What was your first job?
Clerk in a bookshop starting from grade 10. My first job out of university was doing admin in a consulting firm handling railroad M&As, which sent me scurrying back to university posthaste!
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
I took a long journey. I came into finance through a side door mid-career, mostly because it took a long time to deal with the chip on my shoulder that was preventing me from seeing the role that capital MUST play in addressing the challenges we face.
I firmly did NOT want to work in business of finance through my 20s, and worked instead in every other aspect of the impact system—community organisations, NGOs, academia, government, and measurement frameworks. It became very apparent through that work that a lot of educated and well-meaning greenies couldn’t make an economic argument to save their lives, so I set out to understand and bridge economic and non-financial measurement systems, spending 8 years designing and using measurement for government (Statistics NZ and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority).
I returned to academia for a while, working closely with impact enterprises and profit-for-purpose organisations. Eventually I accepted that I would have the most leverage for my skills from the capital side.
When did you first discover the concept of Impact Investing?
I started actively exploring it as a researcher in ~2012. After my stint in government, I returned to academia in 2012 as the first hire in a nascent research centre at the University of Melbourne called the Centre for Social Investment, led by Profs. Brad Potter (Accounting) and Prakash Singh (Management).
We conducted enterprise- and information-centred research on various aspects of impact: for purpose enterprises, non-financial disclosures, certifications, sustainable business models, CSR and the like. Despite the growing interest in and prominence of the topic of social impact, this topic was neither a money spinner for the university nor something featured in highly ranked journals, and the centre was disbanded in 2016.
What’s one exciting development you and your team have in the pipeline?
This is going to sound pretty basic, but I’m personally very excited to be publishing Kilara’s first public-facing impact report next month. We’re a small team, and we’ve worked hard to put good information systems in place and get everyone consistently using them to capture data. We’re just now getting to the point where we’ve got enough data built up that it’s starting to be analytically useful for internal purposes through things like custom data dashboards (which increases internal buy-in for those who may have been wondering what it is Jodi does all day). I’m proud of what we’re achieving with our investee companies and I’m eager to throw open the windows and let other people see that impact performance.
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
This is not a deal as such, but: the launch of the Lend for Good platform. This Australian impact crowd-lending platform addresses a basic market failure in impact investing: matching small-ticket capital with the small impact enterprises that struggle to find and access capital that is appropriate for their needs. These enterprises fall into the cracks in the system, also known as ’the missing middle’. These are the businesses that rarely offer the returns and exits sought by equity investors, but lack the collateral and track record for conventional lenders.
There is plenty of financial innovation in the mezzanine space, but it is generally reserved for larger ticket sizes and/or close relationships—if the SMEs in the missing middle had those relationships, they probably wouldn’t be struggling to fundraise in the first place. At the same time, there are a lot of investors curious to try impact investing but don’t have an obvious path into it. The Lend for Good platform serves as an exchange where where people who want to lend money to impact enterprises can find them, and can find other people to team up with to do so, at low minimum investment sizes.
Name one high impact company (globally) that investors should keep their eye on?
I’m passionate about systems change, which often requires novel systems-level approaches to solving problems. These are the approaches that rewrite the rules that determine how the system holding the problem in place works, for example by addressing the drivers of problems, the feedback loops, and the roadblocks to change.
So rather than hunting for impact unicorns, I’m really interested in organisations like Zebras Unite Capital and Village Capital, which seek to change the model of how investors and enterprises communicate and interact, including the underlying power dynamics. This can have a profound impact on flows of capital: who has access to it, the transparency of how we assess and communicate about risk, what kinds of businesses we grow.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years time?
I want to see more investors and more asset owners using their power and influence to change power dynamics in impact investing. This means a few things. The biggest impact potential in any market is helping the most disadvantaged, which is why gender and equity lenses are so important.
If you’re not seeing companies led by women, people of colour, or people with disabilities in your dealflow, be curious about why that is.
I also think a lot about the screens we use for ‘investability’ and the way those shape what deals we see as well as the investments we make into impact enterprises.
We treat these as neutral tools, but they are imbued with power. We created them, and we have the power to change them. If your IPS prevents you from investing in something high-impact, ask what needs to change.”Investment-readiness” is a catch-22.
It is common to focus on “fixing” enterprises through technical assistance efforts to get them to a predetermined investment readiness standard. Meeting these standards often require investment to overcome, but which is often not forthcoming as the businesses are not at an investment-ready state; this recursive loop generates little to no investment, and businesses stagnate rather than flourish.
We have the power to “fix” the capital instead. We need to have the courage to do so. I feel strongly enough about this one that I co-authored a report on it last year titled “Demand-led Investment: A new perspective on approaches to adapting capital and bridging the Missing Middle in Southeast Asia“
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