The following is the summary of a session that was part of the 2018 Annual Conference.
The emcee, Ms. Mari Matthews, Corporate Officer, Government Relations, AIG Japan Holdings KK, posed a poll question to the participants, “Are Japanese or American companies more committed to serving the collective good?” Ms. Matthews then introduced the plenary dialogue “New Trends in Philanthropy.”
The panelists took the stage and Ms. Kuraishi started the dialogue by explaining that the thing people most associate with capitalism is companies. When companies were first allowed to be formed, they had to prove that they served the public good. For example, companies must have built roads or canals; something that would be provided to the public. Recently, people have started to scrutinize companies over what they provide to the public. Ms. Kuraishi’s first question directed at Dr. Briggs was on how that idea is playing out in the U.S. Dr. Briggs answered that we are seeing the wall between countries which engage in business only for social impact and countries which are only concerned with financial return collapse. Convergence is occurring where we can start to consider a spectrum of capital ranging from pure grants without repayment to market rate investing which also concerns itself with social impact. This convergence is much more effective to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Having corporate social responsibility is moving into the heart of what businesses are about, and we are seeing powerful and innovative work and growth because of that. To provide an example, Dr. Briggs explained how the Ford Foundation has been doing impact investment for decades and now they can use capital in uncommon ways to benefit society. The Ford Foundation bet 50 million U.S. dollars on creating home ownership opportunities for low-wealth families. It was a bet in the sense that the Ford Foundation hoped on the chance that low-wealth families are able to pay back loans if they are provided the right opportunity and correctly coached. The Ford Foundation played a catalytic role by taking risks in impact investing, focusing on social impact, and not seeking a return.
Ms. Kuraishi’s following question directed at Mr. Nonomiya was about philanthropy and impact investing in Japan. Mr. Nonomiya explained that the barrier between the philanthropy and business world is getting smaller. More and more people in the business sector are showing interest in philanthropy. This interest encourages younger people to start their own social venture aiming to solve social issues. They work to find social solutions in education, child care, the elderly, etc. Those social issues are not always covered by the government, so ventures are emerging to work on them.
Mr. Nonomiya mentioned that an aspect to consider is the challenges behind starting social ventures. Sustainability challenges have arisen due to profits. Organizations have to earn money somehow in order to survive. Ways that social ventures gain sustainability is by changing their business model and achieving scale. In order to achieve more scale, the key lies in the availability of channels to financial sources like public pension funds and financial institutions. In addition, small social ventures must have access to human capital, and more and more people are volunteering for them. Japan could learn from looking at how the Ford Foundation expanded their scope and activities. Dr. Briggs explained that the Ford Foundation first identifies social ventures, interviews the founders, and agrees on the social impacts to achieve. Then, the Ford Foundation invests money in and works together with the social venture.
Ms. Kuraishi asked Dr. Briggs to elaborate on what happened in the U.S. to get to the stage where impact investing could be thought of as conventional. Dr. Briggs answered that the impact investing field organized, quite recently in 2014, the National Advisory Board in order to make policy recommendations to the U.S. government. That effort produced great results for developing the market and ecosystem for impact investing, and Japan could do the same. We are living through a cultural moment where we are trying to align money with high values. Institutions that are small can have a big impact if they are willing to take big risks, such as what the Ford Foundation did.
Ms. Kuraishi asked Dr. Briggs if the Ford Foundation played a role in the creation of commonly accepted standards around impact investing. Dr. Briggs replied that the Rockefeller Foundation wanted to use common terminology around impact investing in order to explain it simply. The social venture and impact investment areas looked to the government to unblock the impact investing approach. The Ford Foundation worked with a host of players to communicate to the Obama administration and scored major policy wins by working together.
For the final question of the philanthropy plenary dialogue, Ms. Kuraishi asked Mr. Nonomiya to speak about elements in Japan which will help impact investing to take off. Mr. Nonomiya responded that first there must be social entrepreneurs, and they are increasing in Japan. For example, there are many people who spend five or 10 years in Japanese businesses until they realize it is not the right place for them. Many of those people move to the social venture area. Also, there needs to be human resources. Many working families have to shorten their careers in order to take care of children. In order to get more human resources, younger people should be supported by the business sector and individuals. Mr. Nonomiya concluded the dialogue by explaining that in order to support social ventures to progress, an ecosystem to support such efforts must be built up, which provides bridges from financial and human capital to social entrepreneurs.
Ms. Matthews brought the philanthropy plenary dialogue to an end and announced the answer to the poll question posed at the beginning of the plenary dialogue. Are Japanese or American companies more committed to serving the collective good? The majority of the participants answered “American companies.”
Click here to see the video of the session.