Which ESG conversation are you having?
ESG has been leading a double life. On one hand, an oil-slick language of…
September 28, 2022
ESG has been leading a double life. On one hand, an oil-slick language of environmentalism and ethics, now tripping off every tongue in finance. On the other, Big ESG: the Big Finance spin-out created, not to benefit the environment, or society, but to assess, and ultimately dodge, the exposure created by environmental, societal and governmental catastrophe.
The problem: Most investors assume they’re buying the former – that their social ethics, their environmentalism, is what they’re investing in when they buy ESG stocks. The bigger problem: decarbonisation depends on the truth of this assumption. By Stuart Kirkby’s recent FT analysis, this is a mismatch of two legitimate conversations: ESG-outputs vs ESG-inputs. The problem, he argues, is not duplicity. It’s misalignment.
To the problem set, one could add: silence. The best lies are always an act of mutual myth making. And so Big Finance, under the cover of Big ESG, has continued its governing logic, uninterrupted. Investors, thrilled by the surprising range and performance of ‘green stocks’ (still yielding short-term returns) have either declined to ask too many questions or succumbed to deliberately opaque fund structures.
Whether, like Kirkby, you see a misaligned set of assumptions, or – like the avalanche of whistleblowers now emerging from the inner sanctum Big ESG – a deliberate hoodwinking, is, in the end, irrelevant. The mutual myth is defunct. ESG isn’t fixing anything. In the false reassurance it offers engaged stakeholders and complacent governments, it may even be making it worse.
See how, in the same year that McDonald’s emitted 54 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (more than either Portugal or Hungary – and an increase of 7% in just 4 years), its ESG rating was improved – because carbon emissions were dropped from its ESG calculation (deemed, by MSCI, to no longer pose an immediate threat to its business model?).
This is a dangerous moment for the world, and a troubling moment for investors seeking to do good, not just mitigate harm, through the private capital they wield. In achieving this end, there is rarely such a thing as a simple investment decision.
Tesla – one of the world’s most progressive companies, explicitly dedicated to calling out the ESG mismatch in its own annual reports – shows that even when the story is patently good; patently striving for change; the picture is complex. The electrical transition relies on lithium, cobalt and nickel – minerals rife with supply chain instability and acute human costs. Yet no complexity is more pressing to deal with on a global scale.
Time has been advising clients about the human costs of energy since 2016, when we first documented the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s perilous ‘artisanal mining’ practices feeding the world’s rampant demand for cobalt. Far Away from the mines, US-based factories making batteries and green tech products, including Tesla’s own, continue to make headlines for abusive working practices. (Tesla’s 2021 impact report enshrines the need for worker protections, while it combats multiple employee lawsuits against alleged racism.)
Time Partners, together with Sir Ronnie Cohen and others, has spent decades forging an authentic language of impact. Impact, defined by real world measures and a relentlessly holistic view which spans every layer of the stakeholder economy. This worldview is organised in the External Rate of Return, or ERR, developed with the London School of Economics, with which we guide holistic investment strategies. It is patently clear, to anyone seeking long-term returns, that riches must mutually enrich. People, Planet, Profit. An ERR outlook allows us to balance difficult realities, not deny them, and invite stakeholders to independently sense-check corporate claims on ethical practices, thus creating, over time, a transparent and publicly accountable corporate culture.
Time is privileged to work with families and institutions who understand and invest capital as an intergenerational duty to the stakeholder economy. We are committed to continuing to guide them with a long term view and a wide lens rooted in the ERR and the language, always, of meaningful impact.
March 1, 2022
What am I as an influential individual, business leader and member of business organisations doing to increase the capacity of my country and the world to make sensible decisions in the interests of all? Am I mainly lobbying for special tax and regulatory treatment for our own benefit or am I supporting political action and activities that will bring the people of my divided country together? What am I, my business and the organisations I am part of doing to discourage online harms, corruption, money laundering and other forms of dangerous and indeed criminal activity? What am I doing to support laws that will bring accountability to rogue business organisations and their leaders? What, above all, am I doing to strengthen the political systems on which successful collective action depends?
In January, the pre-eminent, and prescient, Martin Wolf reflected on the relation between business, government and society. His position, echoed in a decisive report from the Centre for the Future of Democracy which takes stock of democracy’s standing within 27 countries after two years of pandemic, is not good. Covid has increased trust in government but this has not translated into trust in democracy. The root cause of this, Wolf argues, is the sickly state of business, and the role it is playing, or failing to play, at a societal level.
This appears to be a matter of capitalist determinism: ‘competitive profit-seeking entities’, he writes, ‘are essentially amoral, even if they are law-abiding. They will not readily do things that are unprofitable, however socially desirable, or refuse to do things that are profitable, however socially undesirable. If some try to do either of these things, others will outcompete them. Their shareholders may also revolt. Being or pretending to be virtuous may bring benefits to a company. But others may do well just by being cheaper.’ Years of lobbying to have a seat at the social table have translated overall into self-interested policies which stymy progress for the majority to enrich the few. Thus, trust evaporates and democracy decays. The only conclusion: ‘Society — at local, national and global levels — has to create the framework in which business works.’
The pandemic’s global vaccine effort, as Wolf notes, is a decisive demonstration of a contract that meets societal need through enabling policy and business innovation by way of vast, shared value creation. Yet the evidently self-interested pursuits of business, and the particular pact that appears to have been struck between self-interested corporations and the financial services which enable them, are never far from the headlines.
