books | October 5, 2017

Real Impact: Bringing communities into impact investing

The team at


Morgan Simon bridges two worlds with her new book, “Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change.”

In an interview with ImpactAlpha’s David Bank, Simon reaches out to social-justice activists who may have a reflexive antipathy to Wall Street. “The opportunity is so massive if we’re able to change the way the global economy functions.”

For impact investors, engagement with on-the-ground communities and grassroots activists is essential for driving real impact and avoiding unintended consequences.

In our latest Returns on Investment podcast, Simon, a leader of the Candide Group and previously CEO of the Toniic investor network, lays out three principles developed by Transform Finance, of which she is a founder. First, engage communities in the design, governance and ownership or projects and companies. Second, impact investments should add more value to communities than they extract. And finally, balance risks and returns between investors, entrepreneurs and communities.

With private investment overtaking traditional foreign aid, it’s essential civil society has a seat at the table, she says. “If we’re able to harness that collective power, we could go so much further.”

For example, she cites a wind-energy project in Oaxaca, Mexico, that generated protests from local farmers who were poorly compensated for the use of their land. “If you just saw that on a one-pager, that looks fantastic,” Simon says. The cancellation of the project not only cost investors their money, but slowed Mexico’s conversion to low-carbon electricity.

“The fact this project got canceled is not a victory for civil society,” she says. “The victory would be a community-owned wind farm that could still operate at utility scale.”

In contrast, Simon is excited about Uncommon Cacao, an effort to boost the livelihoods of cacao growers by helping them improve their product and tap global markets for high-quality chocolate. Here’s an earlier podcast with Uncommon Cacao’s Emily Stone.

Pick up a copy of Morgan’s book on Amazon:

Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change

Or at Politics and Prose:

Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change (Hardcover) | Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse

And you can catch up with all of ImpactAlpha’s Returns on Investment podcasts on iTunes.

Returns on Investment by ImpactAlpha on Apple Podcasts