12 October 2017 - 14 October 2017

From words and pictures to impact: how can think tanks, convenors, socially responsible companies and other not-for-profit organisations have more impact on the world?

Chair: The Rt Hon. Douglas Alexander

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Today’s world is hyper connected but there is more talking than listening. This is magnified for leaders of countries and companies who are targeted by the many people who want to influence them. How do we cut through the noise? What can we do to coordinate rather than just compete? Are there more direct routes to impact rather than just influence? Have the rules changed and if so in what ways and what are the new rules of the game? What could be effective mechanisms for coordination when formal governance and organisations appear to be faltering or decaying into self-serving bureaucracies? What can public and private partnerships on impact investment mean for the renewal of the legitimacy of the role of companies, governments and for global development?

Douglas Alexander, former British Secretary of State for International Development, chaired a group that brought together disparate skills and experience from those leading campaigning organisations and think thanks, to government officials, business leaders, journalists, students of development and technology entrepreneurs.


There was a profound sense that western democracy is changing, becoming less mediated and more direct. Power itself is less concentrated and more distributed than in the near past. Major companies, especially on technology, are becoming more powerful and taking on some of the attributes of small states, for example developing their own policies and interests abroad. But the bigger change is a continued erosion of deference towards an elite class and an expectation of personalised consultation.  Many people have lost trust in traditional politics altogether which is seen as out of touch with today’s problems and solutions.

Traditionalists often charge that educational standards are slipping but in western democracies more people are spending longer in education than ever before. Information is also more broadly available through the Internet and the persistent pressure for transparency. Everyone knows a little about a lot – enough for example to see through complacent claims or intellectual leaps of self interest. The demand for transparency is a two edged sword, it makes some things better by inhibiting bad behaviours but it also makes people risk averse and focused on process.

In the glut of published opinion, the positions of the expert, and his organisational equivalent, the think tank, have become suspect. People have seen behind the curtain and are rightly sceptical of the views of pundits paid by special interests, or with an agenda or position to champion.  

Fake news has undermined to some extent the currency of news and facts more generally. People do not want to be the target of a broadcast but a participant in a conversation in which they can question.  They are hungry for analysis and, for an educated elite at least, lectures, podcasts and other forms of intellectual entertainment are booming business.  

At the same time, others feel under pressure, a bit battered and tired of all the talk. They yearn for someone, often a populist, to cut through all the complexity and to deliver some results. Science and statistics are being trounced by emotion and anger. Advertising appeals most effectively to lifestyle and aspiration, rather than logic and assessment. Some participants felt that fake news, a climate of contested fact, is, in fact, a more natural state for the world than the scientific consensus. Others saw this as a temporary blip in the progress of the enlightenment whilst we get to grip with new technologies.

Think tanks and campaigners are often nostalgic for the days of centralised and national power when influencing the government of the day and its advisers was the route to results. Now all the publications and effort can seem like just a contribution to a conversation that rolls on interminably. Influence on a powerful centralised government is easier to define, plan and deliver and feels efficient in terms of impact. Shifting the ‘zeitgeist’, in contrast, can seem a messy, experimental and slow task. 

It demands above all coalitions, coordination and collaboration across boundaries. There was a sense in the group of ‘hyper convergence’: of governments, companies and idea-based organisations needing to work together on practical projects. The concept of impact investment was the crucible for this discussion. How could methodologies and measurements be developed that would allow different types of organisation to prioritise and benchmark very different types of projects in terms of their impact on societies? What is the right mix of statistics and story to determine impact? And what should the base measures for impact be? There was not much enthusiasm for GDP which was seen as a crude yardstick that had contributed to problems rather than solved them. But what are the better measures for tracking improvements or deterioration in standard of living and who determines anyway what the components of a standard of living should be?

Availability of money to invest is not the problem. With interest rates low and growth hard to find, there is a lake of money looking for projects. But impact investment as yet has not taken off and its growth, tens of billions, is relatively modest compared to the $70 trillion global equity market. For comparison, the UN estimates that achieving the sustainable development goals will demand $50 to $70 trillion of investment. Encouragingly, a number of big funds are moving towards impact investment in practice if not in name, looking to assign value in their frameworks to impact whilst taking commercially driven decisions. Change will come from mobilising the entire market, not just a section. A major challenge to the efficacy of impact investment on development is the growth of the number of poor people living in unstable low income countries. A fundamental lack of stability, the rule of law and/or rampant corruption are enough fatally to undermine the case for investment.  