JP Morgan Chase is currently defending a suit from Abuja in London’s High Court for gross negligence which saw it pay out almost $900mn to a company controlled by a former Nigerian minister with a money-laundering conviction despite numerous “red flags” about the transactions. A landmark trial began this month which saw Credit Suisse become the first Swiss bank to answer money laundering claims – allegedly cleaning millions of Bulgarian Mafia euros between 2004-2008. Disquiet is growing that unregulated ESG stocks will soon be the next major mis-selling scandal. And that is to say nothing of the legal, but patently detrimental, decisions made by big business every day.
Wolf’s analysis is timely, and his questions to leaders are both pointed and poignant. Yet a critical distinction is missed.
Time Partners was founded on the principle of independence and long-term thinking. We have always believed in, and championed, the right of business to have a seat at the table. But this seat is contingent. That contingency is a question, not of social domain, but perspective. We argue that the true dividing line we must draw is not self-interested capitalist entities vs. socially-minded governments. It is between short-term thinkers (whether from business, politics or civil society) and long-term thinkers. The short-term thinkers, swayed by bad systems, selfish incentives and human bias, will almost always act with self-interest. The long term thinkers – taking in the great sweep of inextricably linked forces, risks and opportunities – will act in the interests of the collective. This is because, from the distant vantage, there is only one reality: mutual value creation as a form of enlightened self interest.
‘By nature’, The Dalai Lama wrote, ‘every human being loves oneself. But by helping another, you are building your own happy future. We should be wise-selfish rather than foolish-selfish’. This, too, is the choice we face as leaders of industry: self-interest – or enlightened self interest. And it is one we must make, and declare, with urgency. Because tanks are rolling through Europe. Blood is being shed. And once again, democratic powers dither when action should be swift: delayed, not by moral uncertainty, but by the complexities and unsavoury co-dependencies of globalised systems of commerce.
Russia is Europe’s main supplier of gas, nickel, palladium, and wheat, along with Ukraine. So our leaders must decide: short-term self-interest – which avoids the pain of sanctions; looks away from the lucrative flows of illicit finance; sustains the bad faith pact between business and society – or enlightened action, that uses this moment to expedite systems of transparency and structural transition.
Time’s work is testament to the truth that business at its best is society’s life blood, not leach. We’re proud to be leading robust standards of governance, measurement and impact; proud to be channelling enlightened capital into the transformation of energy, food, health and education; proud to be working with emerging economies to establish private equity markets which fuel prosperity. This is the social contract we see as possible and necessary for a peaceful and prosperous world. It’s time for every enlightened business to step forward, declare their side, and accelerate this crucial work.
December 20, 2021
At Time, everything we do seeks to redress the overuse of natural resources and the underuse of human capital. This is the great equation which underpins the Sustainable Development Goals, and around which all our thinking is centred, to ensure that private capital – the world’s greatest untapped resource – will build forward better.
In the question of migration, the two sides of the equation collide. Across the world, the sharp end of resource exploitation and climate crisis is driving millions from their homeland in search of safety and sustenance. They also seek to escape the under-use of their human capital. The World Economic Forum estimates that 270 million people (3.5% of the global population) are currently on the move as economic migrants. And this will rise. Less than 1% of recently surveyed African migrants were moving because of conflict; their dominant driver was economic (The Economist, October 2021). People cannot thrive in dying lands, and as smart technology networks global knowledge, powerful pull narratives and tactical workarounds will continue to overwhelm even the most aggressive border controls.
The co-dependency of people and place is perhaps most brutally illuminated by Sub-Saharan Africa, where 80% of its 1 billion people rely on some form of agriculture in increasingly desertifying lands. With almost half of its population under the age of 15 – a population set to more than double by 2050 – upwards of 60 million people are expected to make a massive exodus. Despite Western hysteria, the vast majority of these will, as now, migrate within their own continent. Only 18% of migrant Sub-Saharans live in Europe. About 70% are in other African countries. Of 88,000 people surveyed on popular migration routes in west Africa, 90% planned to stay in Africa. Yet the sheer scale of predicted population growth and environmental volatility means this reality gives little comfort to European governments scrambling to block, deter or repatriate those who land on their shores.
And yet, for the first time, Europe is reckoning with its own exodus. Desperate to deny entry to immigrants at large, it is suddenly engaged in a ferocious game of seduction to the ‘skilled migrants’ able to plug yawning holes in economies decimated by the collision of ageing populations, talent deficits (fuelled by the mismatch between education models and industry 4.0 requirements), and the ‘great resignation’ currently in play as overworked, disillusioned (and freshly fiscally bolstered) workers abandon old certainties in search of new pastures.
Some examples as compiled by Tortoise Media:
• Germany passed a new Immigration Act that offers accelerated work visas and half a year to visit and find a job, as officials warned the country needs 400,000 new immigrants a year to fill jobs in sectors from academia to electronic repairs.
• Canada’s latest Immigration Levels Plan aims to attract around 411,000 new immigrants a year until 2023.
• Australia, whose border has been closed for almost two years, wants to double the number of immigrants it allows into the country over the next year to fill labour shortages in hospitals, mines and pubs.
• Belgium, Finland and Greece granted work permits to foreigners who had arrived on student or other visas.
• Israel just signed a deal to bring healthcare workers from Nepal. There are already 56,000 mostly Asian immigrants working in the country’s nursing sector.
In Brexit Britain, suddenly bereft of European health, agriculture and logistics workers, this loss is acute.
The solutions are two fold.
First: to channel capital into environmental renewal within Africa itself, ensuring people can live and work off the land in ways that go far beyond basic sustenance. A dazzling example of this solution in action redefines both the scale of such projects and the inclusive possibilities of borders. Backed by 20 African nations and international partners including the UN and the World Bank, the African-led Great Green Wall initiative aims to create a new natural wonder of the world which spans the entire continent, re-greening Africa’s degraded Sahel region. At 800km, it will become the largest living structure on earth: three times the size of the great barrier reef. A decade in, and 15% complete, it is already bringing resilience to millions who would otherwise be forced to leave.
