An Introduction to ImpactPHL Perspectives, Philadelphia's Role in the Global Impact Ecosystem, and Why It's So Important

About ImpactPHL Perspectives:

If you are curious about pursuing financial returns while influencing the positive growth of Greater Philadelphia and the world at large, then welcome to the conversation. ImpactPHL Perspectives is a multi-part series which explores the many facets of the impact economy in Greater Philadelphia from the perspectives of its doers, movers, shakers, and agents of change. Each volume is written directly by a leader in this space, to discuss best practices and share lessons learned, while challenging our assumptions about the returns - financial and societal - on engagement in the impact economy. For more of ImpactPHL Perspectives, check out the ImpactPHL Blog.


By John Moore, Executive Chair of ImpactPHL

A movement is happening. It’s happening in the United States, and it’s happening here in the greater Philadelphia region. The movement recognizes that 20th century systems and paradigms must evolve in the 21st-century to effectively serve our natural environment and society, and to ensure our collective well-being into the future. 

This movement is being led by millennials demanding more from the companies they work for and buy from. It is being led by philanthropists aligning their endowments with their mission. It is being led by an innovative breed of capitalists who are developing new investment vehicles to fund social impact. It is being led by environmentalists who know that an extractive economy only works when resources are unlimited. It is being led by community leaders that are unlocking latent value in underserved neighborhoods. The movement has many shapes, paths, and stories. The ImpactPHL Journal will explore these over the weeks and months ahead; to celebrate the success being realized in Greater Philadelphia, and to highlight opportunities to learn, engage and benefit from and with them.

A core component of this movement examines our economic system, capitalism. Specifically, it understands that capitalism can no longer operate without consideration for the environmental and social systems upon which it depends and which the economic system has the power to significantly impact - for better or for worse. Whether you refer to this concept as corporate social responsibility, socially-responsible investing, impact investing, regenerative economics, or neighborhood economics, it is all connected to how we measure and reward value creation in our economic system.  

As an economic system, capitalism’s strengths are allocating resources, encouraging productivity, leveraging competition, and spurring innovation. But capitalism, in its current form, treats most business profits as equal while failing to capture the externalities - the side effects, consequences, or costs - of returning those profits.  In some cases, companies generate such negative externalities that their net value creation is negative. The Tobacco industry is one such example. While Tobacco companies fulfill their shareholder obligation to maximize profits, their products have significant negative effects to individuals’ health and the cost of health to society.  The traditional way we practice capitalism considers any company that maximizes profit and yields the expected return to be a good investment, and therefore is provided investment capital and encouraged to grow. If a company is creating negative impact, the growth or scale of that company simultaneously increases their negative impact to the detriment of society.

Learn more about impact investing!
Total Impact Conference
April 26th & 27th, Philadelphia

This conference welcomes practitioners of all levels and provides the tools and connections to build an impact investment portfolio.

Twenty years ago, maximizing profits without regard to other factors was the prevailing practice. Today, business culture is changing. Investment theory is changing. A core component of this movement is to understand the net social and environmental externalities created by business and investment capital, and intentionally seek ways to create positive externalities or “social impact”.  In the last decade, practices such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) have been adopted into investment and business decisions. More recently, definitions of fiduciary duty have begun shifting from “could” to “should” include such factors. B Lab, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit, is advancing tools such as the Benefit Corporation and B certification to empower these business culture changes. Countless more leaders, businesses, and initiatives have done critical cross-sector work to shift the ways we measure and reward value creation at a systems level.

ImpactPHL’s mission is to accelerate this movement by catalyzing a new way to think about how the Philadelphia region conducts business and makes investments in our own region and beyond. The region has many leaders pushing the envelope in various aspects of impact. One of ImpactPHL’s primary roles is to show how these leaders are connected to each other, connected to this broader movement, and how this movement permeates all aspects of our regional economy. There are two reasons ImpactPHL needs to be successful in fulfilling our mission.  

First, there is a tremendous opportunity to leverage our $347 billion regional economy, the seventh largest in the United States, to more efficiently, effectively, and meaningfully improve our region’s economic and social well being. A shift in the business and investment culture in our region could represent a wellspring of capital to augment the efforts of current philanthropic and social services. Philanthropy and government should not and can not be the only actors accountable for addressing issues such as poverty, climate action, health, education, and more in our region. When our local ecosystem works collaboratively to drive measurable results together, we increase our opportunity to attract additional resources from outside our region seeking impact opportunities. Leading impact ecosystems that are able to attract those resources will reap the benefits of increased positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

Second, the Philadelphia region has a strong opportunity to be a world leader in this movement.  Our region has a tradition of forward-thinking innovation in this shifting how we do business and move capital. Local entrepreneur and activist, Judy Wicks, helped birth the sustainability movement with White Dog Cafe and the Sustainable Business Network. Reinvestment Fund, a local CDFI and one of the largest in the nation, launched a double A bond to connect the capital markets with an opportunity to serve low-income communities. Wharton Social Impact Initiatives, at University of Pennsylvania, has been a leader in thought and research. And the list goes on. Philadelphia is large enough to have the scale necessary for massive impact innovation, while resource-rich and affordable enough to attract the diversity of talent that is necessary to create new opportunities for positive impact. 

Regenerative agriculture innovators understand the advantages of perennial crops, with deep root systems that sequester carbon into the ground and biodiversity that leads to resilience. Philadelphia is a city with deep roots, diversity, and strong resiliency. Philadelphians are place-based and fiercely proud of their city. ImpactPHL believes we can harness our local assets and lead a movement to shift capitalism in the Philadelphia region for the 21st-century. Indeed, it’s already happening.

We’ve compiled this compendium to highlight the region’s local impact leaders who are thinking and acting differently in Philadelphia to drive economic, social, and environmental good. ImpactPHL encourages you to join this movement.   Demand more from the businesses you work for and patronize.  Align your assets with your mission.  Understand and value the social outcomes of your investment capital.  Seek out and support regenerative products and businesses.  Recognize diversity and inclusion for the opportunity it truly represents and move forward toward that potential.  Join ImpactPHL to integrate social impact into all aspects of our ecosystem, become an international leader in the impact movement, and enjoy the benefits of a new wave of economic and social prosperity.

John Moore is the Executive Chair of ImpactPHL and an active impact angel investor. He serves on the Board of Directors for Investors’ Circle, the world’s largest and most active impact investor angel group, Good Company Ventures, an accelerator for social impact companies, and several startup companies including Wash Cycle Laundry and Milkcrate.