Ideas for action and reflections

The idea that logic and fact alone are insufficient to convince is hardly new. Aristotle taught the need for emotion (ethos), credibility and empathy (pathos) alongside logic (logos) in oratory. To win people over we need a compelling story told by a compelling character, not a spokesperson. The organisations communicating best are using real people working within the organisation or supporting it, whose authenticity and warmth are evident. There is fact but also feeling. The best tone of engagement is often conversational rather than rhetorical. Relationships are built on short and regular exchanges rather than infrequent major broadcasts. Good examples include CERN, whose particle research remains well funded as a result. NASA in contrast is more of a spokesperson organisation these days and struggling as a result to get traction despite its visionary plans. Three “hacks” for communications were suggested: going local, making the communication relevant to a very specific area; harnessing the energy and freshness of youth in the message and the speaker; and focusing on the future to combat “weaponised nostalgia” as in “take back control”.

There might be things to learn from the technology industry’s fail fast approach to innovation, where it is expected that opportunities will emerge from customers’ misuse of products as opposed to the designers’ intent. There is a culture of trying things and seeing what happens, with the feedback of data contributing to an evolving design. The policy world tends still to launch fully-formed initiatives and then seek support for them, rather than co-creating them with supporters or recipients. There were successful examples of co-creation in the past, for example domestic recycling had begun as an independent pilot by a campaigning organisation, which had gathered the data as a result to show that it could be done. The campaign on climate change in contrast was described as science and fact led and, it was asserted, had struggled to get traction, even as the facts mounted up. On the side of the public, there needs to be more critical thinking and not just scepticism. 

We need to find new mechanisms for coordination and collaboration across boundaries so that one initiative, conversation or publication can lead into another rather than standing alone, and falling silently, unread, into the waste bin. The conversations we initiate with the public need to be more humble perhaps, less about us and our ideas and more about them and our shared enquiry. We also need, in a world of hyper convergence, more collaboration between governments, companies and the not-for-profit sector in order to achieve an impact. We do not yet have a shared language to agree these collaborations. Most of us remain too fond of our independence as actors, preferring fast moving if ineffectual freedom of action, to a slow moving constrained and coordinated course that in the end might achieve more.

Finding a shared language to measure impact through investment and collaboration is a big challenge but necessary.  To be effective, given the scale of the development challenge facing us, impact investment needs to become a mainstream investment attribute rather than a euphemism for philanthropy. Philanthropy – investment on which no financial return is expected but which should deliver a public good – could have a powerful stimulating effect on broader investment, making investments possible which otherwise would not make economic market sense. But there remains a belief to overcome, common amongst major philanthropists, that business is business and separate to philanthropic investment. Frameworks for investment that include public good impact as a factor in the calculation are being developed by a range of investment companies. This should be encouraged through government incentives.

This is only one of the ways in which government still has a crucial role in allowing private sector and not for profit organisations to deliver impact:

  • Government can choose to regulate or not, to allow innovation or to constrain it. Often government can have most impact by choosing not to act or by waiting before legislating.
  • Government can choose to be more open to external collaboration on projects and develop mechanisms that make it easier for smaller partners to connect with what can be an opaque organisation of bewildering complexity and size.
  • A specific aspect of this for both governments and for major companies is to open up data, enabling innovation and collaboration on development and social impact projects. This will be challenging because of privacy concerns but also could be game changing. Technologies like blockchain could allow key data sets to be both distributed and trusted.
  • Government is a key partner is addressing stability, security sector reform and progress on the rule of law. Private sector investment and the connection of countries with international markets is essential for long term development but this cannot happen without minimum basic conditions in place.

Although support for international organisations is damaged, there are powerful recent examples of effective concerted multilateral action involving governments, companies and non-governmental organisations, for example the reaction to the Ebola virus outbreak. Many big problems can only be tackled through concerted multilateral action.

Detailed long term plans are unlikely to survive contact with a fast evolving reality. We need to set top level goals and then pursue their achievement in an agile way, changing our approach in response to feedback.  

That said, it is increasingly clear that the future belongs to those who can glimpse the long term potential of technologies to challenge long established business and political models. A major element in disillusionment with contemporary politics is the failure to paint a compelling vision of the future.  Developing that vision is more essential than ever.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


CHAIR: The Rt Hon. Douglas Alexander  
Senior Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Visiting Professor, King's College London; Associate Practitioner, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; Senior Advisor, Rise Fund Founder's Board; Senior Advisor, Pinsent Masons; Senior Advisor, EY; member, UK Privy Council; member, European Council on Foreign Relations; Senior Advisor to Bono on investment and development in Africa and beyond. Formerly: Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (2011-15); various senior UK Ministerial positions (2001-10), including: 
Minister of State for Europe; for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs; Secretary of State for International Development; for Scotland; for Transport; Member of Parliament (1997-2015); UK Governor, World Bank.