Second: to invest in learning solutions that reskill and augment the abilities of an ageing workforce. Chief among these are innovations that help us maximise our potential at every life stage, pivot gracefully to meet new economies, and build the resilience required for extended, productive, fulfilled lives. Both needs – borders of geography, or of the mind – remind us of the indivisibility of people and place, and the imperative for solutions which recognise this.
Photo from the Great Green Wall
September 30, 2021
‘The comparative neglect of dementia has several causes. One is that it often falls between different government agencies…Often the provision of long-term care is the responsibility of local governments, so its availability and quality vary wildly. More fundamentally, the old notion that dementia is a natural part of the ageing process is deep-rooted—held by two-thirds of people and even by 62% of medical practitioners, according to a survey last year by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), an advocacy group…. On top of the stigma the condition brings, there is another reason why people prefer not to confront the dementia emergency: fear. Knowing how likely they are to develop it, and seeing the difficult lives of those who already have, they prefer to look the other way—and just hope that a cure will one day be found.‘
The vision of preventative medicine – a promise that the cruellest diseases will not just be cured, but eradicated – has always been uniquely powerful. But the diagnostic holy grail at its heart has remained elusive, except in the most outlandish fictions.
Now, in 2021, we are finally on the brink of the preventative paradigm. The NHS is embarking on a landmark pilot: a DNA-based blood test which scans for early cancer markers. This innovation, with its potential to transform early detection and treatment, hints at the thrilling promise of genomics, driven in large part by the 1 Million Genomes project established by David Cameron’s government. Yet this field, and the related conditions it serves, remains drastically under-funded.
This is most acute in the treatment of dementia – an umbrella term for over 400 discrete but still little-understood diseases of the brain – which affects 50 million people globally, costs more than cancer and heart disease combined and is the single biggest health emergency for a fast-ageing world. There is still no cure. The societal costs of dementia are impossible to overblow. As the Economist notes: ‘Set against the size of the world’s population, these numbers may seem manageable. That is illusory. Nowhere in the world, rich or poor, is equipped to deal with the scale of the problems created by dementia’. By 2030, the WHO estimates, global care costs will reach $2trn. In Britain, the £26bn bill of today will double by 2050. The burden is overwhelmingly borne by families, exacerbating deep inequities. In 2018, 70% of the average lifetime cost of care for an American with dementia ($350,000) was attributed to care at home by family (The Economist). The aftershocks are inter-generational, curtailing working-age populations and denying the transference of assets to the young.
Yet dementia research receives around 10x less funding than cancer (for example, UK dementia research charities funded approximately £23m of research in 2015/16, compared to £310m of charity research funding for cancer). This is a human travesty, and a sorely missed opportunity.
But the story is shifting. Hope rests on the early detection of related disease biomarkers, some 15 years before symptoms manifest, in order to arrest or delay progression. This once-impossible ambition is now, with genomic breakthroughs, slowly becoming reality. Delaying the onset of disease by just two years would have a dramatic effect on costs (saving an estimated 12.9bn by 2050, according to recent modelling by Alzheimer’s research UK). Such small wins indicate the scale of what is at stake and what could be gained with further genomics investment.
Since 2020, Time has been working with global leaders to catalyse investment in genomics, dementia treatments and specialist care providers, in order to increase global access to these transformational innovations. Truth is sometimes more beautiful than fiction. This is the real story, the real opportunity, and it’s dazzling.
June 2, 2021
The financial divergence wreaked by pandemic is not news. One recent event, however, has shone light on a very different and decidedly hopeful shift quietly redrawing the lines of global capital distribution. With news of her divorce, Melinda Gates has stepped away from one of the world’s most significant philanthropic partnerships to become a change-maker with an independent fortune and a distinct agenda. As the FT notes, she joins the ranks of MacKenzie Scott, already making waves with her $38bn settlement from Jeff Bezos, and other women reshaping the philanthropic agenda.
Melissa Effron Hayek (leader of the ‘women in philanthropy’ programme at the University of California) notes the fundamental shift from “transactional” donation to “trust-based” partnerships these individuals are driving, and the important long-term change it will yield. “Women give for different reasons. It’s not necessary to have their name on the building . . . They want to be engaged and feel the impact of their giving.” BCG now estimates that women control one third of global assets; a reminder that high profile names like Gates and Scott are just the tip of an iceberg of independently-wealthy women engaging with philanthropy at earlier life stages, alongside building careers and families.
This collaborative ethos is also going hand-in-hand with hard-nosed innovation. Lauren Powell Jobs and Priscilla Chan (wife of Mark Zuckerberg), for example, pioneered the use of LLCs in philanthropic giving; Scott’s radical approach to grant-making involved an accelerated four-months scan of 6,500 organisations, hundreds of interviews and a final allocation of over $5bn to 384 recipients working on everything from food banks to education.
These approaches echo and embrace the generational shift of younger philanthropists toward flexible financial vehicles to maximise outcomes. This is the way of enlightened capital, which pursues collective long-term outcomes for an interdependent world; indeed such nuanced approaches, which blend impact investing with LLCs and donor-advised funds and others in support of broader, values-based goals, are precisely why Time Philanthropy was launched.
The distinctive style emerging among female philanthropists mirrors a long-held truth in development finance: put money in the hands of women and it enriches communities across generations. This is a more important principle than ever as we look seriously at the inconceivable task ahead for the post-COVID agenda. Time Partners’ many impact-focused ventures, like school building and micro-finance charity Build Africa, have directly demonstrated the cascade impact of empowering women and girls as financial gatekeepers.
