Cliff Prior, CEO of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG), talks about the organisation’s priorities and growth plans, and their focus on catalysing impact investment to benefit people and planet
- Joins Global Steering Group for Impact Investment as CEO in May 2020
- Advisory board member of the Impact Investing Institute: 2020 – present
- Advisory board member of Big Society Capital 2011-2016 before stepping into the role of CEO 2016-2020
- Board member of the International Venture Philanthropy Centre: 2018-2020
- CEO of UnLtd: 2006 -2016
Cliff Prior, CEO of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG), has had a long and varied career, which has included roles in crisis counselling, housing and healthcare, particularly mental health, as well as in social entrepreneurship and impact investing.
Prior is probably best known for his role in spearheading the development of Big Society Capital, the UK-based social impact investor, as its CEO for five years, before stepping into his current role at GSG.
“On the face of it, it may seem that these roles are all very different but to me they’re not. They’re all tied to one goal and that goal is improving lives and our shared planet,” he says.
“Of course, there are so many different and interesting angles to that. Social housing, that’s an impact area. Mental health, that’s an impact area, as is broader healthcare, working on the modernisation of the NHS.”
Improving the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and the poor provision for people with mental health problems provided a personal motivation for Prior, whose grandfather suffered from dementia and did not always receive the best care.
Prior spent more than 10 years of his career working in various roles to improve mental health in the UK. He says: “There was a big transformation from managed misery, which was the previous mantra, to giving a better quality of life to people.”
A growing network
Prior was a member of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, which was set up under the UK’s presidency of the G8 in 2013, and was the predecessor to GSG.
Launched in 2015, GSG is chaired by Sir Ronald Cohen and currently has 34 member countries, in addition to the EU. It operates through a network of National and Regional Advisory Boards (NABs) with the aim to drive policy to accelerate impact, and share knowledge.
GSG’s goal is to extend their reach over the next three years to represent two thirds of the population, including 50% of the world’s poorest.
Expansion plans are global. In Europe, Prior highlights Switzerland, Norway and Ireland as potential new candidates. In Africa, following the recent membership of Nigeria, some of the francophone countries are mentioned as prospective new members, as well as Egypt and Morocco, and further afield both UAE and Jordan could also join in. Turkey is “right on the edge of joining”, according to Prior, who adds that South East Asia holds perhaps the biggest opportunity for impact.
“The big new area will be in South East Asia, and that is an enormously important area to build relations, with rapidly developing populations, who will be a large part of the future of the planet. These are the areas where there have been some very negative climate issues but also a big willingness to make changes.”
Adapting to global challenges
Prior paints a picture of a network that is agile in its approach to impact investing and able to adapt to global challenges quickly, thanks to the strong connections built between the network’s members, as well as close cooperation with other industry bodies in the sector.
He says: “Given Covid and lockdowns, and how difficult it has been to get to other countries, it’s been really quite extraordinary what the NABs have achieved.”
Prior is referring, in particular, to the progress made regarding some of the recommendations from the ‘Time to Deliver’ report from the G7-backed Impact Taskforce, especially in relation to impact valuation.
Prior comments that the extra time gained from not being able to travel, had provided a significant boost to knowledge sharing among the NABs around different impact strategies, such as ‘tech for good’, wholesale impact funds and impact valuation.
He says that several NABs had come together to create a joint advisory structure to help implement the recommendations of the report.
“I think the next one we’ll be doing is a piece on how impact finance can assist in addressing informal settlements, such as slums or favelas, for the one billion people who have no real home. This is an area that just gets forgotten in the ‘too difficult’ bag,” he adds.
Early into the pandemic, GSG came together with other impact and intergovernmental market-builders such as the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), venture philanthropy networks, the OECD and the UNDP to discuss and exchange ideas about how they would respond to ensuing challenges. Today, that discussion is turning to the war in Ukraine.
He says that there are broadly three waves of response: the frontline humanitarian response, dealing with the refugee crisis; a second wave to repair the damage caused; and a much longer-term phase.
“My biggest fear is that we’re going to lose somewhere between 30-40% of the world’s grains and pulses this year. What does that do to emerging countries? It’s terrifying. Even if they have strong agriculture in their own country, half the fertiliser in the world is in Russia or Ukraine. These are really serious issues.”
He adds: “As market builders we have a long-term focus. Although there’s not much we can do in the short term, we can ask what we can do in the long term and where does this change our impact priorities over the coming years?”
Working towards a set of harmonised global standards for impact measurement and monitoring is absolutely crucial, says Prior, and will also reduce the potential for green and social washing.
“If you have multiple sets of standards, a company will pick the one that’s easiest for them and that’s not a good system”, he says.
Prior mentions the five-year long Impact Management Project, which brought together practitioners from the impact universe to build consensus on the measurement and management of impact, its successor the Impact Management Platform, and the introduction of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) as crucial steps towards global standardisation.
Time will tell if the ISSB and the global effort to ensure consistent global methodologies for measuring and managing impact would work for all jurisdictions, he notes.
“The long-term rationale [for GSG] is for each country to work on its own impact future. For the network as a whole, we’re working with colleagues towards a new financial order which should work for all countries,” unlike the current financial order, which he says hasn’t worked ‘at all’ for Africa, and ‘barely’ for Latin America.
“This is why we’re so interested in the ISSB, so we can bring together a global network from the poorest to the richest of countries, to test if these new systems are working for all kinds of countries and if not, what can be done about it? That’s a hugely important goal for us.”