Impact investing is a major emerging phenomenon in global finance that promises to reconcile capitalism with sustainability. It is increasingly embraced by governments, civil society and the private sector in the Global North and South to solve social and environmental problems. The combined crises of climate change, inequality and mass migration in a context of economic austerity have spurred cross-sectoral impact investing partnerships in areas such as green infrastructure, women’s entrepreneurship, agroecology, refugee support and disease prevention. This burgeoning $200bn market promises flexible, holistic and profitable paths to sustainability, attracting major philanthropic organisations and institutional investors boasting fresh ethical and responsible mandates. Is impact investing merely a new frontier for capitalism, or does it represent a revolutionary chapter in global history? Will it benefit communities better than conventional development programmes?
The time to answer these questions is now, as impact investing is still in its infancy and the first green and social stock exchanges are opening around the world. IMPACT HAU is an innovative, critical and comparative anthropological study of the moral and political dimensions of impact investing. Inspired by Marcel Mauss’s classic use of the Maori concept of hau, the ‘spirit of the gift’, it focuses on the designers, traders and beneficiaries of impact bonds to produce an empirically driven analysis of the multiple moral orders within contemporary capitalism. Six ethnographic case studies will provide grounded, detailed accounts of the design and implementation of impact investing in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. These will support a critical appraisal of the current consensus among global policymakers and business leaders giving markets a determining role in the ecological transition, testing the theories of sustainability that underpin hopes for a socially inclusive green economy.