Over the past five years, The Rockefeller Foundation has helped to build an impact investing industry where investors can deploy capital in pursuit of deliberate social and environmental goals as well as financial return. While the impact investing sector has gained traction and total impact capital has grown substantially, impact investors observe there are too few investable impact enterprises—”enterprises that intentionally seek to grow to sustain financial viability, realize increasing social impact, and influence the broader system in which they operate” in the world, and fewer still that have achieved meaningful scale.
Through a new project focused on the scaling of impact enterprises, the Foundation is now seeking opportunities to source and support breakthrough innovations that will help Impact Enterprises become investor ready, scale and expand their social impact. Ultimately we see impact enterprises as a promising, sustainable means of addressing social issues and wider challenges affecting the poor or vulnerable.
Research, conducted by The Rockefeller Foundation in collaboration with Monitor Deloitte and by others such as the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs tells us that there are several key ingredients that impact enterprises need in order to scale. Specifically, to achieve viability and sustainability, impact enterprises require technical expertise, business acumen, funding, and strong networks that enable access to funders, mentors, and potential partners. As they scale their businesses, impact enterprises often face challenges in obtaining the right types of funding, attracting talented human capital, reaching customers, and accessing the technical expertise that can help them adapt their business models at each stage of development. Furthermore, as clearly stated in “From Blueprint to Scale: The Case for Philanthropy in Impact Investing” the needs of impact enterprises evolve as they grow and mature, and they encounter new challenges at each new business stage.
“Accelerators are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between impact enterprises and capital providers.”
A number of organizations are tackling these challenges in innovative ways imagining and combining existing practices in new ways. Under the impact enterprise project we want to support innovative, high-potential practices that can be leveraged by accelerators or accelerating organizations to catalyze the development and scaling of impact enterprises in the United States, Africa, and Asia. The current research on accelerator programs confirms what we at the Foundation know all too well, that these programs are by no means a panacea to the various challenges faced by impact enterprises, and programs have delivered mixed results in supporting impact enterprises, with ineffective programs obscuring the positive impact that effective accelerators can have. However, we believe, and the research bears this out, that accelerators and other growth platforms that help scale impact enterprises are uniquely positioned to bridge the market gap between impact enterprises with specific needs, and the range of service and capital providers with the resources, support, and networks that can help.
“Exploration of models for scaling social enterprises just might be what’s needed to accelerate impact for the needs of the poor and vulnerable.”
To date, while there is growing interest and emerging research on what factors make innovative platforms such as accelerators effective in catalyzing the growth of impact enterprises, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to turn this interest and research into action and evidence through a challenge grant. The recently announced “Innovations in Accelerating Impact Enterprise Growth to Scale” request for proposals process will enable us to gather, examine, and test effective and innovative concepts that can lead to the successful scaling of impact enterprises.
Organizations interested in receiving support for breakthrough platforms, programs and practices that that enable Impact Enterprises in the US, Africa, and Asia to become self-sustaining, scalable and influential are encouraged to apply to the RFP before October 11. Continued innovation is critical to solve the needs of the poor and vulnerable and robust exploration of models for scaling social enterprises just might be what’s needed to accelerate impact.
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