Mr Craig Alexander  

Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist, The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa (2016-). Formerly: Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist, TD Bank Group; Economist, Statistics Canada; President (two terms), Canadian Association for Business Economics.
Mr Edward Greenspon  
President and CEO, Public Policy Forum (2016-). Formerly: Editor-at-Large for Canada, Bloomberg (2014-16); Managing Editor, Energy, Environment, and Commodities, Bloomberg; Editor in Chief, Globe and Mail (2001-09); Auto Bureau Chief and Political Editor, Globe and Mail; European Correspondent, Globe and Mail; Founding Editor, theglobeandmail.com.
Mr Bruce Lourie  
President, The Ivey Foundation; Director, Philanthropic Foundations Canada; Director, Canadians for Clean Prosperity; Advisory Board member: Canada's Ecofiscal Commission and the Canadian Energy Research Institute; Founder: Summerhill Group, the Sustainability Network, the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers' Network; co-author, 'Slow Death by Rubber Duck'. Formerly: Director, Independent Electricity System Operator and the Ontario Power Authority.
Dr Mark Sedra  
President and Research Director, Canadian International Council, Toronto (2017-); President and Co-Founder, Security Governance Group (2012-); Senior Fellow, Centre for Security Governance; Adjunct Professor, Department of Political Science, Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo (2012-). Formerly: Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation (2008-12); Cadieux-Léger Fellow, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (2004-05); Research Associate, Bonn International Center for Conversion (2001-03).
Valerie Walker PhD  
Vice President of Talent and Skills, Business Council of Canada (not-for-profit composed of CEOs of 150 leading companies), Ottawa (2016-); Head, Canada's Business/Higher Education Roundtable (promotes collaboration between Canada's post-secondary institutions and private sector employers; enables business leaders and post-secondary presidents to work together on Canada's skills and innovation challenges) (2016-). Formerly: Director, Policy, Mitacs (2013-16).

Mr Brian Finlay  

President & CEO (2015-; formerly Vice President 2005-15), The Stimson Center, Washington, DC; Chair, Board of Directors, iMMAP (information management and data analytics organisation focused on improving humanitarian relief and development coordination); Advisory Board, Black Market Watch. Formerly; Director, Nuclear Threat Reduction Campaign, Veterans for America (2001-05); program officer, Century Foundation (1999-2001); senior researcher, Brookings Institution (1998-99).

Dr Sergio Missana  

Americas Director, The Climate Parliament. Formerly: Director of Publications and Head of International Relations, BBVA Foundation, Madrid; member, Governing Council, European Foundation Centre, Brussels; Editor, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on human rights abuses committed by Chile's military dictatorship between 1973 and 1990.

Ms Heli Helanummi-Cole 
DPhil Candidate in Management Studies, Saïd Business School and Balliol College, University of Oxford (expected 2018); Director, Odaiba Ltd (2013-). Formerly: Non-executive Director, WonderLUK Ltd (2014-17); Visiting Scholar, Stanford University (2016); research assistant, Bank of England-sponsored, Big Innovation Centre-led, 'Purposeful Company' project (2015-16); Director, Nokia UK Ltd (2009-13); Business Controller, Nokia UK Ltd (2000-07).

Mr Raphaël Mazet  

CEO, Alice, a social impact platform built on the blockchain (2016-). Formerly: co-Founder & COO, CliqStart, San Francisco (2015-16); Vice President and Head of Brazil, Mexico & the U.S. West Coast, Speyside Corporate Relations, Sao Paulo and San Francisco (2011-14).

