Gearing up for GIIRS

It’s an exciting time to be part of the emerging impact investment industry. Whether you believe that impact investing is an emerging asset class, or just that we’re witnessing a significant movement of capital by people who are interested in creating social impact alongside financial returns, it’s undeniably a time of great activity. With an emerging field of practice comes the window of opportunity to set standards for years to come.

It’s in that context that we at CASE are excited to announce our new research partnership with B Lab and the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS). With support from the Rockefeller Foundation (which also funds both B Lab and GIIRS), we are leading an effort to evaluate and create research priorities for the unique data being collected by B Lab and GIIRS. We’re holding two webinars in March (dates and times at end of post) to introduce interested researchers to the project.  Our hope is to engage a broad group of experts in answering critical questions about socially responsible business and impact investing.  The formal announcement is available here but we wanted to provide some additional context though our blog.

So, why is this important?

First, B Corporations represent a unique set of data on what privately-owned pioneering companies do to create social impact.

B Corporations represent nearly 380 privately-held companies that have filled out a detailed (and transparent) survey on their practices and intentions around social and environmental impact and have exceeded a threshold score, qualifying them to be labeled a “B Corporation”.  They have agreed to do other things as well, namely take stakeholder interests into account at the board level and document that in their articles of incorporation, so it’s not a low bar to become a B Corporation.

The result of this survey is a unique data set. There are hundreds of studies on corporate social responsibility, sustainable companies and employee engagement. But how many of them are based on broad sets of data on the social impact practices of privately-owned companies?  As far as we can tell, there aren’t any. Private companies have had little incentive to share impact practices beyond the anecdotal or in their own private reporting.  And yet structurally private companies have the flexibility to be pioneering in what they do to create social impact. Without public shareholders to please, CEOs and their teams can experiment with many things, both inside and outside of their companies. Policymakers in at least 10 states in the US think so too, as they consider creating legislation mirroring that passed in Maryland and Vermont to allow companies to incorporate as “Benefit Corporations.” This emerging group is garnering some real attention.

We think all sorts of new questions can be asked about how companies who aim to be impactful carry out their objectives, how they compare to other companies, and to each other. Do smaller companies with missions that are highly aligned with their product end up with more satisfied customers? Do certified B Corporations really create more and better impact than non-certified companies? From employee governance to community-building to profit donating to sustainability strategies to creating core beneficial impacts as part of how they do business: there will be many new insights.

Second, the new data from GIIRS gives us the opportunity to set standards and evaluate what impact means and should mean for the entire field of impact investing.

As a 10 year researcher on social entrepreneurship and impact investing, I can tell you this is, quite frankly, one of the most interesting emerging sets of data I’ve ever seen.  GIIRS is a rating system for impact investing funds and companies. It allows companies to fill out an online survey on their impact goals and practices and scores their answers. Funds fill out the survey and ask their portfolio of investment companies to do the same. The funds are rated for both their own actions and those of their portfolio.

GIIRS then creates a multi-star rating (think Morningstar but for impact, not finances) for each fund or company. GIIRS benchmarks practices in key areas and over time, will be able to show how a fund or company performs socially compared to its peers. GIIRS will also include some basic financial info that I believe will be extremely important to researchers. Will valuations of the companies correlate with certain kinds of impact practices? Will highly-rated GIIRS companies have more financially successful exits? The questions become juicy rather quickly. Deloitte clearly thinks so too – they’ve come on board as GIIRS’ assurance partner (it would be auditing, but since the data is not primarily financial, it’s assurance), working to verify survey answers as a regular part of the GIIRS review process.

That brings us to our second important question … Why are we organizing research priorities and not just doing some research on this data ourselves?


The answer is that the data collection instrument is still in process. We have the chance to influence the kinds of questions that are asked and the kind of data that ultimately becomes built in to these new databases for an emerging field. We’re trying to engage a broad group of researchers from different fields of inquiry to help us improve the survey instruments as they are currently being tested and refined in the field. The GIIRS staff is about to launch its 30 country world tour to accomplish its Beta test and the GIIRS survey itself will be updated and versioned on a regular basis. We’ll have data from over 200 GIIRS-rated companies in less than a year – companies working in microfinance, energy, agriculture, health, housing, entrepreneurship and economic development, etc. – some of the most interesting players in the global marketplace for social entrepreneurship, and the funds that invest in them.

We know there are some very real challenges here from an academic research point of view – the lack of easy counterfactual data, the self-selection involved in people choosing to fill out online surveys, and a question structure that has been almost entirely geared to ease of use, not data validity or reliability. Still, we think the potential is great to find ways around these and we look forward to working with interested experts from academia, consulting firms and other professional groups to do so.

If you’re interested in joining our webinars or our mailing list on this topic, email We look forward to working together to determine what actually works and what impacts are created by some of the most pioneering impact investment funds and companies in the world.

Webinar times:
March 11, 12-2pm EST
March 22, 2-4pm EST
Download the formal announcement here