In Uganda’s remote villages, for example, experience proved that aid money distributed to men was often spent on drink and gambling. When it was put in the hands of women, money was protected and invested for the next generation. Women and girls are able to support themselves to attend school, acquire skills, become entrepreneurs, stabilise family income, improve child health, support long-term schooling for the next generation and create sustainable, intergenerational progress.
Wherever you look in the world, the message is clear. Empowering women and girls is a keystone in repairing the intersecting and systemic crises COVID lays bare. This philanthropic cohort may hold the key.
Time Philanthropy was launched at the beginning of 2021 in response to the exponential rise of philanthropy as a key driver of sustainable change. Aware of common frustrations about how giving is currently handled and managed, a unique pool of expertise has been assembled to focus on the complex needs of clients interested in giving. Oliver Hylton leads this team as Head of Philanthropy. With over 20 years of experience working with and for senior families, individuals and family foundations, he understands the sector intimately and is well placed to manage complex briefs. Having delivered strategic projects with governments, international organisations and diplomatic delegations, he also maintains exceptionally close links with institutions of state and the directors of senior cultural and third sector bodies: more than useful when planning creative, impactful giving programmes. Above all, he has a fundamental understanding of the personal, human dynamics behind philanthropy. That, alongside the imperative of fulfilling aspirations, is at the centre of Time Philanthropy’s philosophy. For more information, please contact Oliver Hylton directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 4, 2021
For the last two decades, governance has taken a back seat to innovation. As technology giants have assumed nation status with adolescent attitudes, as nation states have quietly eroded the checks and balances on power, we have been persuaded that ethical small print – the structures, appointments, systems of accountability – is a form of a drudgery from a bygone age. But now we are a world reckoning with the failings of the ‘move fast and break things’ era: a global ‘infodemic’ of mis/disinformation, civic surveillance and exponential volumes of hateful content all now routine fare across Facebook-owned platforms alone. To say nothing of the ravages of global pandemic.
Slowly, slowly, then, a new mood is taking shape as former architects of this age turn their hand to systems of governance fit to constrain their creations. Facebook’s new “Oversight Board” – a 20-member group often referred to as “Facebook’s Supreme Court” (still, it should be noted, a wildly un-transparent venture) – is shortly due to decide whether to ban Donald Trump permanently from the platform. More ambitious reform comes from The EU – a consistent forerunner in tech legislation – which has this week unveiled a revolutionary framework which risk-ranks AI technologies as unacceptable (e.g. facial recognition software), high (e.g. school scoring systems) or limited (e.g. chatbots).
But it will also escape no one’s notice that nation states have their own house to put in order. In these efforts, tech nations and governments both would do well to look to the practices of responsible governance created by the impact investment industry, which knows that the ethical small-print is the safeguard of long-term returns (and is now enshrined in Time’s External Rate of Return impact measurement system).
And so it was a great privilege last month to unveil the outcomes of our recent work with the Cabinet Office to develop new principles for the governance of public bodies, including all Departments of State, non-departmental public bodies and quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations.
Some years ago, I did some work on the difference in the duties and responsibilities of directors of private companies and directors of public bodies. It was striking that I was one of very few people who had served on both. Following my participation in the Triennial Review of the Big Lottery Fund and its governance a few years ago, I conducted a comparative analysis between the governance of private companies and public bodies where it became apparent that the latter had more general and often vague requirements when it came to the role of directors.
As set out by the Institute of Directors (IoD), Non-Executive Directors (NED) are appointed to the boards of organisations to bring independence and impartiality, their wide experience, specialist knowledge and personal qualities.
The new principles I have developed go beyond the “Nolan principles” of public life and set out a recommended 12 essential qualities for NEDs. These principles represent an important progression in public body governance.
They underscore the core duty and function of the NED: to maintain independence from the executive and fulfil their duty as objective observer of the organisation: someone who is there to advise from the outside looking in. This has never been more critical to ensure that our public bodies are fully and efficiently regulated – both for their and the public’s greater good.
They also maximise a NED’s value. A NED brings many things to the table, but high amongst them is their invaluable expertise. When sharing this unique knowledge, the NED must act with the best interests of the organisation in mind. As a body that is linked to public services, the advice given must therefore be in line with public interests and with the intention of furthering public good. Moreover, the expertise is to be used as a vehicle to serve the broader mission and duties of the sponsoring Secretary of State and their Department. This will allow the objectives of the organisation to remain on the same path as those of the governmental department with which they are aligned. Finally, the expertise of the NED should be utilised to enable compliance with the statutory duties of the organisation, once again ensuring that organisational mission and vision act in line with public interest and the goals of the relevant government department.
The NED should also help the organisation flourish. This means support in its clearest sense, allowing management to feel heard and valued and creating a culture of diverse thought and experience. As a public body, the organisation should reflect the public it serves.
Together, these principles reconnect our semi-public administrative bodies to the Departments of State to ensure a complete alignment of vision and mission – ultimately driving much greater efficiency across the civil service and the state overall, and improving outcomes for all citizens.
March 17, 2021
Since our conception, Time Partners have been quietly building our own path forward; paving the way for a future which we call the new era of mutuality. This era is defined by the mutual responsibility and mutual prosperity on which all value depends. Its advent has been our founding purpose, engrained in every word and deed for the clients and global stakeholders we serve on the journey to resilient value creation across generations.
