ANNOUNCEMENT – “BlueMark Introduces Leaderboard of Impact Investors With the Strongest Impact Management Practices”

ANNOUNCEMENT – “BlueMark Introduces Leaderboard of Impact Investors With the Strongest Impact Management Practices”

Leaderboard and expanded data set on best practices in impact management released as part of BlueMark’s third annual ‘Making the Mark’ report

BlueMark, an impact verification specialist, today published its third annual report on best practices and trends in impact management featuring data and insights gleaned from the firm’s verifications of investor impact management practices. BlueMark’s methodology is grounded in the Operating Principles for Impact Management (“Impact Principles”), a leading market standard for impact management practices. The full report — “Making the Mark: Spotlighting Leadership in Impact Management” — is available at www.bluemarktideline.com/making-the-mark-2022.

The analysis is based on 60 verifications for impact investors managing a combined $160 billion in impact assets under management. This is double the sample size of last year’s edition of “Making the Mark,” which was based on 30 verifications for investors managing a combined $99 billion in impact AUM. The larger sample size reflects the growing demand for impact verification and brings additional clarity into trends and challenges across the market.

“We continue to see healthy competition among impact investors seeking to demonstrate best practices in impact management and learn valuable lessons from their peers,” said Christina Leijonhufvud, CEO of BlueMark. “BlueMark’s verification approach and dissemination of aggregated findings and benchmarks are designed to facilitate a race to the top by encouraging impact investors to adopt industry best practices and address shared challenges.”

New features in this year’s ‘Making the Mark’ report include:

  • Introduction of the BlueMark Practice Leaderboard, which highlights the five BlueMark clients that scored in the top quartile against eight of the nine core features of robust impact management as reflected in the Impact Principles (the ninth Principle–independent verification–is not scored). The inaugural edition of the Leaderboard features Bain Capital Double Impact, Finance in Motion, LeapFrog Investments, Nuveen Private Equity Global Impact, and Trill Impact.
  • An updated BlueMark Practice Benchmark, which shows the distribution of investor impact management practices by quartile, and an expanded Dashboard of Practice Indicators, which provides a tool for investors to assess their own practices against a peer set. This year’s Dashboard features additional data points on leading practices, such as the use of the IMP’s ABC framework (Avoid, Benefit, Contribute) to determine impact objectives (8% of verified investors) and the use of a composite scoring methodology to evaluate portfolio performance (28% of verified investors).
  • Overview of the current state of the impact verification market based on analysis of the 100 signatories to the Impact Principles that have completed an independent verification as of May 2022. BlueMark was responsible for 41% of all third-party verifications (excluding internal verifications) for signatories to the Impact Principles, more than four times as many as the next closest verification provider.
  • Case studies highlighting unique or innovative impact management practices, featuring Trill Impact (aligning staff incentives to impact achievement, a component of Principle 2), MedAccess (assessing investor contribution, a component of Principle 3), Lightrock (assessing impact risks and negative impacts, a feature of Principle 4), Finance in Motion (incorporating the voice of stakeholders, related to Principle 6), and British International Investment (assessing the sustainability of impact at exit, Principle 7).

BlueMark’s analysis also revealed several interesting trends across the impact investing industry.

  • Despite growing discussion about impact-linked compensation structures, the practice remains limited. Only 38% of impact management systems explicitly integrate impact considerations into staff incentives, with performance development and review processes identified as the most common method (25% of verified investors). Meanwhile, more direct financial accountability mechanisms — such as annual bonuses or impact-linked carry — are less common at 17% and 3% adoption, respectively.
  • Impact investors are aligning around a handful of measurement frameworks. A majority of impact investors (77%) have adopted industry frameworks and/or taxonomies for selecting their impact metrics, with IRIS+ emerging as the most common framework followed by HIPSO and an array of ESG reporting standards. Similarly, when it comes to ESG management, 78% of verified investors have adopted an industry standard or framework to inform their approach, led by the IFC Performance Standards (43%) and SASB (25%).
  • Investors vary significantly in their establishment of ex-ante impact targets, compromising the market’s ability to gauge success. While 63% of impact investors monitor impact performance against an expectation — such as a baseline KPI or qualitative impact rating — the quality of target-setting practices varies widely. For instance, only 22% of verified investors have a clear protocol for engaging investees in the event of impact performance, partly due to the lack of clarity on what over- or under-achievement looks like from an impact perspective.
  • An increasing number of impact investors are engaging with key stakeholders and actively solicit their input. Less than a third of impact investors (28%) engage with key affected stakeholders and actively solicit their input, an increase of 17 percentage points compared to last year’s research sample. While still a minority practice, the commitment to solicit input from target stakeholders experiencing the impact outcomes is a key part of impact management and monitoring.

