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Talking and walking the impact investment beat

Let’s cover impact investing like a real beat, on the hunch that it will become one.

That was my standard line of a few years ago whenever I was asked why I started ImpactAlpha and assigned myself to impact investing. That the beat has arrived is probably well-known to anyone reading this column.

(That’s why we launched our new subscription offerings this week. Did I mention that you can subscribe?)

I’ve been on big beats before. Sometimes in introducing myself I say I was a newspaper reporter, “back when there were these things called newspapers.” (Note to younger readers: old newspaper reporters love to tell war stories. You should buy one a beer sometime.)

The goal of almost every newspaper reporter is to get on Page One. Beat reporters have to break news to compete with feature writers and their months-long projects and dripping details. But beat reporters have advantages: they talk to everybody and they see what’s going on. Over time, reporters on the beat get to know the shape of the story and can see where it’s going, or so they think.

As we got ready to launch the new ImpactAlpha, our team batted around some of the hypotheses we’re trying to test (with documents, data, expert sources and most of all examples). Every “vertical” has its own dynamics, of course, from sustainable agriculture to inclusive fintech to affordable housing.

I told the team to lean forward. Don’t worry (for now) about the majority, or average or “typical” investors. Find the leaders stepping up to make bets on impact strategies, products, projects, companies. It’s a tech truism, but ‘”the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed“ (h/t William Gibson). Find the positive deviants capitalizing the positive future.

Other hypotheses: Impact is the global growth story. Falling costs make new solutions viable and turning points nigh. Women are leading. Inclusion pays off in economic, racial, gender and geographic diversification and differentiation. A global 21st century regeneration is urgent, possible and already underway. The trillions of dollars in play are reshaping not only the economy, but finance itself.

I could go on, and will, in my new column, “The Impact Alpha.” Risks are systemic. Externalities aren’t external. Private isn’t private. Accounting is destiny. It’s slow until it’s fast. Bubbles aren’t (all) bad.

We might as well be transparent that we also have an instinct that “The people want impact.” At a time of widespread dislocation and retrenchment, entrepreneurs and civic leaders building abundant and inclusive local and global economies from the bottom up with clean, healthy, regenerative solutions would seem like a popular parade for any politician to step in front of. (For US examples, see our ongoing profiles of New Revivalists).

How will it all play out? I’m as eager to find out as you are, and we are on the beat. We’ll lay it out in the daily Brief and In a talk to a group of “solutions journalists” last year, I walked through some of the lessons of beat reporting that we’re trying to apply to impact investing (see my note, above).

  • Follow the money. A real investor putting real money into a real venture is worth a dozen white papers.
  • Follow the talent. People pursuing career opportunities will shape the marketplace.
  • See around corners. Knowing where the story is going lets you get there early.

And another one: Do it daily. Or at least weekdays. We’re closing in on 300 daily Briefs since early last year.

That puts us in the middle of the conversations you all are having. When we don’t get it right, we get to course-correct the next day. And the beat goes on.

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