As the UK readies itself to unlock, grappling with the transformations of this last year, we at Time are also preparing to re-emerge. We do so having undergone our own metamorphosis: one that brings a crystalline focus to the value our clients are able to create and contribute at this moment of unprecedented change.
Since day one, we have provided strategic advice to families and institutions which pivots on a relentlessly holistic, long-term perspective – a way of seeing now modeled in the External Rate of Return, produced in collaboration with Robyn Klingler-Vidra at the LSE.
At the heart of the ERR are two fundamental truths. First: that only by considering all externalities, across all stakeholders, can we measure the true impact of an investment or company. Second: that the power of an investment or company comes not just from mitigating harm, but amplifying good. This insight has long positioned Time Partners as leaders in the purpose revolution, which is now, under pandemic pressure, mainstream parlance in every industry.
But talk, as always, is cheap. The stones we throw today will ripple across time. As the dust continues to swirl – as consumer behaviours transform, economies contort, lives reinvent – we must take more care than ever to navigate this terrain with unapologetic deliberation, high integrity systems and proven expertise. Hasty and blinkered action that replaces one problem with another will not leave us richer long term.
The Sustainable Development Goals set out the great challenges of our age. But at Time, we recognise that success will only come from striking a new equilibrium. That is why Time’s work is devoted to addressing the overuse of natural resources throughout the world and the underinvestment of human capital. This is the great equation around which all our thinking is centred, ensuring that the world’s private capital – our greatest untapped resource – will build forward better.
Time, like our namesake, never stands still. To equip our clients to step forward as leaders and legacy builders, we are expanding our business to support families and institutions in meaningful and creative new ways.
Time Philanthropy, launching this month, will help our clients realise their unique vision for truly impactful intergenerational legacy, drawing together Time’s unsurpassed global network of experts and organisations.
We are venturing into resilient food production – never needed more desperately as Covid ravages food-insecure regions, new billions emerge, and environmental pressures erode supply chains.
We are producing new ways to channel investment into genomic technologies, increasing global access to advanced diagnosis and treatment of human and plant diseases.
And we are continuing to drive systemic change in British society by strengthening governance of our most crucial public bodies alongside ongoing work to revitalize our economy with business-led solutions.
These efforts, and many more besides, are just the start lines of change. There is much to do. We look forward to welcoming you on the journey ahead as we work together to enrich, and find enrichment in, systems of truly sustainable value.
February 26, 2021
The second Purpose Summit of the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation initiative earlier this month opened with a disingenuous question: is there really anything to this ‘purpose revolution’?
Well, the illustrious panel confirmed, yes. The language may still be hesitant – soiled by decades of green-washed cynicism – but the reality is definitive.
Opening speaker Al Gore confirmed that ‘ESG funds’ – a term which still carries the hangover of less enlightened, tick box days – are the best performing and most resilient; their momentum carried by the uncompromising values-led ethos of young talent, ‘who are interviewing you as you interview them’ and will not settle for anything less than impact with integrity.
Colleague David Blood, Senior Partner at Generation Investment Management, was equally clear. “Historically, investment professionals have been evaluated on risk and return… But we’re certain that, going forward, we’ll be measured on impact.” His crucial point: ‘Businesses will no longer be able to ignore negative externalities like carbon emissions, inequality or injustice, and investors will no longer tolerate them. “Impact is part of the calculation of good investing,” he said. “The question is, are you measuring it? And how are you communicating it?”’
Lord Adebowale CBE, Chair of Social Enterprise UK, highlighted the tipping point of ‘mainstream purpose’ evident in the crush of socially focused start ups – appearing at twice the rate of other businesses – hailed the purpose ‘big bang’ of the 2020s which is all to play for in a post-Brexit global Britain.
And underpinning everything, Julia Hobsbawm OBE, Editorial Intelligence and Chair of the Workshift Commission, emphasized, is the point of radical alignment at which we have finally arrived: “a moment”, she argued, “when the worker and the boss is interested in the same thing. And that same thing is actually survival. We are in a health crisis. We are in a social health crisis. But for the first time…I think the tectonic plates are actually shifting.”
In 2019, the Initiative powerfully redefined corporate purpose. Businesses must exist to “profitably solve the problems of people and planet, and not profit from creating problems”. This definition is two years old, but more resonant, in our current crisis, than ever. The future corporation must be now – and given everything to lose and everything to gain, this must be within our reach.
Yet consider that Big Tech – who have profited handsomely from the pandemic while failing to meaningfully stem its flow – were, by December 2020, sitting pretty on vast cashpiles: Facebook, $62bn; Microsoft, $132bn in cash and short term investments.
To ‘build forward better’ with inclusive prosperity, as Arunma Oteh OON, former VP at the World Bank, argued, we must do better. This starts with leveraging the private sector. Alongside profiteering tech giants, capital markets have a critical role to play. $93 trillion languishes in the stockmarket; the vast majority either producing zero positive impact or accruing negative equity – a failing both unforgivable and stupid, she notes, when this capital could be poured into desperately needed resilient infrastructure.
Building forward better means amplifying the good, not just mitigating the bad. Purpose is a value multiplier, which is why Time’s External Rate of Return uniquely measures the positive impacts as well as the negative ones. This nuance – too often lost even in the most enlightened circles – is the catalyst which makes purpose both default setting and mass market edge, as social enterprises like Belu Water, which donates all profits to Water Aid, demonstrate.
CEO Natalie Campbell is uncompromising. “We intend to triple our revenue. We intend to triple our profit and the amount of money we can support Water Aid with. But that is not at the expense of our purpose.” Belu’s model, which ranks purpose, then people, product and profit, is competitive because of it. “If we get our purpose right, we align all of our people and get our products delivering in the way we should, we will be a profitable business. I see us as a challenger brand to any drinks business on the market.”
