What do you get when CEOs, business executives, investors, NGO representatives, policy-makers, academics, and two spiritual guides, from the first world, third world, BRICS and EMICs converge for a three-day meeting on a lake in Switzerland?
If this were the opening question to a joke, the answer might be "Chaos!" accompanied by some skepticism of Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? In fact, however, this is not a joke. This scenario actually did take place a few weeks ago at the Fourth Annual Impact Economy Symposium & Retreat at Lake Constance, Switzerland. Organized by Dr. Maximilian Martin, Founder & Global Managing Director of Impact Economy and hosted by Christian Krüger, Chairman of Krüger Holding AG and Krüger & Co., AG, the symposium brought together an inspired group of participants from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. I was lucky enough to be one of the presenters, and instead of "chaos" what transpired was three days of critical discussion on some of the toughest problems facing the world today, along with aspirational but grounded discourse on potential avenues for impact.
Indeed, the title and central theme of this year's symposium was "Daring for Big Impact -- Blending Inspiration, Innovation and Investment." While there was some debate of the meaning on the word "impact" (and rightly so, for after all it is one of those words that has a slightly mercurial quality) at the end of the day there was general consensus that what we were talking about was making a dent, making a meaningful difference for society by leveraging our individual and collective resources, responding to "old" problems with "new" eyes, correctly identifying and understanding the implications of new trends, and by daring to step out of our comfort zone where opportunities arise for creating long-term value and growth. Dr. Martin purposefully designed the program to show how next to impact investors and related ecosystem builders such as the G7+1 and companies can now leverage the benefits of investing to drive both business innovation and long-term viability of economy and society at large."
Specifically, examples of impact areas that sparked lively discussions, included the so-called "fast moving consumer goods industries," which has an estimated $700 billion cost-saving opportunity associated with shifting to a "circular economy" model; the potential of the LOHAS market (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), the size of which is currently estimated to be approximately $546 billion; sample snapshots of unmet demand at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), which collectively is estimated to equal roughly $5 trillion; the re-deployment of investment capital to support "long-term opportunities in the real economy"; changing models of philanthropy; changing models that allow companies to be active participants in value creation and impact (if you have not already, please read "Driving Innovation through Corporate Impact Venturing: A Primer on Business Transformation"); and the role of technology in aggregating knowledge, reducing information asymmetries, and generally lowering the transaction costs of impact endeavors.
While it is almost impossible to fully capture the richness of the ideas that emerged, I will leave you with my top five takeaways: First, true impact requires systems thinking -- in order to change some aspect of our society we have to understand as best we can the inter-connectedness and function of the various parts. Second, we all have agency -- whether as investors, lawyers, politicians, CEOs, artists, consumers etc. -- how we use that agency is in many ways up to us. Third, and this one comes from one of my fellow participants -- "sustainability is math". Fourth, if seemingly divergent trends are in some way connected they probably provide a path for opportunity. Fifth, impact does not equal anti-capitalism ... au contraire. I would argue that it represents a new imaginary for envisioning more inclusive and efficient systems for resource distribution, and does not take the current system as a given.
Said more succinctly, "we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them" (Albert Einstein).