The concept of combining your investments with key social change issues has grown strongly in past decades. The evolution of impact investing has been driven largely by the pioneering work of family-office investors and high-net-worth individuals.
This cohort lends itself to the impact model because they, obviously, have the requisite liquid capital, but they also have the resources to do foundational analysis of private companies and projects, plus, they have the freedom to make investments that stack-up from a positive impact perspective, not solely a financial one.
Impact Club was founded by Danny Almagor in 2014 as a simple lunch club. He would get together with friends and colleagues to talk and ponder their own journey to making positive change through their investments.
As the concept grew, so too did the club. Lillian Kline took over management and grew the concept while she was working at Impact Investment Group, and soon members from all over Australia were meeting for regular events, sharing deals, and discussing the economic and philosophical puzzle of how to make capitalism work better for everybody.
Fast-forward to today, and Impact Club has taken another step forward in its evolution as Samantha Clarke takes over management. It’s still member-only, and the bar to entry is high, but what’s consistent is the focus on ensuring members are 100% committed to the impact mission, and that they’ll contribute as much energy and passion as they will capital.
Sam Wanted Political Change
Samantha Clarke is now General Manager of Impact Club, and after only three months in the role she’s already boosted membership. But when she made a change in her career, she didn’t have her sights set on investing, she simply wanted to shift Australia back on course.
“So, I actually started off as a hairdresser. Many, many years ago. But as a young woman wanting to start up her own business, I was really concerned that some of the labor party’s policies weren’t great for small businesses, and I was equally concerned about the lack of action on climate change on the Liberal side. So I knew it was time to jump in, to get involved and have a voice.” Sam says.
“My father was actually a local councillor and Mayor of our local area for a long period of time, so I was out campaigning at the age of six, door knocking, handing out leaflets and making cups of tea for branch members at home. Politics was in my blood.”
Sam had a secure job as a hairdresser, but she wasn’t content. She saw the need for change, and she’d seen first-hand that you can’t leave it up to others.
“So I knocked on my local member of Parliament’s door and said, can I come and work for you one day a week free? I’ve got Monday’s off, I’ll do anything. You know, just so I could have a bit more of a voice within my local community. And after about eight weeks, Andrew Robb offered me a job to come and work with him.” Sam says.
“I worked for Andrew for about four and a half years and learnt so much, about community management and mobilising volunteers.”
Sam would show others, and discover herself, that she had a natural ability to organise both people and data. She went on to tour the country, training other Liberal party offices on how to manage their membership lists, and target groups on particular issues with emerging big-data systems.
She ended up in Victoria, helping local offices re-calibrate for changing demographics, but soon she realised, she needed a change.
“I was having coffee with Andrew Robb one afternoon and he said, Sam, if you don’t get out of politics, now, you’ll never get to run for politics yourself. You’ll get stuck as a career staffer.”
So she left, and she went to work for a football club. She hoped it would match the community building of politics, but it wasn’t for her, there was no impact! She wanted to change the world.
Along the way she got married, moved to Norway with her husband, came back to Australia, and then she took a job at the startup networking group Innovation Bay. She was tasked with turning them into a membership organisation, and setting up an Angel Network, easy work for Sam. And it was here that she started to hear the calls for ‘impact investments’.
“I’d really started to see a shift with the investors wanting to see impact. I was constantly hearing people say, great deals, but what have you got in the impact area?” Sam says.
“Then I came across Danny Almagor. And Danny said, come and have a chat with me about Impact Club. I began to feel it was a space that I could actually add a lot of value to. So here I am.”
The Unique Traits of an Impact Club Member
The club’s value is that it’s members all have their own unique stories about a journey that they’re all on. It’s the journey of finding more satisfying ways to invest one’s wealth, than simply making more of it.
They share a world-view around the short-comings of our capitalist society, and while there is irony in the fact that many of them became rich through this very economic system, there is little doubt that they’re now dedicated to fundamental systems change.
“It is a club for members only, and the reason is that we don’t want people coming in to just have a look around, we only want people that are really serious about impact. For people who are really dedicated, they will need to be recommended by another member, and then they’ll be considered. So we’re not saying we’re closed off, we are open, but we do want to make sure everyone’s serious.” Sam says.
So far they have chapters in Melbourne, Sydney, and Byron Bay. They’re getting close to having enough to have one in WA, and there’s interest in Canberra as well.
From Investing to Activism
It’s one thing to identify a fertile business opportunity that’s having a positive impact, it’s another entirely to re-align your power and influence, to reshape regulatory and policy settings, for the good of broader society.
For Sam, the desire for club members to use activism, to make change, really stood out for her.
“When I got started I spoke to as many members as I could, and most of all the members said they wanted to do advocacy work, they wanted to have a strong voice as part of their core mission for the year. And there were many different aspects to it, things like lowering taxes on electric vehicles. It’s all about setting a goal, and then meetings will be centred around that.” Sam says.
“So I always like to have member-led communities. I’ve worked in plenty of organisations that dictate what the club stands for. But I’m very open door, so we do a lot of surveys. Asking what are the big issues, what do we want to learn about? A lot of our members have a heap of knowledge already, so they’re wanting to have more serious conversations.”
The All-Important Deals
At its core, the club is about a group of investors sharing deals. Investing is already subjective enough, so the complications are compounded when you add an impact lens.
Members suggest companies they’re analysing, they share analysis work, and they discuss impact characteristics, but the club doesn’t offer advice. Members must be sophisticated investors, and the club is simply a meeting place, it doesn’t have a stake in deals, nor does it make recommendations.
“The members bring the deals. They’re sent out in a monthly publication, as well as a weekly deal list, so they stay fresh. It explains, these are the deals that have come through, these are the members that referred them, and if members want to discuss it, they can contact the member or the founder themselves.” Sam says.
There’s a broader quarterly newsletter that involves deeper discussions, and interviews with members and other through leaders. They go on retreats, to make the discussions and relationships more intimate.
But what stands out is that the club is about learning. These are some of Australia’s most successful business people, they’re intellectual heavy-weights, and yet here they are, giving up their time to go deeper. To understand both the wicked problems facing our society, as well as the tectonic shifts it will take to bring us back into balance.