Yesterday I joined the first group of for-purpose (not-for-profit) organisations leaders undertaking the For-Purpose Leadership Program at the Melbourne Business School for dinner at the midway point of their intensive weekend of study and reflection.

This leadership program was developed as a pilot by Associate Professor Jody Evans and the MBS team after some passionate discussions with me about the support the for-purpose sector required to lead transformational organisations. The program was conceived before COVID-19, but these diverse skills are even more relevant now.

Participants come from a wide range of organisations, large and small,  in community services, the arts and environment. All fabulously talented and committed people who are enjoying building their knowledge and networks - and appreciating the beautiful MBS location. One participant said she would never have had this opportunity without the program which has been funded by Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation, Helen McPherson Smith Trust, and a private philanthropist.

The discussion after dinner with the 20 participants - and a few MBA students who joined us - has lit a flame under an idea that has been percolating in my mind for a while. For-purpose organisation leaders need to be ready to grab the opportunities for new ways of funding and financing their operations. They must be impact investment ready. This will take some support.

In his new book Impact - reshaping capitalism to drive real change, Sir Ronald Cohen sets out a roadmap to transform economies to impact economies. This transformation will require many sectors working together to transition to an investment world view that considers risk, return and impact as three pillars, and where payment by results can lead to different ways of funding and financing not-for-profits to deliver important community services, including through social impact bonds.

To do this more and more, for-purpose leaders in Australia need to skill up in some critical areas. One is impact measurement. We need to be able to demonstrate impact in a way that potential impact investors will understand so the investment opportunities are created that can be scaled up.

Philanthropic foundations also need to look at our granting and our investments as different tools to make a social or environmental impact. For example, we need to help build the skills of for-purpose leaders; we need to fund early stage social enterprises; we need to support the evaluation of new service model which have potential to become financed by a social impact bond; and we need to allocate a portion of our assets to impact investments(where a financial return is being made at the same time a measurable social or environmental impact is being achieved).

In Impact, Sir Ronald sees it like this: 'The tipping point will be reached when 50 of the world's leading foundations establish an allocation of 10% of their endowment to impact investment and an allocation of 10% of their grant programs to Outcome Funds' (p188). This is our roadmap. 

So, let's work together and support skills building in impact measurement and impact investment within the for-purpose sector, so we are ready to transition to an impact economy, alongside government and commercial investors.

Dr Catherine Brown OAM
Chief Executive Officer

Dr Catherine Brown OAM was an Expert Panel Member on the Social Impact Investing Taskforce (2019-2020).

Pictured at the top of this page: HireUp – one of Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation's impact investments.


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