Courtney Robinson is the global head of financial inclusion for Block (formerly Square, Inc.) and Leslie Jackson is the head of policy for Block in Canada
Social-impact investing is a mostly misunderstood and underutilized way for a company to support the communities it serves by amplifying its power to pay it forward. But it is on the rise: The Global Impact Investing Network, which advocates for increasing its scale and effectiveness, estimates that the size of the worldwide impact investing market has topped US$1-trillion.
By definition, social-impact investments are made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social consequences. By allocating capital to ventures that are expected to yield social benefit, such as advancing important community goals, social-impact investing provides corporate investors with a way to generate returns and do good at the same time.
In contrast to traditional giving, social-impact investing is directed toward organizations that have clearly identified a public challenge. These organizations create long-term investment opportunities to drive positive change with a community-led focus. When first considering social-impact investing, companies may view it solely as charity or a gift for the institutions being served, but that viewpoint is misconceived. Such investing is a smart financial decision as well as a meaningful one.
For us at Block, the evergreen promise of effective social-impact investing is powerful. We carefully allocate investments from our US$100-million racial-equity and social-impact commitment to partners in Canada such as the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, or NACCA, which is focused on delivering a lasting (and growing) cycle of perpetual public good.
As a company that’s growing and evolving, we field many questions from other companies about the mechanics of how our social impact fund was constructed and operates. We documented our blueprint in an open memo that other companies and leaders may find helpful as a starting point to developing their own commitments.
Here are three key building blocks of an effective social-impact investment:
Before you embark on social-impact investing, get clear on your company’s purpose and which important societal or environmental issue you want to concentrate your efforts on.
At Block, our social-impact commitment is driven by the same purpose our company was founded on: economic empowerment. We are dedicated to creating tools to help expand access to the economy.
This purpose guides all our social-impact investing decisions. For us, this means investing in opportunities that ensure access to financial services is open to everyone.
Any leader considering a social-impact commitment must have an in-depth process to review their company’s liquidity and risk tolerance.
Being a company of scale is not a prerequisite for social-impact investing – and the investment amount may not be in the millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars at the outset. Select an amount that is fiscally responsible as a percentage of your liquidity.
Another important factor for companies who operate in multiple countries is to decide at the outset how funds will be allocated from a geographical perspective. In our case, when the fund was created, we specified that US$10-million of the total US$100-million would be invested in international markets, including Canada, setting a clear expectation for our global teams.
The final key building block to a sound social-impact investing strategy is to thoughtfully seek out like-minded partners built for reinvestment and growth who will be good stewards of your investment.
In 2022, after a thoughtful and mutual diligence review, Block partnered with NACCA to become the first private investor of the Indigenous Growth Fund, or IGF, Canada’s largest and most innovative Indigenous social-impact fund.
The IGF provides improved access to capital for Aboriginal Financial Institutions and Indigenous small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, helping them overcome some of the barriers they have historically faced. Most important, the IGF is structured to contribute to the acceleration of economic reconciliation by continuing to pay it forward for years to come.
By keeping these three building blocks top of mind, we believe more companies can extend social good to the communities where they operate.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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