‘The next decade will be defined by companies that have a social and environmental purpose’, said a partner of Index Ventures, one of the largest venture capital funds in Europe. The CEO of Y Combinator, one of the leading accelerators in the world which has invested in companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, among many others, also supports this view.
The fact that this type of analysis comes from venture capital funds and accelerators, which support and invest in the early stages of a company’s development, demonstrates the need, opportunity and change that we will see in the coming years.
I am privileged to work at MAZE, an impact venture created by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 2013, exclusively oriented to support and invest in solutions for social and environmental challenges. We fulfill this mission in three ways: supporting public entities to innovate in the provision of social services, accelerating startups across Europe and investing through a venture capital fund.
As an impact company, it matters what we do, but also how we do it. Four principles guide how we achieve impact at MAZE:
MAZE team in October 2019
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a shareholder in MAZE through only one share, a golden share. It gives the Foundation the right to veto strategic decisions that the MAZE management team makes that may compromise the company’s social and environmental mission. It is important to note that the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was established in perpetuity and has as its fundamental purpose to improve people’s quality of life through art, charity, science, and education. Through this shareholder mechanism, the Foundation ensures the fulfillment of MAZE’s mission in the long term,regardless of changes that may exist in the management team.
MAZE does not distribute dividends to its shareholders. The profits that the company generates through its activity are automatically reinvested in the company itself, to strengthen its capacity to fulfil its mission. This way, the value generated is reallocated in activities that continue to contribute to creating a positive impact. MAZE’s shareholders,who, along with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, are all employees who have been with the company for more than one year, have no economic benefit from these actions. The shareholder structure exists and includes employees to promote participatory management of the company.
The Mustard Seed MAZE fund is the result of a joint venture between MAZE and Mustard Seed, and it is the first independent and private fund recognised by the CMVM as a ‘social entrepreneurship fund’. For each investment that the fund makes, the investment team defines one or more impact metrics, as well as performance targets over a given period. These metrics and targets are then validated by an Advisory Board independent of the fund’s management team.
Any profits distributed to the fund’s management company are dependent on compliance with the established impact goals. In other words, if a company invested by the fund presents an excellent financial performance, but does not, for example, meet the goals of reducing CO2 or creating jobs with vulnerable populations, the management company is penalised. This mechanism incentivises the management team to ensure that the portfolio companies fulfill both financial, social and/or environmental goals.
Impact is not binary; it is a spectrum.Furthermore, impact is made, not found, in partnership with startups, social organisations, large companies, public entities and private investors. In this sense, there are several strategies and ways to manage impact.
MAZE is the only Portuguese organisation that is a strategic partner of the Impact Management Project, used by more than 2000 organisations worldwide, including the OECD, United Nations, World Bank, Blackrock, Deutsche Bank, among others. This methodology does not aim to measure social and environmental outcomes or monetise them. Its main benefit is to create a consensus on the different ways to classify impact and the different contributions that investors and companies have.
MAZE adopted the Impact Management Project in 2018 to map the various impact strategies that we seek to have in our work with the public sector, accelerator, and venture capital fund. At the end of 2020, we will publicly share the results of our impact management, and we will start to release these data annually.
MAZE’s decisions have always been linked to our reality and to the way we answer the question ‘how can we create a positive impact on society and the planet?’
The path taken by MAZE and the four principles we follow to structure the impact within our organisation do not apply in all cases. Participatory shareholder structures are neither adaptable nor efficient for many companies; the distribution of value to shareholders is fundamental to the sustainability of companies and the economy; strategies for creating impact vary from industry to industry.
Each organisation will have a different and tailored answer to its reality. However, contrary to what happened in the last decades, all companies now have to ask the same question ‘how can we create a positive impact on society and the planet?’.
How they answer will define their long-term success.
Impact Investments Professor at Nova SBE | Co-Founder and Managing Partner at MAZE – Decoding ImpactWebsite
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