“These findings corroborate what we’ve observed across the impact investing industry and in previously published research,” said Leijonhufvud. “While there are several encouraging signs of improvement in impact management practices, many impact investors still have a long way to go if they want to be seen as market leaders.”

BlueMark’s current verification services are structured around the two key pillars of accountability for impact: Impact Management Practice (the extent to which an investor or company has the systems, processes, and capabilities to contribute to achieving the intended impact); and Impact Performance (the extent to which an investor or company has achieved the intended impact results). To date, BlueMark has completed 75 verifications for organizations managing a combined $164+ billion in impact assets.

 

About BlueMark

BlueMark is a leading provider of impact verification services for investors and companies. Founded in 2020, BlueMark’s mission is to “strengthen trust in impact investing.” BlueMark’s verification methodologies draw on a range of industry standards, frameworks and regulations, including the Impact Management Project (IMP), the Operating Principles for Impact Management (OPIM), the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), SDG Impact, and the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). Learn more about BlueMark and impact verification at www.bluemarktideline.com.

ANNOUNCEMENT – “BlueMark Introduces Leaderboard of Impact Investors With the Strongest Impact Management Practices”

Joint Statement by Limited Partners on Advancing Best Practices in Impact Performance Reporting

As Limited Partners (LPs) with extensive experience allocating to private market impact investment funds, we expect our General Partners (GPs) who manage these funds to provide us with regular reporting on both the financial performance and the impact performance of their portfolios.

In the same way that financial reports are essential to our analysis and management of financial performance, impact reports are a critical input to our understanding, expectation-setting, and communication with stakeholders around funds’ impact performance. Relevant and interpretable impact performance reporting deepens our trust in existing GPs and is an important input into our due diligence of prospective new GPs.

However, our ability to interpret and draw conclusions from the impact reports we receive today is hindered by the significant variability in the content and quality of these reports. We recognize that this inconsistency stems in part from the lack of widely accepted guidelines for what quality impact reporting looks like. We further recognize that we have an important role to play in establishing a common baseline for how GPs should report on their impact.

In order to increase the value of the impact reports we receive and help drive greater transparency and accountability in the impact investing market more broadly, we are committed to working together as LPs and in concert with other stakeholders to advance best practices in impact performance reporting.

As a signatory to this letter, we encourage GPs to adopt the “Key Elements of Impact Performance Reporting”, as proposed by BlueMark in its 2022 “Raising the Bar” report.

  • We expect the impact performance reports we receive to abide by the overarching elements of Completeness — providing the full balance of relevant information needed to understand impact results and risks — and Clarity — presenting impact information in a manner that is digestible and that facilitates interpretation. We further expect impact reporting by GPs to include the following specific elements:
    • Well-defined objectives and expectations: A quality impact report is explicit about the fund’s intent and impact objectives, including clarity on investor contribution and expected results.
    • Relevant metrics: A quality impact report includes quantitative metrics that are standardized wherever possible and that link to the articulated impact objectives.
    • Relative performance results: A quality impact report provides information that allows the reader to effectively interpret and contextualize measures of progress and performance against targets or expectations and against external benchmarks, as available.
    • Integrated stakeholder perspectives: A quality impact report identifies affected stakeholders and incorporates their experiences and voices to the extent possible.
    • Transparency about risks and lessons learned: A quality impact report is forthcoming about potential impact risks, failures, and lessons learned.
  • Using BlueMark’s Key Elements as a starting point, we will work with industry standard-setters to develop common frameworks and templates, as useful, to further clarify and align LP demands for quality impact performance reporting from GPs.

We see the movement toward a common framework for quality impact performance reporting as critical to stewarding the continued growth and integrity of the impact investing industry.

Sincerely,

Bank of America (Merrill and Private Bank)

Big Society Capital

Brightlight

Caprock 

Hall Capital

Jordan Park

StepStone Group

BlueMark Publishes Research Calling for Market Alignment on the Key Elements of Quality Impact Performance Reporting

BlueMark Publishes Research Calling for Market Alignment on the Key Elements of Quality Impact Performance Reporting

“Raising the Bar” report is first in a series aimed at improving the quality and usefulness of impact performance reports produced by impact investors

 

Apr. 19, 2022 – BlueMark, a specialist provider of impact verification services for investors and companies, today published a report calling for a stronger approach to impact performance reporting that would make it easier for the market to analyze and compare impact performance. The full report, “Raising the Bar: Aligning on the Key Elements of Impact Performance Reporting,” is available at https://bluemarktideline.com/raising-the-bar

The research was conducted with the support of grant funding from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing.

