The current place of impact investing in public discourse can only be understood within the broader context of debates surrounding the legitimacy and value of philanthrocapitalism, defined as the deliberate union of philanthropic aims and capitalist means. (Impact investing is defined as investments seeking social or environmental impact alongside financial returns.) This report, which is based on an extensive review of the treatment of philanthrocapitalism and impact investing in the general and trade presses and on social media over the past several years, outlines the most significant and prominent critiques of philanthrocapitalism. These critiques include the following:
- The hype surrounding philanthrocapitalism falls short of reality.
- Philanthrocapitalism is tethered to the status quo and therefore cannot be an agent of radical, transformative change.
- Philanthrocapitalism is an agent of privatization and undermines the development of public infrastructure and democratically accountable institutions.
- Philanthrocapitalism is apolitical and obscures the clash of interests that must be resolved through political action.
These critiques overlap and interact to coalesce into a general atmosphere of suspicion and apprehension that now shades many high-profile discussions of impact investing. After discussing these critiques, this report concludes by demonstrating how they shape the discursive contexts in which attitudes toward impact investing are forged, using debates about philanthrocapitalism’s role in the response to the COVID-19 crisis as a case study.