What is the Impact Finance Research Consortium?
We are a group of professors and research centers, currently at three major business schools – The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School, and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business – that have joined forces to dramatically increase the pace and scope of academic research on impact investing.
Led by Professors Katherine Klein (Wharton), Shawn Cole (Harvard), and Jessica Jeffers (Chicago), the consortium is building the world’s most comprehensive and rigorous database to fuel academic research on impact investing. We call it the Impact Finance Database (IFD).
By combining our efforts as individuals and the efforts of our respective centers – the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, the Harvard Social Impact Collaboratory, and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at Chicago Booth – we are making the process of impact investing research easier, faster, and more useful for researchers and fund managers alike.
How will the Impact Finance Database advance the field of impact investing?
The practice of impact investing – investing to achieve both financial returns and a positive impact on society and the environment – has grown rapidly over the last decade. But, to achieve the promise of impact investing, the field needs rigorous research. Hope and advocacy are necessary but insufficient to build the field of impact investing.
Academic researchers are keen to study impact investing but have been stymied by the lack of comprehensive, objective, high-quality data on this topic.
Together, Wharton, HBS, and Chicago Booth are building the IFD to allow academics to explore fundamental, but still unanswered, questions on the practice and performance of impact investing.
With detailed and reliable data on the financial performance, legal governance, management characteristics, and impact strategies of impact investing funds across the globe, the IFD will fuel research on critical questions for impact investors, including the following:
- How competitive are impact investing financial returns?
- Are more sophisticated and in-depth impact screening and analysis associated with better or worse financial performance?
- Which impact targets and theses generate the strongest financial returns?
- As firms gain experience in impact investing, how do their impact investing practices and investments evolve?
- How useful do fund managers find different types of impact assessment/reporting frameworks?
Why should my firm participate in the Impact Finance Database?
As an impact investor, you know the promise and the challenges of impact investing. Rigorous, independent research has the potential to guide practice and to increase the flow of capital into financially viable high-impact companies and projects.
But, first we need data on impact investing. And that means we need your input.
As an IFD participant, you will receive early access to our research findings. We also issue benchmark reports to participating funds so that they can compare themselves to other funds in our database on key strategic indicators. We will also invite you to special early presentations of our research findings.
What does it take to participate in the Impact Finance Database?
Participating in the IFD is quick and easy. IFD participants complete our confidential impact investing survey and then upload additional fund information – financial, legal, and impact documents to a secure server. That’s it. It typically takes no more than 30 – 45 minutes to complete the survey and then upload your documents.
The confidential IFD Survey asks questions about your fund’s goals, investment strategy, impact measurement practices, and management. The survey should be completed by a senior partner at the firm. Impact investors who have completed the survey tell us that taking the survey is quick, thought-provoking, and even enjoyable. We hope you agree.
The confidential IFD Document Portal is where you will upload documents describing the fund you report on in the survey – the private placement memorandum (PPM), limited partner agreements (LPAs), term sheets for portfolio companies, audited annual and quarterly financial reports, impact reports, and other documents describing your fund’s policies and practices. We do not require or ask for a list of your limited partners by name.
We have contracted with the Survey Research Institute (SRI) at Cornell University to program and host the IFD Survey and Document Portal. SRI has extensive experience and expertise in working with sensitive and confidential data. We have vetted SRI carefully to ensure that it meets our strict data security standards. Once collected by SRI, survey responses and documents are transferred to a secure server maintained by Wharton Computing.
Why is the IFRC collecting fund documents, and what do researchers do with these documents?
Fund documents give us insight into different facets of impact investing (financial performance, impact achievements, organizational structure). A core strength of the IFD is to bring together all of these pieces to build a holistic view of impact investing. Think of the parable of the blind men and the elephant: each piece in isolation provides a distorted view of impact investing; combining them gives us a much deeper understanding of how the space works as a whole. The depth and detail of the information in the IFD sets our research apart from all other research on the topic.
We have developed carefully standardized approaches to code the information we need from the documents, allowing us to build a quantitative data set that we can use for rigorous statistical analysis in combination with our survey data.
If you would like to learn more about why we collect documents and how we ensure their confidentiality, please see additional information here.
Who is funding this?
The database began with support from Anthos Asset Management, a large Dutch family office. The project has received additional funding from impact investing field-builders such as Omidyar Network, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Blue Haven Initiative, as well as dedicated Wharton, Harvard, and Chicago Booth alumni committed to advancing research on impact investing.We are actively seeking additional funding partners to grow this exciting project further.
Is my firm a fit for the Impact Finance Database?
We are gathering data from firms that make investments with the intention of generating positive social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. If you think that describes what you do, then we want to hear from you!
We use the term impact investing broadly to include investors who seek to create positive social/environmental impact either by supporting companies that generate inherently impactful products or services (e.g., solar lighting and affordable housing) or by emphasizing ESG factors of the companies in which they invest (e.g., staff diversity and supply chain sustainability). Further, our definition includes investors who seek competitive, market-rate returns as well as investors who accept concessionary returns.
To be included in the Impact Finance Database, a fund must have made at least one investment and had an initial closing on or after January 1st, 2010.
How does the Impact Finance Research Consortium maintain and ensure data security and confidentiality?
We will hold your data – that is, your survey responses and any documents that you share with us – in strict confidence, stored in a secure, password-protected server maintained by Wharton Computing. Only research team members authorized by the Impact Finance Research Consortium can access this server and only after signing a confidentiality agreement. This agreement will ensure that all authorized researchers understand the sensitivity of the data and the need to maintain strict confidentiality of the data.
When presenting studies and findings based on the IFD, authorized researchers will share only anonymized, summary statistics (e.g., means, correlations, significance tests) based on analyses across the funds in the IFD. We will never present descriptions or profiles of individual people, firms, or funds without explicit written permission. Similarly, we will never share any data or information that could be used to identify any specific individuals, funds, or firms that have participated in the IFD. We will also not list the names of participating funds or firms, unless we have explicit permission to do so.To see our NDA, which provides additional information regarding IFD security and confidentiality, please click here.
Can researchers outside of the consortium access the Impact Finance Database?
We will make certain data from the IFD available to qualified academic researchers after a period of exclusivity for approved researchers affiliated with the Impact Finance Research Consortium. Researchers outside the consortium who are interested in obtaining IFD data will need to submit a formal proposal outlining research questions, methodological strategy, and publication objectives. Additionally, all researchers will sign a confidentiality agreement ensuring that they keep all original data on Wharton’s secure, dedicated server and maintain the strict confidentiality of the data, abiding by our commitment to never release any information that could be used to identify any individual, firm, or fund that has contributed data to the IFD.