Must Read Blog May 3, 2022

Three Impact Investing and Philanthropy Thoughts for Spring

At Tyton, we are now starting to think about the longer-term future in ways that we weren’t a year ago. And the next chapter for impact investment and venture philanthropy in our specialist areas of education and workforce looks fascinating and challenging. 

A key reason for looking ahead is that we are moving “from pandemic to endemic”. At least in the Global North, the immediate threat from Covid-19 seems to be receding. However, we are only just coming to terms with the longer-term effects of the cataclysm that struck us all over the last two years. Furthermore, the unexpected and horrific war that has broken out here in Europe – with global ramifications – is forcing us to re-examine comfortably held assumptions about globalization and security.  

So, as we look at investments, trends and data – and delightfully start to have face-to-face conversations at conferences all over again – we would highlight three issues that we continue to think about. One is from workforce, one from K-12, and the third a more general comment on a particular philanthropic strategy.  

Labor Shortages: Who Is Still Left Behind and What Can Be Done?

Whilst an increasing number of people have rejoined the labor force and wages are rising, the black unemployment rate in the US is still over double the white unemployment rate, a perpetuation of the inequity we saw before COVID. In the UK, the pandemic has triggered an “exodus of older people” from the workforce. We know that there are many other populations who are also not benefiting. But simultaneously, at least two further developments imply opportunity for those who are not earning what they want: employers are widely starting to accept flexible, remote and hybrid work, opening up opportunities for those in locations where employment was previously scarce; and (accelerated by the Ukraine war and a focus on energy security) there is major demand for “green jobs”.

Yet, we see few scaled solutions for those on low incomes and with fewer accredited skills to grasp these possibilities. In both areas, it is very possible that conventional capital does not (yet?) see viable business models or sufficient return on investment. As ever, there is a need to ensure that up-skilling is financially affordable, and the capital investment required in (for example) training facilities for electric vehicle mechanics is substantial. Impact investment and venture philanthropy can play interesting catalytic roles here – look for coverage of this in future newsletters. 

Children’s and Teachers’ Mental Health

The pandemic has left many wounded, not just physically but also psychologically. There are many reports of a new epidemic of mental health problems amongst our children and amongst educators. In the US in particular, there is a major shortage of teachers, and the well-documented stresses of the pandemic are a contributing factor. Yet outside the education sector we see continuing innovative investments and interest in workplace wellbeing as corporations realise the importance of retaining mentally healthy staff. Tyton’s Finding Your Place: SEL Takes Center Stage in K12 documents the explosion in social and emotional learning programs and services in K12 during COVID, much of which can be funded by ESSER III. However, it’s clear that not enough is being done for teachers uniformly, much like other front line workers in health care and emergency services. We wonder what more can be done here to bridge the gap between the innovations outside K-12 and the challenges within it.

MacKenzie Scott’s Approach to Giving

I have been fascinated, impressed and challenged by the continuing course of MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropy. Hers is a very clear, eloquently articulated, approach best explained by quoting her blog directly. The “we” here is her team and advisors:  

Together we trust the track records of impact and on-the-ground insights of hundreds of carefully selected teams working from within communities, offering them all the money up front and then stepping out of their way, encouraging them to spent it however they choose. I understand that this approach, and probably any approach, will mean having given to organizations that might make choices I wouldn’t make myself, but that’s the point. I believe the gifts will do more good if others are free from my ideas […]

This approach to philanthropy is not the only way. It’s just the one of my resources and opportunities inspired in me.

If you think you know how much impact might flow from acting on any of your own impulses to give, you are almost certainly wrong.

– Mackenzie Scott

For me, this is excitingly thought-provoking. As someone who spends a great deal of time working with clients and teams to create theories of change, rubrics, and impact management frameworks for impact investment and venture philanthropy, it feels like the throwing down of a gauntlet: why don’t you just stop theorizing and get out of the way? 

Yet, as Scott herself says, hers is only one approach. Alongside what she does, I also believe that there is a role for what we hope to do with our clients, always based on evidence and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders:  

  • co-create an optimistic, inclusive, detailed vision of what change can and should happen;  
  • deep analyses and modeling of the relevant system so that we can chart where and which types of investments might be best (and not); 
  • management of the deployment of funds towards such investments;
  • measurement of the progress of that system towards the vision;
  • attempt to identify where any interventions have (and have not) succeeded in facilitating any such progress.  

There is also a need to back people, plans and organizations which are not yet even formed as they may – in some cases at least – be a better path to change than pre-existing ones.