Mr Christopher Gee

Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Mr Craig Bennett  

Chief Executive Officer (2015-), formerly Director of Policy and Campaigns, Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Board Member, Friends of the Earth Europe; Honorary Professor of Sustainability and Innovation, Alliance Manchester Business School (2017-); Policy Fellow, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge (2015-); Educator, Duke Corporate Education (2011-); Senior Associate, formerly Deputy Director, University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (2010-). Formerly; Chair of Board, Stakeholder Forum (2013-15); Director, The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (2007-10).
Mr David Birrell  
Director, Asia Scotland Institute (2016-); Director, Birrell Consulting Ltd; Chair, TEDX Glasgow; Director, Kinross House Meetings; Member, Scottish Parliament Cross-party Group on China; Member, Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland. Formerly: Chief Executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce (2012-16); UK and International Executive, Unilever.
Mr Matthew Bishop  
Senior Editor, The Economist; co-author, 'Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World' and 'The Road From Ruin: A New Capitalism for a Big Society'; co-Founder: The Social Progress Index; #givingtuesday campaign. Formerly: Official Report author, G8 Taskforce on Social Impact Investing; Chair, World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Innovation.
Mr Adrian Brown  
Executive Director, Centre for Public Impact, London (2015-). Formerly: Principal, Boston Consulting Group, London (2011-15); Fellow, Institute for Government (2010-11); Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Co. (2007-10); Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, UK Cabinet Office (2002-05); Business Analyst, McKinsey & Co. (2000-02).
Mr Richard Burge  
Chief Executive, Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, London (2017-); Commissioner, Commission for Commonwealth Scholarships (2012-); Council Member, Durham University (2011-). Formerly: Chief Executive, Wilton Park (2009-17); Government Commissioner for Rural Communities (2005-09); Chief Executive, Countryside Alliance (2000-05); Director General, Zoological Society of London (1995-99); Head of Africa and Middle East Development Operations, British Council.
Ms Jules Chappell OBE  
Partner Hawthorn Advisors (2014-); Associate, Ambassador Partnership. Formerly: HM Diplomatic Service (1999-2014); Head, Emerging Powers Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); Head, GREAT Britain Campaign team; Ambassador to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (2009-12); Regional Conflict Adviser, Addis Ababa; Head, NATO Section, FCO; secondment to State Department, Washington, DC (2004); Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad (2003-04); Political and Economic Officer, Amman (2000-03).
Ms Emma Gilpin Jacobs  
Senior Director, UK and Europe, The Pew Trusts, London (2016-); Board Member, Press Recognition Panel (2014-); Strategic Communications for: Bite Global, Institute of Imagination, Regus plc, Trainline, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (2013-16); Director of Global Communications, Financial Times (2006-13); International Director of Public Affairs, Time Inc., EMEA & Asia (2000-06).
Ms Alison Gordon OBE  
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Sisters for Change, London (2014-); Associate Professor (Practice) Public Policy & Accountability, Middlesex University School of Law & Business (2017-). Formerly: HM Diplomatic Service (2002-12); Vice President, Global Content Strategy, Liberty Global Media (2000-01); Operations Director, Syzygy Digital Agency (1998-2000); Strategy Analyst, Guardian Online; Online Producer, BBC; Head of Research, Aztec Internet Consulting.
Miss Yasmin Greenaway  
Trustee and Director, National Youth Agency; Analyst, Barclays Investment Bank; One Young World Ambassador. 
Formerly: Business in the Community Advisor.
Mr Adam Grodecki  
Founder and Executive Director, Forward Institute, London (2015-); Steering Group, Advanced Development Programme, British Army (2017-); Governor, Ark Academy (2016-). Formerly: Consultant, The Boston Consulting Group (2011-17); London Curator, World Economic Forum Global Shapers (2013-14); Co-Founder and Chairman, Student Hubs (2007-14).
Mr Douglas Hansen-Luke  
Executive Chairman, Future Planet Capital (2015-); Senior Advisor, HLD Partners (2012-); Advisory Board member, Oxford Sciences Innovation; Advisory Board member, Rwandan Cricket Stadium Foundation; sits on Jesus College Campaign Board; Global Representative, Conservatives Abroad. Formerly: Chief Executive Officer and Advisor to the Managing Board, bfinance (2011-16); CEO, Robeco Middle East, Africa and Central Asia (2007-12); CEO, Global Head of Product Specialists and Head of Strategic Sales and Marketing, ABN AMRO (2001-07); Managing Director, Asia Strategic 
(1999-2001); Emerging Market Equities, Salomon Brothers (1994-97); Associate Consultant, Bain & Company (1991-94). Parliamentary Candidate for Walsall North (2015).
Ms Bronwen Maddox  
Director, The Institute for Government (2016-). Formerly: Editor and CEO, Prospect Magazine (2010-16); Chief Foreign Commentator (2006-10), Foreign Editor (1999-2006), U.S. Editor (1996-99), The Times; Leader Writer, Financial Times; Director, Kleinwort Benson Securities (1991-96). A Member of the Council of Management and a Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Rajay Naik  
CEO, Keypath Education (2015-). Formerly: Director, The Open University (2010-15); UK Digital Skills Commission; Education Technology Action Group, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills; Chairman, Big Lottery Fund (2009-15); Commissioner, Department of Health; Panel member, Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (2009-10); Chairman, British Youth Council (2007-10); Council Member, Learning and Skills Council (2005-08). A Governor and member of the Programme Committee of The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Robin Niblett CMG  
Director, Chatham House, London (2007-); Non-Executive Director, Fidelity European Values Investment Trust; Member, World Economic Forum Europe Policy Group. Formerly: Special Adviser, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (2015); member, World Economic Forum Global Future Council on International Security (2016); Chairman, Experts Group, 2014 NATO Summit; Chairman, World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Europe (2012-13); Executive Vice President (2001-06), Director, Europe Program and Initiative for a Renewed Transatlantic Partnership (2004-06), Director, then Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning (1997-2001), Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC.
Mr Kalm Paul-Christian FRSA  
Consultant, The Social Investment Consultancy; Independent Adviser, Oxford University UAO; Vice Chairman, Oxford University ACS; Advisory Board member, Sponsors of Equal Opportunity; Researcher, International Service; Ambassador, One Young World. Formerly: Analyst, Rothschild Global Advisory; Operations Manager, MeFiri Ghana; Pinsent Masons LLP.
Dr Nicholas Redman  
Interim Director of Studies, International Institute for Strategic Studies (2017-).
Mr Frank Soodeen  
Head of Public Affairs, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York. Formerly: Press and Public Affairs Manager, The Nuffield Trust (2011-13); PR and Public Affairs Officer, The Royal College of Physicians (2008-10).

