• Impact Investing Network

John McCarthy's departing thoughts

Updated: Aug 26


It is with bitter-sweet news that John McCarthy has decided to step down from his position on the NAB to enable him to focus on the many other initiatives he contributes to.


John was a fundamental piece in establishing the National Advisory Board (NAB) of the Impact Investing Network Aotearoa (IIN) and without his key contributions the NAB and IIN would not exist in its current capacity today. While John is stepping down from his position with the NAB, he does not plan to stop his influential and impact work within the sustainable finance and impact investing community.


Chair of the NAB and long time friend of John's, Alastair Rhodes, shared his thoughts on John's planned departure.


"I have known John for a number of years both through his role as one of the founding members of the National Advisory Board of the Impact Investing Network Aotearoa and through his role as Manager of The Tindall Foundation. Throughout these years, he has been a passionate leader for impact investments and building the Aotearoa NZ impact ecosystem. In particular, he has demonstrated how impact investments can be used to assist our Māori communities to achieve their aspirations. John will be missed by all of us on the Board and we thank him for his dedication, his passion and insightful comments. It’s not going to be really a "goodbye" however, as we will remain close to him and his work as he continues to support the Aotearoa impact ecosystem through his role with The Tindall Foundation and the Centre for Sustainable Finance. On behalf of the NAB, we wish John all the best on his future endeavours."


Before John's departure we asked him to reflect on his time with the NAB and the importance of impact investing.


How did you get involved with the NAB?


The Tindall Foundation had been investing for social and environmental impact for many years, so I’d been connected to a few people, especially in the philanthropic world, who were interested in doing the same. It was pretty informal.


When Raewyn Jones from WEL Energy Trust came back from her study trip to the UK in 2017 where she had looked at how to create a system for supporting impact investing, she had a personal goal to see a national entity set up. Then David Woods arrived on the scene and told us about his connections internationally, including to the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG). He encouraged us to establish a National Advisory Board linked to the GSG which we did. I became part of that group.

What have been your highlights while on the NAB?


Seeing the growth in understanding of investing for impact and the opportunities it presents for Aotearoa NZ. When I first came on board, it was quite hard to convince people that there was ’a thing’ called impact investment. We’ve moved along quite quickly from the conversation about divestment and responsible investment to one where impact is the focus.


Now we have several impact funds, an impact readiness fund, and many fund managers that include impact as part of their portfolios. There are now Mindful Money awards recognising successful impact by investment funds and Kiwisaver providers. It feels like we’ve only just started, but things have definitely progressed.


Around the NAB table, there is now a more diverse group of people with new ideas about how to connect and grow the impact sector. That’s great to see.


Another highlight was presenting at the GSG Summit in Buenos Aires in 2019 with Rangimārie Price. I got a glimpse of how much we are part of a global movement and it’s potential to make change.

What role do you see impact investing playing, in New Zealand, in the next five years?


I can only see it growing, especially as issues of climate and social equity become more pressing and investors look for more meaningful use of their funds.


NZ and international regulation will undoubtedly play a role in shifting people’s intentions, too. We are fortunate to have impact investment as an alternative investment strategy, already available to investors and managers looking to place funds, not just to avoid doing harm, but to demonstrate positive outcomes environmentally and socially.


The pipeline of investible projects is beginning to develop. It’s still mostly at small scale yet, but increasingly projects are growing in size and scope.

What is unique about Aotearoa NZ's approach to impact investing?


There’s a risk to impact investing in Aotearoa if it’s simply becomes part of traditional mainstream approaches to investment, risk and return. I worry that we could lose the essence of the impact piece and its transformational value.


On the other hand, I think there are unique opportunities for Aotearoa NZ to preserve the core values that underlie the impact approach.


While it’s not my place to comment on whānau, hapū or iwi aspirations or how they get there, for Māori entities looking to raise capital, impact investment is an approach that could help. In my experience, most of their projects have environmental and/or social goodness built into them intrinsically.


That connects with the second opportunity. How we in Aotearoa define and value impact or what good looks like. Rather than simply receive impact measurement models from overseas. Aotearoa has the chance to develop that uniquely and to offer something back to the world.


Of course, that’s not just about taking concepts and values from Māori and transposing them onto Pākehā investment approaches. This has to be done with integrity and be Māori-led. It will involve careful relationship-building, and sharing and respecting knowledge.

What is one piece of advice you would give to investors who want to begin their impact investing journey?


Get connected to others. Don’t do this alone. There’s a lot to learn, and to unlearn, but plenty of help and support out there. I can almost guarantee that you won’t be the only one feeling new to this game!

John's farewell thoughts


I’m not going anywhere! I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that believes in investing for good as well as being a grantmaker/donor.


I’m looking forward to still being part of this work, seeing it grow, and catching up with everyone from time to time.