We continue our Voices of Impact series with Sam Bonsey, the Co-founder and Executive Director of The ImPact, a global community of families committed to creating measurable social and environmental impact through impact investing. Sam Bonsey and I discuss how The ImPact began, the use of initiatives such as Trimtab to deliver impact-focused investment, and how The ImPact aims to aid and foster collaboration among families focused on delivering social and environmental impact.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tyton Partners (TP):
Sam, tell me about what The ImPact is and how it got started?
Sam Bonsey (SB):
The ImPact is a global community of families who gather around a common commitment to align their assets with their values and invest to create measurable social and environmental impact. It was started in 2014 by a group of families who were pioneers in the impact investing space. They wanted to create a community dedicated to peer-to-peer learning and collaboration among families. Our mission is to help families make more impact investments more effectively, so success for us is seeing individual families make steady progress towards realizing their impact-investment visions. We also want to facilitate families to work collaboratively to grow the impact investing ecosystem and drive experimentation and innovation within the market.
You are pioneers in this space. Tell me about how you’ve evolved over the years. You said you started as a peer-to-peer learning group, but you’ve done other things since. Can you walk us through that evolution?
The vision was always for learning and collaboration. We’ve learned there’s a powerful, organic process that takes place within a community (like ours) where people gather around a shared mission – a shared set of values. They build relationships and trust which opens the space to explore possibilities they might not otherwise have considered before. It creates an openness to new ideas, new perspectives, encourages a boldness of imagination and a greater sense of what’s possible. That exploration of an expanded space of possibility that’s built on a foundation of real trust is what enables collective action. So, I think one simple thing we learned is that you cannot jump straight to collective action with a group. You must work through an organic process of trust building, possibility exploration, and then move into action.
The ImPact is experimenting with novel investment vehicles that maximize impact as their core investment thesis
You guys have used that to do certain things that are very forward-thinking. One of them has been an initiative called, “Trimtab.” Can you describe that and how it came together?
Trimtab is an experimental investment vehicle built to make investments for the purpose of maximizing risk-adjusted impact. That is an unconventional investment objective, but we see a growing number of families who want to prioritize the creation of impact that would not otherwise occur, a concept called, “additional impact” or “additionality”. They want to make that their primary objective in investing, not necessarily with all their capital, but at least with a meaningful portion. That’s an investment objective that the current financial system and the current impact investment ecosystem are not set up to fulfill. The reality is that most impact investing funds are designed to maximize risk-adjusted financial return while accomplishing impact, but they are not designed to prioritize impact creation as such. This is an experiment to put impact first, and to use risk-tolerant patient capital to catalyze additional investment into the highest potential impact investment opportunities. It was born through deep conversation among a small group of families who were each on their own, experimenting with this kind of impact-first/catalytic impact investing. All recognized an opportunity to come together to experiment more boldly and create a vehicle that could be public-facing and radically collaborative with other actors in the ecosystem. This could be a vehicle for learning, onboarding and accelerating those families’ capacity to make this kind of investment.
Can you give us examples of some of the types of additional impact this could create?
We like to say proudly that we are building plumbing – that this is an infrastructure play, and we think about creating additional at multiple levels. First, there’s creating additional impact on the ground; real-world, impact-enabling outcomes that wouldn’t otherwise occur. Then, additional impact at the fund-manager-level: can we help new investment funds or new investment vehicles come into existence that might not otherwise have the chance to exist, but themselves have the extraordinary capacity to create impact on an ongoing basis? The way we think about additionality at the fund-of-funds level is that every investment we’re making should be necessary for the creation, scaling, or sustaining of the investment vehicles that our fund of funds is investing in. We like to say that additional impact multiplies-so we can have extraordinary impact by multiplying that additional impact at all three of those levels.
Fostering collaborations between families in the impact investing ecosystem
All of this requires, as you mentioned, a tremendous amount of collaboration amongst individuals who are at different levels and phases of their impact-investing journey, and you talked about the time necessary for that. Can you talk more about how you formed that collaboration?
The honest answer is relationships, relationships, relationships, and patience. This is part of the reason why we, as a peer-to-peer community, are experimenting with incubating investment vehicles–because our community is a space where that relationship building is occurring organically. We can actively facilitate the creation of new relationships and deepen existing ones. We can come together in a space and hold the space for relationship building and trust. We are also a nonprofit organization, so we are not following a commercial imperative to do this. We can tap into a particular kind of patience and persistence to support this work because it’s about fulfilling our purpose and our mission as an organization – not fulfilling some commercial imperative.
Sam, I appreciate you taking the time. This was very informative, very insightful and I’m sure our readers will enjoy it.