How Millennials are using Data to Power the Impact Investing Movement

How the Case Foundation Influences Capital
Feb 8, 2017 9:35 AM ET
Sean Tennerson, Case Foundation

How Millennials are using Data to Power the Impact Investing Movement

by Sean Tennerson, Program Officer, The Case Foundation 

For those of you who know the Case Foundation, we’re bullish on the impact investing movement and the power of private capital for public good. While still a relatively small market, impact investments are surging, with some seeing a trillion-dollar market potential by 2020. Against that context, we do a lot of thinking about what is standing in the way of tipping significantly more interested investors to activated investors.

Education plays a key role in building momentum within any movement. And the Case Foundation has dedicated significant resources to shining a spotlight on the what, why, who and how of impact investing – check out the Short Guide! Over the course of the last year and a half, I have had the opportunity to deepen that work by helping to develop what we are calling the Impact Investing Network Map – a visualization of the relationships between investors, funds and companies in the field (See Video link below). As part of this effort, I have met with academic institutions, foundations and users and providers of data, all of whom are serious about scaling the impact investing ecosystem. And one barrier to scale rose quickly and consistently to the top – impact investing data is simply not accessible enough.

By data, I mean the details about who, what, where and how in impact investing. This information is essential to power tools, like the Network Map and other resources that can spur more investment and drive greater efficiency in the impact investing market. These details can be hard to locate if you’re not familiar with the space (to be fair, even if you are familiar with the space) because information is widely dispersed, when it is available it’s rarely transparent and it’s difficult to synthesize trends across the field because there’s no fully standardized language and metrics for reporting.

Alright, we know the data is an obstacle – let’s get real about solving it. From what I have seen and heard during the Network Map discovery process, the data exists and there is interest in improving accessibility – we just have to find the right levers to pull. Right now, we can find a good deal of information in reports from individual funds and investors like Unitus Seed Fund, K.L. Felicitas and F.B. Heron Foundation; from groups like ImpactSpace who are committed to greater public access to information; in press releases like this one announcing social enterprise, Workit Health raising $1.1 M; and even on Twitter – try searching “raised #socent #impinv.” Knowing that the data exists, how can we start to better put it in the hands of those we want to activate?

Let me posit three steps that will make data more accessible to significantly advance the movement:

•  Invest in Transparency as a Global Public Good 

•  Recognize that Transparency isn’t Enough; Accessibility of Data is Essential  

•  Commit to a Standardization Process 

Each of these vital steps are explained in-depth in her Full article at-

As millennials we’ve lived most of our lives with information at our fingertips. From something as simple as picking a restaurant and deciding to bike, metro or Uber the distance, to something as complicated as searching for a new home, we expect all of our basic questions will be answered in a few clicks. And, I don’t think this expectation is unique to my generation. Just as Google, the Metro Transit Authority and Uber have taken steps to translate and aggregate portions of their unique datasets in one easily accessible location to better serve the end user, the impact investing field can empower our end users with better data.

As we move into the next few years, which many predict will bring further growth, we have the opportunity to pair that growth with greater accessibility to information, decreasing opacity around performance and coming together around standard language and metrics. We can help provide individuals and organizations with better onramps into impact investing through better education about the activity in the field, so they can more easily determine if and where they fit in. We can be smarter about using data to power the next stages of growth.

Also watch their video on the Impact Investing Network Map-

Article by Sean Tennerson, who started at the Case Foundation ( in October 2012 after moving to D.C. from California where she graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Economics. Moving to D.C. was Sean’s first time ever on the East coast. She moved here to pursue her interest in domestic and international Economic development, and her love of moving to and seeing new places and people.

As the Program Officer Sean loves having the opportunity to contribute to the Foundation’s social innovation efforts. Her favorite thing about her position on the grant making team is the chance to work with and build relationships with the grantees by participating in their events and meeting their volunteers and the people they serve.