“While impact reporting by private markets impact investors is a common practice, the lack of widely-accepted guidelines for reporting on impact performance has resulted in heterogeneous approaches and a perception by end readers that the reports are incomplete and insufficient to meaningfully interpret impact results,” said Christina Leijonhufvud, CEO of BlueMark. “Given the market imperative to improve the quality and usefulness of impact performance reports, we wanted to gain a deeper understanding of best practices in impact reporting and propose pathways to accelerate their adoption.”

A two-pronged approach was taken to the research project. First, BlueMark analyzed a sample of 31 recent impact reports by private market general partners (GPs) to identify trends and common practices. Second, BlueMark consulted with 57 diverse industry stakeholders–via both one-on-one interviews and focus groups–to gain insights into the challenges and opportunities related to producing and consuming impact reports.

These research activities surfaced several gaps and challenges that limit the utility of impact performance reports, including: lack of specificity about goals or targets, cherry-picking of data, missing stakeholder perspectives, and emphasis on successes as opposed to risks or underperformance.

However, the research also revealed a high degree of alignment around what constitutes a quality and decision-useful impact performance report. Building on these areas of consensus, BlueMark–in close consultation with industry stakeholders–composed the following proposed “Key Elements” of quality impact performance reports.

 

Overarching Elements:

  • Completeness: A quality report provides information about all portfolio holdings and addresses impact performance at the fund and holding level.
  • Clarity: A quality report presents impact information in a manner that is accessible and that facilitates interpretation, with clear definitions, assumptions and supporting calculations.

Specific Elements:

  • Well-defined objectives and expectations: A quality impact report is explicit about the fund’s intent and impact objectives, including clarity on investor contribution and expected results.
  • Relevant metrics: A quality impact report includes quantitative metrics that are drawn from industry standards wherever possible and that link to the articulated impact objectives.
  • Relative performance results: A quality impact report provides information that allows the reader to effectively interpret and contextualize measures of progress and performance against targets or expectations and against external benchmarks, as available. 
  • Integrated stakeholder perspectives: A quality impact report identifies affected stakeholders and incorporates their experiences and voices to the extent possible. 
  • Transparency about risks and lessons learned: A quality impact report is forthcoming about potential impact risks, failures, and lessons learned.

 

These elements were tested in focus groups of both GPs and LPs, including members of the BlueMark Allocator Working Group, a learning community of some of the leading institutional allocators with a shared commitment to impact investing.

To help increase adoption of these elements, BlueMark is collaborating with Impact Frontiers, an initiative of the Impact Management Project (IMP), to pilot an approach to verifying impact reports with a select group of firms from the Impact Frontiers community. The verification methodology will build on the research findings in the first “Raising the Bar” report. Key learnings from this pilot will be published in a second report in late 2022.

“The desire to advance beyond impact practice to impact performance is a common refrain among the investors participating in Impact Frontiers cohorts,” said Mike McCreless, Executive Director of Impact Frontiers. “The report launched today represents a great step in that direction and we look forward to collaborating with BlueMark and the Impact Frontiers community of investors to continue the momentum.” 

BlueMark’s current verification services are structured around the two key pillars of accountability for impact: Impact Management Practice (the extent to which an investor or company has the systems, processes, and capabilities to contribute to achieving the intended impact); and Impact Performance (the extent to which an investor or company has achieved the intended impact results). To date, BlueMark has completed over 65 verifications for organizations managing a combined $156+ billion in impact assets.

About BlueMark

BlueMark is a leading provider of impact verification services for investors and companies. Founded in 2020, BlueMark’s mission is to “strengthen trust in impact investing.” BlueMark’s verification methodologies draw on a range of industry standards, frameworks and regulations, including the Impact Management Project (IMP), the Operating Principles for Impact Management (OPIM), the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), SDG Impact, and the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). Learn more about BlueMark and impact verification at www.bluemarktideline.com

BlueMark Adds Paige Nicol as Director for Europe to Expand Impact Verification Services

BlueMark Adds Paige Nicol as Director for Europe to Expand Impact Verification Services

Social impact professional previously held senior roles at Luminate and Omidyar Network

BlueMark, a provider of impact verification services for investors and companies, today announced the appointment of Paige Nicol as the firm’s new Director for Europe. Nicol will be based in London and oversee BlueMark’s team in Europe.

