Msc Development Management 2015-16 alumn, Riya Saxena shares her experience of working in the Impact Investment industry and introduces the world’s first MOOC driven by top impact investors on the key trends and opportunities that are shaping the sector.

I have always wanted to work at the intersection of the private and development sector. For me this translated into starting my career in the impact investment industry at Asha Impact – India’s first impact investment and policy advocacy platform. As I mention about my work to friends and colleagues, I am often asked “What really distinguishes investing for social good?”, “Can business actually achieve financial return and social impact simultaneously?”

In an endeavour to de-mystify some of the myths that surround the impact investment sector, our team at Asha Impact has put together the world’s first MOOC driven by industry practitioners including Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Acumen, Leapfrog, Aavishkaar, Omidyar Network, Aspada, Northern Arc Capital to capture the key trends, challenges, opportunities, debates, financial instruments and skills required to enter the impact investing industry.

Sign up here to join the next course run starting on 25 February 2019 

My journey to explore answers to these questions in-fact started at LSE. The ‘Development Management’ class taught how bureaucratic top-down government delivery systems and free charitable dole outs by philanthropists have turned into ‘dead aid’. They have been ineffective in providing basic amenities such as affordable housing, energy, education, clean water, and financial services to millions of poor across the globe. I also took a class on ‘Business Model Innovation at the Bottom of the Pyramid’, which exposed me to the world of social entrepreneurship and impact investment. I learned how an emerging section of investors, ‘Impact Investors’, have supported entrepreneurs to tap into the vast market opportunity presented by social sectors to make a significant financial return and impact. With in-depth knowledge of the customer base in these underserved markets, impact investors have been able to provide capital, network and the guidance to unproven early business models in difficult geographies and sectors.

Interactions with social enterprises, impact investors and development sector experts over the last few years have made me aware of a spectrum of approaches that are deployed within the impact investment industry. This spans from venture philanthropy – wherein ‘Pay for Success’ grants are disbursed to more commercially oriented investing strategies that support stakes in social enterprises delivering a market rate of return. There is no single approach or expectation of returns that defines this sector. As a whole, the impact investment industry has gained significant attention in the last few years. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimates more than USD 228 billion in impact investing assets under management in 2018. The capital primarily comes from a varied set of investors including family offices, High Networth Individuals, foundations, Development Finance Institutions who believe in the power of market-based approaches to solving development challenges. Recent studies by GIIN, Cambridge Associates and McKinsey, highlighting the high returns achieved by impact investors, have influenced commercial investors such as Goldman Sachs, Bain Capital, KKR, TPG, and others to direct more capital towards socially responsible investments. Even philanthropists who have traditionally done pure grants such as Micheal and Susan Dell Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation have adopted their own approach to leverage private capital along with their philanthropic dollars to support social enterprises.

While the sector has seen an increase in the allocation of capital for investing, a key component on the measurement of impact still needs to be developed. To avoid fears of ‘Impact Washing’ it is imperative for investors to build robust standardized measurement techniques that can help analyze and compare impact across companies. Even though experimental practices are the gold standard for measurement, the cost, time and labor involved make them unviable for investors to adopt. My prior work at Acumen – a leading philanthropic venture fund, taught me the value of measuring impact in a manner that is not a monitoring evaluation exercise by the funders but a meaningful one providing insights to social enterprises. Acumen’s Lean Data approach to measure impact has gained notable traction and a number of industry initiatives such as the Impact Management Project, IRIS, GIIRS have also been established to unify measurement practices.

The impact investment sector has no doubt established much curiosity and interest amongst professionals from diverse backgrounds and students at universities. I would be happy to share more about the innovative social business models in the Indian impact investment industry. Please feel free to reach out on riyasaxena94@gmail.com.


Riya Saxena is currently working at Asha Impact, an impact investing and policy advocacy platform for senior business leaders, private equity professionals and philanthropists to invest in for-profit social enterprises and engage with the government. Riya’s work is focused around innovative blended financial instruments and policy advocacy in the energy and waste management sectors in India. Previously, she worked in London as a consultant to Charities Aid Foundation (London), one of UK’s largest charity and to Acumen Fund, which has invested over USD 100 million in social enterprises globally. Riya completed her Masters in Development Management from the London School of Economics and Bachelors in Economics from Hans Raj College, University of Delhi.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.