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Putting Impact First: Moving Beyond the VC Treadmill

Sabrina Lee Sanchez July 8, 2022

The challenges confronting impact investors are deep and complex (poverty, inequality, climate change), yet too often, ostensibly impact-focused capital does not reach organizations that are working on the ground to tackle these problems. ⅔ of impact investors are looking for risk-adjusted, market-rate returns, including 80% of equity investors in private companies. As a result, impact investment overwhelmingly flows towards a narrow set of  VC-ready solutions: 41% of all impact assets in EM are in financial services, and more than half of all VC funding in Africa in 2021 was in fintech. 

What is needed is more impact-first investments in early-stage and locally-based organizations, particularly in agriculture. These may not always produce market-rate returns, but are critical to reaching people in poverty, creating equitable value chains, and building the pipeline for growth-stage impact investors. 

This 90-minute interactive workshop will explore what it means for investors and social entrepreneurs to break free of the venture capital model and intentionally put impact at the center of their efforts. It is based on a lookback at two decades of Acumen’s portfolio returns, coupled with an analysis of the broader need to invest in livelihoods, the specific needs of smallholder farmers, and gaps in current agricultural investment. 

We will ask participants to get creative and take part in a 25/10 crowdsourcing brainstorm (from Liberating Structures) about the types of impact-first innovations that could unlock long-term funding for smallholder farmers and be impactful for agribusinesses. Then we will ask each of them to reflect on the ways in which they could shift their organizations to be 15% more focused on impact. The goal of this session is to emerge with a set of participant generated ideas for how to activate more impact-first investment, both in the world and within our own organizations.



Meta Themes

  • Reimagine Systems


Impact-First Investing, Impact Investing, Philanthropically Backed Capital, Patient Capital

Purpose and Desired Outcome

The goal of this session is to emerge with a set of participant/user generated ideas for how to activate more impact-first investment, both in the world and within our own organizations. As part of this session, Acumen hopes to share insights from our patient capital report - a documentation of over 20 years of using investment as a means to solve tough issues of poverty - define impact-first investing, and emphasize the need for more impact-first, solutions-oriented initiatives, funds and programs. This session is highly interactive and the trained facilitators will crowdsource bold ideas from the audience about how to structure impact-first investments for agriculture. We will ask them to think about the barriers within their own organizations that are currently preventing them from making more impact-first investments (e.g., return expectations, market pressures, time horizons, philosophy). In an effort to move beyond ideas and into action, we will ask participants to identify the shift(s) they can make right now to make their investments or operations 15% more impact-first.


  • Allocators (Family Offices, HNW Individuals, Foundations)

  • Intermediaries (Financial Advisers, Investment Bankers)

  • Corporate & SME

  • Entrepreneurs

  • Service Providers

  • Asset Managers

  • Government

  • Accelerators & Incubators

  • Academia

  • Artists & Culture-makers


  • NameDaniel Waldron
  • TitleHead of Insights
  • OrganizationAcumen
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameAmrita Bhandari
  • TitleChief of of Insights &Strategy
  • OrganizationAcumen
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameKusi Hornberger
  • Title Partner & Global Knowledge Lead
  • OrganizationDalberg Advisors
  • StatusConfirmed
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