Nicol has held several leadership roles in impact investing, philanthropy, and professional services throughout her career. She was most recently a Director of Strategy & Insights at Luminate, a philanthropic organization founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar that is focused on empowering people to work together to build just and fair societies. Nicol was responsible for designing and overseeing the organization’s strategy to maximize the impact of its global portfolio of grants, investments and initiatives. In this role, she also helped to shape and implement Luminate’s approach to impact assessment, impact management and impact reporting.

Before joining Luminate in January 2018, Nicol was a Manager on the Intellectual Capital team at Omidyar Network, where she co-led the development of the firm’s initial strategy and investment thesis around digital identification. She also led multi-stakeholder engagement and advocacy work across a range of start-ups, banks, civil society organizations, governments, development finance institutions, and standard-setting bodies with a focus on crowding in capital and influencing the development of the field so that digital ID could become a tool of empowerment rather than exclusion or control.

“I’m thrilled to be joining BlueMark at an important time in the firm’s growth,” said Nicol. “My career in social impact has taught me the importance of third-party accountability for impact claims and practices, an area where BlueMark is leading the field through specialization in impact verification.”

“Paige is well-respected across the impact investing industry and especially in Europe, where she will work directly with our European clients,” said Christina Leijonhufvud, CEO of BlueMark. “As an adept problem-solver and skilled collaborator, Paige understands the unique challenges that impact investors face in building credibility for their efforts and the role that verification can play in strengthening trust in impact.”

Nicol started her career as a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting. She is a two-time graduate of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, earning a Master of Science in International Business and Finance and a Bachelor of Science in International Politics.

ANNOUNCEMENT – “BlueMark Introduces Leaderboard of Impact Investors With the Strongest Impact Management Practices”

ANNOUNCEMENT – “BlueMark Raises $3.75 Million to Drive Greater Adoption of Impact Verification and Strengthen Trust in Impact Investing”

Funding includes a $2.25 million equity investment from Ford Foundation and Radicle Impact, $1.35 million in recoverable grants from The Rockefeller Foundation and an additional grant from the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing

BlueMark, a provider of impact verification services for investors and companies, today announced that it had raised $3.75 million in total funding from the Ford Foundation, Radicle Impact, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing, all organizations with a shared commitment and long-standing leadership in building the impact investing field. The funding will be used to help expand BlueMark’s verification services across different industries and geographies in continuation of the firm’s mission to strengthen trust in impact investing.

As part of the capital raise, BlueMark has now closed its seed round with $2.25 million in equity funding with the Ford Foundation as the lead investor and Radicle Impact as a co-investor. BlueMark has also received a combined $1.35 million in recoverable grants from The Rockefeller Foundation to advance the market’s understanding of best practices for impact management and impact performance reporting, such as through the publication of research reports based on completed verifications of client alignment with industry standards or frameworks.

In July 2021, BlueMark also received a grant from the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing, a donor collaborative with a mission of scaling the impact investing market with integrity, to support research and development around best practices for impact performance reporting.

BlueMark today also announced the appointment of Lauren Booker Allen and Shaun Mays as Independent Directors. Allen is Partner and Head of Impact Advisory at Jordan Park, which provides investment management and financial advice to a distinct community of individuals, families, and institutions. She was previously Senior Manager of Impact Investing at Omidyar Network and began her career at Goldman Sachs. Mays has over 30 years of experience as a Chief Executive and Chief Investment Officer in the investment industry for organizations around the world, including as Head of Aventicum Infrastructure Partners (a joint venture between Credit Suisse and Qatar Investment Authority) in Zurich, CEO of Deutsche Asset Management in Australia, Global Head of Infrastructure Investments for Deutsche Asset Management in New York, and CEO and CIO of Climate Change Capital in London.

The latest funding for BlueMark comes at a pivotal time in the maturation of the impact investing industry. In November 2021 at COP26, the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS Foundation) announced the formation of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to develop a comprehensive global baseline of high-quality sustainability disclosure standards in an effort to harmonize different ESG and impact reporting practices. However, the market still lacks an accountability mechanism to ensure that reported sustainability and impact information is relevant, accurate, and useful for investment decision-making. The need for stronger accountability mechanisms was specifically highlighted in the December 2021 reports from the Impact Taskforce on “mobilising private capital at scale for people and planet,” which included the expansion of external verification and assurance of impact among the list of recommendations.

