What is the true quality of growth?
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Impact Investing: The world beyond the figures

Long read

Marilou van Golstein Brouwers, Chair of the Management Board of Triodos Investment Management, examines the world behind the figures and whether a number accurately portrays growth.

What is growth?

When I look at Triodos Investment Management’s annual figures, I see growth beyond the increase in fund volume and assets under management. I see growth as our activity in over 50 countries across the globe, our connection with tens of thousands of investors, and our 500 plus direct investments in innovation, entrepreneurship, and development.

Growth is more than just a number. Our current economy is fixated on numbers that reflect simplified financials and not the true value of growth. What is the true value of growth? For us, it involves a holistic variety of factors that are reflected by the diversity of our investments and investors, and the dynamics of our portfolio.

The underlying connection within diversity

When examining the diversity of our portfolio – socially responsible investing, sustainable food and agriculture, inclusive finance, arts and culture, sustainable real estate, and energy and climate – I notice a variety of themes working together to stimulate a new, well-functioning economy that balances both impact and financials.

It’s not about fighting climate change versus addressing inequality, it’s about how these elements work together to create value, and as a society, we are beginning to see growth for the complexity that it really is. In our trade finance portfolio, for instance, it’s about connecting small-scale farmers in developing countries to international markets and about stimulating organic agriculture in these regions.

It’s a global effort that has been brought forward in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Summit – two historical mentions that prompted the whole world to agree on this shared sense of urgency to embrace global challenges across the spectrum.

For me, diversity is connection. It is the world behind the figures and it is what connects society with the urgent issues of today. We see it through our financial instruments, asset classes, and geographies. On the other hand, connection can also be deepened through lasting, meaningful relationships with investors and investees, and our sector expertise that contributes to our differentiation in the marketplace.

Diversity is the world behind the figures and it is what connects society with the urgent issues of today

Diversity does come with challenges. Take for example, the regulatory front. Each country has its own framework and requirements for investors. To broaden our investor base, we need to manage the possibilities in each country, which can be quite intricate. The need to balance the mission with growth remains crucial to our strategy and thereby, we embrace the complexity that coincides with diversity.

The contribution of accessibility

At Triodos Investment Management, part of our mission is to make impact accessible for everyone, and this accessibility contributes heavily to our definition of growth. In 2015, we launched the Triodos Multi Impact Fund in order to make a variety of themes accessible to a broader group of retail investors. This fund is a mix of Triodos funds and impact bonds, symbolising our core belief that serious change comes from a variety of themes and on a deep and broad, dynamic investor base.

Our dynamic investor base extends across our entire portfolio and particularly in our SRI funds. Our SRI funds are distributed in many countries where a wide range of investors can invest in a sustainable way. By engaging and collaborating with the companies in our sustainable investment universe, we aim to have an influence on how the companies develop to create a more sustainable footprint, thus giving our investors the opportunity to indirectly influence sustainability, in addition to direct influence; as seen through our impact funds.

For us, numbers are a part of what we do, but not who we are.

In our effort to further catalyse growth through connection and accessibility, we also seek innovation. We are not static in our financial instruments and explore innovative ways to connect to new developments. Triodos Sustainable Finance Foundation recently announced an investment in a crowdfunding platform, duurzaaminvesteren.nl, focused on innovative renewable energy projects. The platform makes it possible for people to invest directly.

The quality of growth

The debate about whether a number accurately portrays growth continues and has intensified. For us, numbers are a part of what we do, but not who we are. Our quality of growth is immaterial – not to be expressed in figures, but to be expressed in impact and how we make that impact accessible to our investors.

An overview on Triodos Investment Management’s annual figures can be found here.

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