Embracing social entrepreneurship at the Vatican’s third annual impact investing conference
“To create a more just, humane, and sustainable world” – a mission that underpins our work at Miller Center supporting social entrepreneurship. For over 700 years, the Catholic church has created income solutions for the poor through ministries that provide jobs. These activities continue today and are largely donor-supported enterprises. A call by Pope Francis in 2014 introduced secular work on social enterprise to the Church practitioners of Catholic ministries. Following the publication of Evangelii Gaudium in late 2013, the Vatican hosted the first Vatican Impact Investing Conference (VIIC) in June 2014. Pope Francis recognized the common values shared by both the Church ministries and social entrepreneurs who were building companies from within underserved communities globally. In a statement issued during the conference, the Pope declared,
“A sense of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized has led you to reflect on impact investing as one emerging form of responsible investment.
...Impact investors are those who are conscious of the existence of serious unjust situations, instances of profound social inequality and unacceptable conditions of poverty affecting communities and entire peoples. These investors turn to financial institutes which will use their resources to promote the economic and social development of these groups through investment funds aimed at satisfying basic needs associated with agriculture, access to water, adequate housing and reasonable prices, as well as with primary health care and educational services”
With VIIC 2014 as the introduction to the theory of change held by social enterprise and impact investing, VIIC 2016 was the start of a “cross-walk” from Catholic ministries to social enterprise. Miller Center was asked to lead a 2 ½ day pre-conference workshop for Catholic leaders to examine social enterprise, profit and loss operations, impact measurement, and the commonalities between secular work with social enterprise and the Catholic mission.
This month, the third Vatican Impact Investing Conference was held in Rome and was attended by more than 160 people. The content was dense and the conversation lively. A marked change was evident: instead of practitioners explaining impact investing and social enterprise, the voice in the room was from Church practitioners who were already embracing the thesis that some of their ministries could be recast as eligible social enterprises to impact investors.
Areas of focus identified for the conference were: Youth - increasing access to jobs; Health – scaling healthcare access for the poor; Migrants and Refugees – financing SMEs owned by or serving the displaced; and, Integral Ecology – climate change and development
More directly aligned commentary was also heard from some of the impact investor community. An example was a social impact bond created by KIOS Invest (Belgium) aimed at economic support to migrant communities. Other BoP–tailored investment solutions were highlighted by MacArthur Foundation, Investisseurs & Partenaires (France), Social Finance US, Sahel Capital (Nigeria), and Aavishkaar-Intellicap Group. They described specific investment initiatives that are aimed at communities and geographies consistent with priority areas the Vatican had identified.
There was also a strong emergence from Sister organizations within the Church. Orders of Sisters run many of the Catholic ministries in service to the poor and the Sisters have been looking for help to create more sustainable enterprises. In describing their commitment, Sister Eneless Chimbali, Director General of the Association of Consecrated Women of Eastern and Central Africa, declared “the Sisters are always there!” with the poor and the enterprises that support them.
On the second full day, parallel sessions were held to create a “deep dive” exploration of the four focus areas and then folded the conversations into how conference participants can take action to support what is immediately needed or in the development of further solutions. Unlike many other conferences, the engagement and participation by attendees was nearly 100% even at the final sessions of the VIIC.
Positive comments and commitment were roundly evident as the VIIC came to a close. Now for action!