“BlueMark fills an important gap in the impact investment market as an expert, third-party that can look under the hood of investor practices and performance,” said Roy Swan, director of Mission Investments for the Ford Foundation. “At the Ford Foundation, we share their desire to improve accountability, discipline and comparability among impact investors so that the field delivers equitable and sustainable outcomes for all.”

“Even with the continued progress towards harmonization of standards, the impact investing industry still lacks consensus on what constitutes quality and complete impact performance reporting and needs an expert, third-party that can interpret what and how investors are reporting on both their positive and negative impacts,” said Maria Kozloski, Senior Vice President of Innovative Finance at The Rockefeller Foundation. “BlueMark fills a big gap in the market and the firm’s holistic approach to verification encourages impact investors to reach for a higher bar with their impact performance.”

“We are grateful for the support from both funders and clients as we continue to build out our verification services and share with the market our data and insights on market gaps and challenges,” said Christina Leijonhufvud, CEO of BlueMark. “This funding will allow us to reach a larger share of the impact investing market, which depends on third-party verification to accelerate the maturation of the industry and improve transparency, integrity and comparability among impact investors.”

BlueMark’s verification services are structured around two key pillars of accountability for impact:

  • Impact Management Practice, in which BlueMark verifies the systems and processes used by an investor or company to manage their impact
  • Impact Performance, in which BlueMark verifies the reporting approach used by an investor or company to communicate their impact strategy, goals and results

To date, BlueMark has completed more than 60 impact verifications for a wide range of investors, including asset managers (e.g., private equity, private credit, infrastructure, fixed income, public equity, and multi-asset managers) and asset owners (e.g., institutional investors, development finance institutions, foundations, and wealth management firms).

BlueMark’s verification services also extend to other key aspects of sustainable and impact investing, including impact labeling and classification—for example in alignment with the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) requirements in Europe and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—as well as ESG practices and performance reporting by portfolio companies and fund managers.

 

About BlueMark

BlueMark is a leading provider of impact verification with a mission to strengthen trust in impact investing and to increase accountability for impact. BlueMark is an independent subsidiary of Tideline, a certified women-owned advisory firm in impact investing. Learn more at www.BlueMarkTideline.com.

 

About the Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 85 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

 

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation to enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

 

About Radicle Impact Partners

Radicle Impact is an impact venture fund focused on social justice, environmental resilience and economic sustainability. Radicle invests in early-stage businesses in Good Food, Good Money and Good Climate. The firm has a foundational emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. Radicle’s objective is strong social and environmental impact with attractive financial returns. Founded in 2013, the firm’s mission is to change the venture industry for good. http://www.radicleimpact.com

 

About the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing

The Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing (TPF) is a donor collaborative vehicle developed with the mission of creating and supporting public goods that are critical to the continued growth and fidelity of the impact investing market. The TPF was launched in December 2019 with an initial $14 million in philanthropic capital, which will be used to develop the infrastructure that is needed to mobilize more private capital for impact. The funding will build on existing field building efforts by prioritizing the areas that are chronically underfunded, are best suited for collective action and require additional support beyond that provided by individual grantmakers. Learn more at www.tpfii.org.

BlueMark and Morgan Lewis publish report on “Making Sense of Sustainable Investing”

BlueMark and Morgan Lewis publish report on “Making Sense of Sustainable Investing”

BlueMark and Morgan Lewis Publish Whitepaper for Sustainable Investors on Best Practices for Complying with Financial Regulations and Aligning with Industry Standards

Asset managers today must address an ever-growing list of rules and expectations from regulators, investors and other stakeholders about their approach to sustainable investing. From the passage of anti-greenwashing rules in Europe to the launch of new standards for sustainability reporting, it can be a daunting task for investment firms to keep up with the market’s rapidly evolving requirements.

A new report from BlueMark and Morgan Lewis — “Making Sense of Sustainable Investing: How Asset Managers Can Comply with Financial Regulations and Align with Industry Standards” — shows that there are several areas of overlap between regulatory frameworks and market-based frameworks, and offers a four-step roadmap that any asset manager can use to align and comply with these frameworks.

These four steps include:

  1. Clarify the specific label or classification used for the sustainable investment strategy;
  2. Identify the practices necessary to substantiate the execution of the strategy;
  3. Identify applicable financial regulations and validate that existing practices and disclosures meet the relevant requirements; and
  4. Verify that practices and disclosures align with prevailing standards.

DOWNLOAD the report to learn more.

READ the announcement about the joint report.

WATCH a recording of a webinar introducing the report that inclues perspectives from two asset managers who have been working to adapt their policies and practices to keep apace with the market.