WHAT WE'RE READING
On the Greenwood Place bedside table
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck is a profound, gripping and beautifully written novel. It brings humanity to the huge and complex issues of migration, asylum and refuge. Do read it.
THE PALE BLUE DOT
On February 14, 1990, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft completed its exploratory mission, it turned its camera around and took the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. The image, composed of 640,000 individual pixels, depicts Earth, a mere 12% of a single pixel, at the centre of a scattered ray of light resulting from taking an image this close to the Sun.
Maria Popova reminded Rebecca earlier this year of the value of occasionally stepping right back and taking the telescopic view. No better way to do this than to ponder the image and listen to Carl Sagan’s lovely Pale Blue Dot monologue.
AN IMPORTANT LETTER
One of the most influential investors in the world wrote this month to the chief executives of the world’s largest public companies.
Larry Fink has put business leaders on notice that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock ($5.7T AUM).
“Companies must ask themselves: What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment?” he writes. “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose... To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Despite Mr. Fink’s insistence that companies benefit society, it’s worth noting he’s not playing down the importance of profits. He believes that having social purpose is inextricably linked to a company’s ability to maintain its profits:
THE USES AND ABUSES OF DATA
As Tim Harford writes in the FT, Professor Muller’s book is 220 pages long, not including the front matter. The average chapter is 10.18 pages long and the book weighs 421 grammes. These numbers tell us nothing of course. If you want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the book, you need to read it. Muller’s argument is that we keep forgetting this obvious point.
The fact that 24 people turned up to Greenwood Place’s 2 hour session on impact measurement this month (we had to book a bigger room, and borrow extra chairs…), not to mention the quality of conversation around the table, suggests that the philanthropists in our community at least are thinking very deeply about what to measure, and what data they should use to guide their actions.
AND...A FIRST IN IMPACT MEASUREMENT
Over the past decade, Acumen has invested $22.1 million in 20 energy companies to impact 81 million lives. But what does it mean? Did the lives of these 81 million people improve, and how?
Over the past year, Acumen’s Lean Data team listened to more than 5,500 customers of their portfolio companies across 11 countries, focusing on 18 impact indicators ranging from income level to energy access.
Amongst other learnings, we now know that these companies have given 58 million people access to modern energy for the first time. We also know the various levels of income their customers earn and whether they see a tangible change in their lives. At this point in history where affordable energy for every human on earth is within our collective reach, it’s a compelling read:
WHY AREN'T FOUNDATIONS ACTUALLY HELPING THEIR GRANTEES LIKE VCs DO?
Philanthropists sometimes have a tendency to assume that A people do strategy and the B people do execution. In fact, execution is where most of the game is played. We were very pleased to come across this piece that reminds us about the critical importance of the expense of talent support and operational excellence.
EVENTS AT GREENWOOD PLACE
We’re heading to the Skoll World Forum in April and also building the programme for an immersive Greenwood Place Community trip to Kenya in the Autumn - where we’ll be talking with low-cost solar companies, community-owned conservationists and agricultural co-operatives amongst others.
Thank you to those of you who have given us ideas for the teach-ins and roundtable discussions you’d like to see us host in 2018. If you want to learn more about anything in the Greenwood Place diary, give us a call.
And thank you to our advisory board members Jamie Cooper and Miko Giedroyc, and to our friend and colleague Tris Lumley, for pointing us in the direction of some of the things we’ve enjoyed and included in this Briefing.