Must Read Blog January 30, 2023

Reflections from Europe – Whither Education in the Global Impact World?

Towards the end of 2022, I attended the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) conference in The Hague, one of the largest convenings of impact investing professionals in the world. Delegates came from the four corners of the globe to the coast of The Netherlands, although the audience skewed European. In many ways, the gathering was encouraging and inspiring: the flow of money into “impact investing”, as GIIN defined it, continues to increase substantially, and many present felt that valuing social impact as well as financial return in your portfolio was now mainstream. 
Yet, I emerged with two reflections which I carry into 2023.

Making Education Visible to Impact Investors Outside the USA

First, education as an investment area was hardly mentioned at the GIIN conference. I am a proud British European, and here on the Eastern side of the Atlantic, we have arguably been at the forefront of socially responsible investing for many years. However, I found myself having to explain to fellow conference attendees all of the various different ways in which it is possible to put money to work in education; and that in the USA, this was a mature, vibrant ecosystem. Additionally, I often found myself challenging the view that I frequently hear in Europe: that philanthropy and mission should remain separate from investing for financial returns, and that endeavouring to mix them does not work.  

Here at Tyton Partners, we see a spectrum of investing in education from pure grant-giving to market-rate-returns – and, mostly in the USA, thoughtful clients and others who match their clear aspirations for change in education with an intentional mixture of grant-giving, multiple financial instruments, and other initiatives such as advocacy. Hence my first hope for the New Year: that more European family offices and institutions start to work on a greater number of sophisticated, sometimes blended investment products which can make a difference to learners worldwide. 

Green Transition = Just Transition = Investment in Skills Gaps

The focus of the GIIN gathering was firmly on the climate and biodiversity crises which we face globally. The only real time when education and learning were mentioned was in the context of these crises: on a main stage panel, Xolisa Dhlamini made a key point which continues to preoccupy me a couple of months later. He spoke in relation to his own South African context where the issue is perhaps most pointed, but his observation is globally relevant. “A durable transition to an earth-friendly economy and society must be a just transition” is my paraphrase of his argument. In South Africa, many people – particularly those who are Black and of low incomes – work in extractive industries which are harmful to the planet and which do not offer the country a pathway to sustainable (in every sense) growth. They are hardly alone around the world: employment in carbon-intensive and/or habitat-destroying activities happens from Aberdeen to Indonesia. If such workers, and the families who depend on them, are not offered new “green” jobs which offer them a living wage, then no government will be able to deliver the changes which we so pressingly need to preserve our home planet. To take on these new roles, a massive program of learning and upskilling is required – which cannot be funded by governments alone. 

We spend a lot of time at Tyton Partners thinking about and engaging with organisations creating the “Future of Work,” and have seen business models, government programs, and innovative collaborations between a wide range of stakeholders which offer considerable promise in this area. Hence my second hope for 2023: that more such initiatives spread around the world, particularly into the Global South.