Impact Investing in Action - Soul Capital's Awhi Fund
Updated: May 2
There are plenty of great examples of impact investing in action in Aotearoa New Zealand. By showing how impact investing principles are being applied, it’ll help investors to take action and make more impact investments.
This case study covers how Soul Capital’s Awhi Fund, a domestically-focused impact investing fund, applies an impact assessment framework to maximise the impact it's having on its communities, and ways to measure and report on that impact.
The Centre for Sustainable Finance, PwC, and the Impact Investing Network released the much-anticipated document: Guidelines and Principles for Impact Investment in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The purpose of this document was to define a working definition and guiding principles for impact investing in Aotearoa New Zealand. To summarise, the below impact investment principles are intended to serve as a foundation to guide investment into impact investments.
Demonstrate intentionality: Invest with intention to deliver impact
Demonstrate measurability: Establish clear metrics for impact measurement
Manage for financial returns or neutrality: Actively manage investments for the purpose of positive or neutral returns
Demonstrate additionality: Impact should be achieved that wouldn’t have occurred without the investment
Engage with stakeholders to the impact: Ensure the impact is aligned with stakeholders’ interests including investees
Report transparently: Report on progress of impact investment
Consider trade-offs and potential perverse outcomes: Evaluate trade-offs between alternative objectives across social, cultural and environmental concerns
Recognise the articles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Understand the articles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and actively avoid misalignment
We will continue to demonstrate how these principles are being put to action by key impact investing leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand. This month we feature Soul Capital's Awhi Fund.
Soul Capital, Awhi Fund
The Awhi Fund is a New Zealand venture capital fund that was established in 2017 by Soul Capital, a kiwi-based impact investment company. The fund is regarded as New Zealand’s first Impact Investment fund.
In 2021, the fund was profiled in Philanthropy New Zealand’s “Impact Investment in Action: Insights from the field in Aotearoa” reporting into the sector. A key purpose of the fund, which is now fully deployed and closed to new investors, was to demonstrate to the market that generating impact and financial return was feasible and possible.
The Fund was designed to pioneer the impact investment sector by providing early-stage seed funding to emerging or start-up impact-based enterprises across New Zealand. Investments were made with a 10 year investment time-frame and expectation of non-concessionary returns. It is important to note that The Awhi Fund is currently in their management and liquidation phase.
What type of impact was intended and how is this qualified?
The Fund established several key goals, including supporting investees in scaling their enterprises and leading the charge for change. Soul Capital stated their impact was ‘shifting the market’ and provided funding ‘outside market norms’.
As a summary, the Fund had the following investment criteria:
“Impact enterprises with a validated market.
No limits on sector, but most companies had a clear social or environmental impact orientation.
Impact must be demonstrable and embedded into the venture’s business models and impact model alignment (growth in revenue = growth in impact).
Founder/team must systematically understand the nature of the problem they seek to address.
Demonstrated commitment to an impact model and measurement criteria (measurement practice should be commensurate with their stage of growth and capacity).”
How was impact measured; what metrics were used?
The Fund uses the Impact Management Project (IMP) system for establishing, monitoring, and managing the investment's impact. Priority outcomes for each portfolio company were also listed, as follows:
Improved market access for small-scale farmers and producers
increased supply of locally, sustainably grown food to communities (food system resilience)
reduction in food and packaging waste.
Improved access to educational and audio visual content for users of sign language using
AI algorithms and digital humans.
Shifting consumer behaviour to more sustainable consumption choices with a focus on carbon footprint measurement.
Grounded Packaging Co
Reduction of waste to landfill through sustainable packaging.
Reduction in irrigated water use
improved pasture growth
increased profitability and wellbeing of farmers
reduced nitrate leaching
Improved impact measurement practices for purpose driven organisations
Which of our principles are observable here?
P1: Intentionality - The Fund maintained an ‘embedded impact’ requirement regarding impact in relation to the business model of investees. Specifically, one of the fund’s investment requirements was that impact was to be ‘embedded’ into the business model in such a way that it cannot be taken out, and that the positive benefits scale up as the business scales up… “We also seek to support our portfolio companies as they need, with a particular focus on the impact models and how they are blended with their business models.”
P2: Measurability - The Fund required measurement criteria in combination with the impact model, as part of the investment criteria. It also adopted the IMP system of impact management, as above.
P4: Additionality - One aspect of the Fund’s purpose and aim was to invest in an underserved market “with limited deal flow” and provide encouragement and facilitation for other investors to invest alongside them.
The Fund’s support of ‘outside market norms’ was also seen in their impact intention, as per Principle 1: “That means we look different - we’re far smaller, operate more nimbly, and do not have the usual costly structures that traditional funds have.”