers includes the A-list Silicon Valley billionaires who are backing the fund (see, “Billionaires’ Ball: Deconstructing TPG’s $2 billion RISE Fund”).

In a tweet, Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Antony Bugg-Levine called Bono’s quote an “unfortunate soundbite: plays like one of those lines that optimizes for wit over insight.”

Root Capital’s Michael McCreless wrote that no one actually knows whether most impact investments succeed because impact reporting is so poor. “From the outside, it’s incredibly hard to tell good ‘market-rate impact investing’ from ‘impact-washing’,” he writes.

Debate: Has impact investing has left impact behind?

Oxfam’s recent report questioning whether the “mainstreaming” of impact investing is compromising actual impact also stirred debate at the Skoll World Forum (see video).

Lisa Kleissner, co-founder of Toniic, the impact investing network, agreed with the suggestion in the report, “Impact Investing: Who Are We Serving?” that better impact data and reporting tools are needed.

She said the pressure for financial performance came from a need in the field’s early days to prove that impact investing wasn’t just dressed-up philanthropy.

“We were pushed to the wall to demonstrate the return part,” Kleissner said in a panel discussion. “We didn’t get into impact investing to do that. What was really miraculous is that we made money doing it.”

This post originally appeared in ImpactAlpha’s daily newsletter. Get The Brief.

Photo credit: Skoll World Forum / YouTube

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