But the meaning of purpose in a post-pandemic world, in the end, is simple. In the closing words of Arumna Oteh OOH, who cited a South African proverb to her digital audience, let’s go together – so we can go further.
January 29, 2021
Capital is like a vaccine. It stands between people and peril, offering protection against sickness, exploitation, hunger and homelessness. It shores up value, helping economies and people to thrive, build, contribute. In this way, capital and vaccines create sustainable, equitable, resilient societies: where individuals are protected from the worst harms, parents can work, children can learn, and each generation can leapfrog the next. This is how nations flourish.
Like capital too, vaccines flow badly between rich and poor countries. In the midst of a global pandemic, where vaccines are the only key to western capital, and capital, it appears, is the only key to vaccines, this has never been more acute. On both fronts, this is a grave error.
Amidst the daily numbing onslaught of vast, blank statistics, listeners of the Today program last week may have clocked an astonishingly tiny number.
Twenty five: the number of people from low income income countries who had been vaccinated as of January 18 – in Guinea, with Russia’s Sputnik.
Thirty nine million: the number of people from high income countries vaccinated by the same date.
How has such a staggering imbalance occurred?
By misunderstanding the nature of value creation.
The world’s rich countries, containing only 14% of the global population, have bought up 53% of the most promising vaccines. Canada has bought up five times the necessary amount per capita. The US has bought four. The UK has bought three. A commitment from Oxford and AstraZeneca to distribute 64% in developing nations will only be enough to reach 18% of the global population. 90% of the people from 67 low income countries are left with almost no chance of getting vaccinated in 2021. Duke University estimates full roll-out will not complete until 2023.
COVAX, the global vaccination coalition – established to prevent exactly this behaviour, relentlessly replicated over recent decades – has managed to secure enough, at 700 million doses, to serve only 10% of those unlucky 67. The organization describes consistent efforts by manufacturers to sidestep COVAX in order to secure a rush of lucrative bilateral trade deals. COVAX is now, with the WHO, calling on companies to waive IP rights. Hoarder countries and manufacturers both are refusing.
Though surplus is expected, eventually, to trickle to those nations, the impact of a year’s delay is not an inconvenience. It’s a secondary ‘shadow pandemic’ of mass starvation, disrupted routine vaccinations, aid cuts, workless generations, and uneducated children. This is an abject, inarticulable moral catastrophe. It is also, in the loss to western innovation, labour, and security, an act of self-sabotage.
Impact investing understands the true nature of value. It understands the world as interdependent systems; how to mitigate harm but more, how to multiply the good; how to enrich, not just profit. It knows that wealth is never zero sum or short-term.
This is the new age of mutual responsibility, and we have failed our first test. Mutual responsibility is just the short-hand for the enlightened self-interest on which all value depends. It is also no great leap. At Time Partners, we help our clients enact these principles every day: channelling capital toward the greatest challenges of our time to enrich, and find enrichment in, systems of sustainable value.
This is the power of capital. It’s in our hands.
July 26, 2020
Modernity is defined by its ambivalence towards children. In 1965 – when the collision and collusion of education, politics and medicine first made children a choice, not a necessity – global birth-rates fell off a cliff, and they’ve continued freefalling. Because this dramatic fall in birth rates has paradoxically occurred during the world’s most explosive phase of growth – expanding the human race from roughly 2.6 to 7.6 billion people, with 83 million people a year added to the ranks – the long-term problem of a childless world has never truly been tabled.
Instead, the question of existence has only got knottier: if prospective parents today can wade through global pandemic, climate emergency and economic disintegration undaunted, and stomach the lifetime cost (£151,000 on average for a two-parent family, CAPG), they will still have to grapple with the moral gauntlet laid down by the astonishing environmental impact of each new person on the planet. 2018 headlines gave voice to the new intellectual pose of parenthood: ‘[h]aving children is the most destructive thing a person can to do to the environment’ by dint of the extra 58.6 tonnes of CO-2-equivalent emissions produced a year. With little to dispel these gloomy facts, this excruciating calculus continues to confront every young, free, conscientious couple, and by extension the whole of humanity: increasingly unable to justify our own existence, but compelled to exist.
To be or not to be, then, is the question of our times. But – confused by the human excess of the present, unable to extrapolate forward – it’s one we’ve spent 50 years getting horribly wrong. Now, new research lays bare the ‘jaw-dropping impact’ of falling birthrates and the rapidly shrinking, ageing population left in its wake.
In 2017, the global fertility rate hit 2.4 – a figure dangerously close to the replacement rate of 2.1 needed to sustain a population. Several countries have already dipped well below this: Japan, at 1.4, has long been contending with a shrinking workforce, vanishing communities (a phenomena called shoushikoureika) and failing markets (see the recent unprecedented merger to two great industrial foes of the sugar industry). By 2100, the research predicts, this will be the global norm as the average falls below 1.7. The consequences on a global level are almost incomprehensible, as Christopher Murray, co-author and researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, told the BBC. “it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganize societies.” Poignantly, the authors suggest that not even the environment wins in this new reality: less children, combined with hyper-extended lives, is not good for the planet, since any gains would be offset by the challenges of a rapidly ageing population.
These challenges are vast and many. Broadly and brutally, by current social design: young people solve problems (build businesses, innovate, pay taxes); old people create them. The complex co-morbidities of age and the fresh realities of pandemic society only hint at the extraordinary costs ahead. More complex still: the young people left in the world overwhelmingly live in Africa and Asia, which already hold three-quarters of the world’s population. (Consider that 50% of the world’s future growth will come from just six of these mega nations: Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Angola and Pakistan; by 2100, as the world enters a dubious retirement, 33 of the world’s least developed nations (LDCs) are expected to triple in size). And as the need to maximize capacity of all young people in the coming years becomes critical, Covid has disrupted education and employment prospects at critical life stages.
