How Impact Investing Can Advance Economic Mobility in America

December 16, 2014 |

As a country, we have long believed in the American Dream: that through hard work and opportunity, we can reach our goals. But with millions of Americans struggling financially, those dreams are eroding, social and economic mobility is stagnant, and inequality is rising. Tackling entrenched problems like intergenerational poverty requires the commitment and resources of all sectors of our society.

With that in mind, the Aspen Institute took an in-depth look at the field of impact investing as one tool that could help advance economic mobility for families.

“The Bottom Line: Investing for Impact on Economic Mobility in the US” is the result of that work. While not as long as Thomas Piketty’s book on income inequality, the report is a rich resource, complete with a survey of active investors in the US, point of view essays from thought leaders in the field, and more. Read below for highlights from the report: 

  • A majority of respondents are investing in target areas that support low-income families and those most in need: Nearly 69 percent of survey respondents say they invest in the study’s target impact areas of education, economic assets, and health and well-being.
  • For these respondents, impact investing is not a new practice: Sixty-four percent indicated they have been active impact investors for more than 10 years. 
  • Billions of dollars are being used to support strategies to build mobility: More than $2.5 billion has been committed to advancing economic mobility for families. This amount includes a series of investments in education, economic security, and health and well-being.
  • Good investment deals that achieve both financial and social returns do exist:Forty-five percent of the impact area investors establish formal financial and social benchmarks. Of those, 80 percent said their portfolios are meeting or exceeding the established financial metrics, and 90 percent are meeting or exceeding the social metrics.
  • The pipeline for investments is based on social capital: As with venture capital, a majority of impact investors find investment proposals from peers and other investors. In fact, 52 percent of respondents noted that personal networks were critical in advancing their impact agenda. Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they use professional networks, and 10 percent use intermediaries.
  • An overwhelming majority of survey respondents have a commitment to addressing poverty: Eighty-six percent of those investing in economic mobility have an institutional commitment to addressing poverty. Furthermore, 32 percent reported considering the gender implications in the investment decision process, while 27 percent reported considering race and ethnicity in how they analyze investment opportunities.

The report includes:

  • Results and lessons learned from the Aspen Institute and Georgetown University McDonough School of Business survey of trends among active and emerging players in the US impact investment community and the lessons that can be applied to economic mobility in the US. The survey is not intended to be a broad survey of the field. Instead we targeted active leaders to gain a closer look at the deals and the lessons;
  • Point of view essays from thought leaders in the field, including Clara Miller, F.B. Heron Foundation; Kate Wolford, McKnight Foundation; Audrey Choi, Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing; and Kyle Zimmer and Jane Robinson, First Book;
  • Case studies offer an opportunity to go under the hood on deals with the Bank of America, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Acelero Learning, and others; and
  • Deals at-a-glance snapshots of impact investors and what they have learned, including the Kresge Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Living Cities.

To learn more, view the full report at

The research and report are a partnership of Ascend at the Aspen Institute and theProgram on Philanthropy and Social Innovation.

Editor's Note: Read the recent Forbes article about the new Aspen Institute report on impact investing.

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