The solution must be new ways to maximize human capital at every life stage: removing the burden on the young and renewing the value of old age. The only route is close collaboration between multi-lateral institutions, government and business to rapidly mainline the future-fit skills that work in harmony with the gains of AI and automation. Many enlightened thinkers have been tackling the challenge – most presciently Lynda Gratton, whose work is devoted to helping us prepare for the hundred year life. But until now, we’ve lacked common cause to align around this gargantuan undertaking. With the onset of Covid, and launch of the Great Reset Initiative – the World Economic Forum’s bold call to martial the whole-systems change needed to truly ‘build back better’ – there is suddenly a platform to do so. Its Skills Revolution Platform aims to upskill and redeploy 1 billion people by 2030 by creating a one-stop shop for digital training, human networks and real work opportunities. It calls on leaders to play their part in by:
Covid is an earthquake, laying bare our global fault lines. It has helped us see, suddenly and collectively, all the things we’ve been getting so wrong. But demography is humanity’s true Great Reset, and it’s been hiding in plain sight for two generations. Tackling it requires profound new ways of seeing and thinking. As investors, leaders, politicians, are we ready at last to look these figures in the face?
June 18, 2020
‘Perspective blindness refers to the fact that we are oblivious to our own blind spots. We perceive and interpret the world through frames of reference but we do not see the frames of reference themselves. This, in turn, means that we tend to underestimate the extent to which we can learn from people with different points of view… our modes of thought are so habitual that we scarcely notice how they filter our perception of reality.’
Matthew Syed, Rebel Ideas: The power of diverse thinking
Conversations about injustice tend to operate on one of two levels: either they emote the visceral lived experience of the individual, or they clinically deconstruct the systems that create and sustain inequality.
Both views are crucial. Change requires a bridge between the two, but that bridge is rarely built. Systems have historically been designed from a position of complete perspective blindness that saw no need to look beyond one narrow view and experience; those who suffer injustice are by definition marginalised by the systems they exist within and therefore unable to affect change. Today’s systems designers – still overwhelmingly drawn from one narrow pool – are awake to the pluralist societies they serve, operate with radically different laws and norms, have likely evolved beyond ‘conscious racism’, but replicate similar outcomes. Why? Because they remain just as blind.
This blindness manifests in three ways.
First: it obscures the systems. Tribal brains, confusing familiarity with merit, spread the net of social capital in their own image. The now-famous Harvard Implicit Bias test was the first to show us how unconscious bias penetrates systems; its latest findings found that white ‘employer’-participants were ten times more likely to shortlist two white candidates for a lectureship post than two BAME candidates with exactly the same CV; tracking eye movements, it also discovered that white participants spent more time looking at good information on the CVs of white candidates and bad information on the CVs of BAME candidates.
Second: it sees the systems but denies the problem – a particular habit of elite institutions which have for centuries argued, like former CIA chief Fred Fleitz in 2016, that matters of national security cannot, in the end, be compromised by the competing interests of ‘social re-engineering’.
Third: the vast inherited legacy simply overwhelms good intentions, leaving would-be change-makers trapped by bad systems, by the homogeneity of thought and experience this breeds in the political and professional classes, and – yes – by the inevitable echo chamber of their own experience. These systems, and the problems they exist to solve, are now so staggeringly complex that even the best wills and the sharpest minds quickly crumble.
And yet this complexity is precisely why we need new ways of seeing.
Unlike the simple or linear problems of the past, complex problems can only be solved by cognitive diversity, which combines different modes of thought, experiences and world-views. We resist this logic, on an innate level, because homogenous groups feel good. They reinforce our in-group bias; conferring feelings of trust, confidence and skill – the thing now called ‘cultural fit’ – producing a sense of cohesion we find irresistible. But as Matthew Syed demonstrates in case after case, the cosier we feel, the worse we perform. This hardwired preference is the single biggest risk we face in a world confronting an overwhelming array of complex crises. Injustice and inequality which exclude diverse voices are not just deeply moral issues for any liberal democracy. They are also issues of deep self-interest for any group that cares about its own survival, or understands the rich opportunity of difference.
Our current reality makes it painfully clear that we have no room or time for blind spots. Yet blind spots are everywhere: poignantly embedded into the very systems tasked with designing equality into society from on high. And so we arrive at inevitable impasse. As social designer Hilary Cottam notes, citing failure after failure of wholesale government reform, ‘the more we focus on top-down reorganisation, the more the answers seem to elude us’. Inaction breeds fatalism. Even the most appalling events that look at first like transformational tipping points so often fail to deliver real change; a sobering reflection as we pass Grenfell’s third anniversary.
There have been four government reviews of racial inequality in Britain in four years. There has been no meaningful change; by some measures, reversals; lives lives spent, as Cottam writes, in a system that can keep us alive but cannot help us take flight.
When I first wrote in February about the potential of Corona virus to push us further apart, deepening tribal bias and nationalist rhetoric under existential pressure, we had no conception of how it would devastate and divide along ethnic lines in our own society. We now stand at another social tipping point with the potential, for the first time, to bring us together . Why will now be different? Because it has to be. Pandemic is a world-sized problem of unparalleled complexity that lays bare in the most literal way the connections and co-dependencies between us. In Britain – with more deaths per capita than any nation on earth – it has illuminated, deepened and accelerated every structural inequality in our society.
For the first time – in the staggering, inexcusable disparity of the dead verses the living – there is no question of denying either the individual experience or the structures that relentlessly dictate it. Inequality is injustice; injustice is risk: to life, to way of life, to innovation, to the future, to all things good. There is no option but to build the bridge.
What do systems of a truly diverse and resilient society look like? The truth is, beyond hopeful glimmers, we can’t yet know. But it begins by accepting, now, that we are all partially sighted. It means seeking out the discomfort of difference. It means, most of all, getting smart on the systems: looking for the points at which unconscious bias conspires, in ways small and large, to limit opportunity. And when it is tempting to slip into the language of symbols – remember that outrage and gestures are not enough. Outrage won’t last; gestures change nothing.
Doing the work of repair means learning the systems that made you. So take the implicit bias test. Read Robert D. Putnam and trace the insidious ways that income shapes outcomes. Read the 2019 UN report into British poverty. Internalise the stories through which Hilary Cottam connects the trapdoor complicities of housing, health, education and employment. Listen, converse. Consider the ripple effects you create in the systems you sustain. In the impact industry, we track these ripples with increasingly forensic tools because our reason and right to exist depends on the positive change we create. This is a moment of accountability for all of us, and in pain and in pandemic, our resources are low. But we are also awake.
And as we sit with the problems, make space for solutions. Systems thinkers are all around us, quietly testing new ways with willing communities and teams who have stepped outside of the systems that constrain them. June Sarpong, the BBC’s newly appointed head of Creative Diversity and founder of the Diversify movement is a very good place to start.
May 19, 2020
Our global leaders have adopted the language of war to fight pandemic. From WHO to Whitehall, Covid-19 is the invisible foe/unknown enemy/silent killer we must unite to battle with blitz spirit and war-room tactics. In Britain – where memories of a ‘good war’ stir in us more warming national pride than dread – we are uniquely prone among our European counterparts to this type of talk. We roll it out for the Cadillac of causes; dispense it with the care of a precious and dwindling resource to achieve otherwise impossible national ends. Because above all, in the western sphere, war is a sustained state of extraordinary measures. It is about doing, and being seen to do.
The same impulse brought into being the Sustainable Development Goals: 17 global targets which give authoritative, if not exhaustive, shape to the world’s greatest challenges. Taken together, they pose totemic, existential risk to humanity. They’ve spawned innumerous global crises and killed hundreds of millions of people. Covid is just the first of their children to puncture western frontiers and western consciousness; there will be many more. But we are decisively not in a battle to win the SDGS. We do not roll out the big guns for educational equity or sustainable sea-life. That 400,000 people a year die of malaria – 67% of them children – barely registers. This is both understandable and inevitable. It’s hard to wage a war against 17 deadly foes; we are neurologically incapable of coping with such broad-brush urgency. And so while laudable progress has been made, heroic acts performed, we’re no where near the 2030 targets. The current crisis will likely reverse progress on every front as we retreat back into our national concerns.
The SDGs are a microcosm of a distinctly old world problem. As a call to arms, a clarifying balm to chaos, and a catalyst to waning global energy, they add value. But they lack strategy, causality and focus. They are a list of things, agreed by committee, to deal with. And so all the world’s energy, all the resource that has been and could be martialled, remains fragmented: gusts of breeze not tides of change. We see this approach replicated, painfully, in the global response to our latest crisis – and we are reminded that even the brightest fires and the boldest words burn out without the oxygen sources to sustain them.
In the west, we like to speak of war. We care less to learn the ways of victory.
The great Chinese military strategist, Tzu Sun, knew victory. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. The greatest victory is that which requires no battle. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war; defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
Preparedness, strategy, and selective action.
And while chaos, Tzu Sun knew, creates opportunity in abundance, we live in a time of scant attention and scant resource on the true inflexion points of change.
As Covid continues to lay bare crisis after crisis requiring urgent response, that resource – fiscal, political, intellectual and emotional – will only become more pressed. The opportunity of this moment is in grave peril from our own habits of thought and systems of action.
The change makers of our times are those who know where to focus attention and resource to seize the greatest opportunity. In the midst of overwhelming need, our sights must be trained on this truth: to meet every need, we have to acknowledge that not all needs are created equal. Focus on the root, not the branch.
A meaningful strategy for global impact must recognise the world’s fundamental imbalances to unlock the true drivers of change. To this end, Time has reworked the SDGs to redress the core imbalance at the heart of the global crisis: developed nations have consistently over-used the world’s natural resources to the point of critical depletion; and developing nations suffer from an under-use of human resource through low investment in health, education and opportunity.
Once this central imbalance is understood, the logic of cause and effect is clear. The fundamental drivers of resource over-use correlate with five SDGs: Sustainable cities and communities; Responsible consumption and production; Climate action; Life below water; and Life on land. The fundamental drivers of human under-use correlate with another five SDGs: Quality education; Gender equality; Clean water and sanitation; Affordable and clean energy; and Industry, innovation and infrastructure. These are the drivers of systemic change, and it is here that the world’s capital and resource should be funneled for accelerated and sustained impact. The remaining seven SDGs will be within reach when these causal issues are addressed.
We are taking this structure to the United Nations and hope they will consider it a means of effective ranking; capital will flow accordingly when given their gentle encouragement.
We are now all part of a wider movement driving the shift from tactical action to effective strategy. For this reason, Paul Polman – a leader who understands how to harness systems to create sustainable tipping points in the face of overwhelming counter-pressures – has focused his new venture Imagine on overcoming the foundational tipping points of climate crisis and inequality.
With preparedness, strategy and selective action we can create change where it matters most.