Mrs Marjorie Neasham Glasgow  

Chairman, Thomas Gifford Trust; Co-Founder and Partner, The Ridge Group (1999-). Formerly: Founder, Managing Director, RidgeWind (2003-13); Founder, National Gas & Electric (1988-97); Family Services Center; Amigos de las Americas; SRI International.
Ms Elizabeth Linder  
Founder & CEO, The Conversational Century, a global advisory movement; author and commentator; Board of Advisors, Portland Communications and the Asia Scotland Institute. Formerly: founder, Politics & Government division for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Facebook (2008-16); Global Communications & Public Policy, Google/YouTube (2007-08), California. A member of The Ditchley Foundation Programme Committee.

Ms Ariana Berengaut  

Director of Programs, Partnerships and Strategic Planning, Penn Biden Center, University of Pennsylvania. Formerly: Speechwriter and Counselor to Deputy Secretary Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Department of State; designed and led State Department's Innovation Forum to engage the technology sector on foreign policy challenges; established and managed State Department's first-ever representative in Silicon Valley; Chief Speechwriter to Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency 
for International Development.
Mr Thomas Carver  
Vice President for Communications and Strategy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC. Formerly: Senior Vice President, Chlopak, Leonard & Schechter; head, Washington office, Control Risks; journalist, including as Washington correspondent and Africa Correspondent, BBC (1984-2004).
Mr Benjamin Glahn  
Salzburg Global Seminar: Vice President, Development and Operations. Formerly: European Development Director. Senior Program Officer, Aga Khan Foundation, London (2009-13); Program Director and Deputy Chief Program Officer, Salzburg Global Seminar (2006-09).
Ambassador David J. Lane  
President, The Annenberg Foundation Trust, Sunnylands, California; Chairman, Stimson Center (2016-). Formerly: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome; Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff, the White House; Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of Commerce; Executive Director, National Economic Council; President & CEO, ONE Campaign; Director of Foundation Advocacy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr Amy Luers  
Executive Director, Future Earth (Sep 2017-). Formerly: Director, Climate and Water programs, Skoll Global Threats Fund; Assistant Director for Climate Resilience and Information, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Senior Environment Program Manager, Google Inc.; head, climate programme, Union of Concerned Scientists, California office.
Ms Margaret Massey  
Outreach and Communications Manager, Pay for Success Initiative, The Urban Institute, Washington, D.C. (2015-). Formerly: Monitor Deloitte (2013-15); White House Office of Management and Budget (2010-13); Department of Government, Georgetown University (2009-10); journalist/contributor, Time Inc. and Parade (2007-09).
Ms Emily Mediate M.Sc.  
Master of Public Policy Candidate, University of Oxford; Rhodes Scholar. Formerly: International Development Post-Graduate Fellowship, Kampala (2015-16); co-Founder and Undergraduate Relations Manager, The 31 Lengths Campaign, Uganda (2011-14).
Mr David Nassar  
Vice President for Communications, Brookings Institution (2012-). Formerly: Founder & CEO, Hotspot Digital (2009-12); Vice President for Strategy, Blue State Digital (2009); Executive Director, Five Stones (2007-09).
Ms Terzah Tippin Poe  
Partner, TRIO Global Solutions, Boston (2015-); Advisory Board, Polar Research and Policy Initiative, London (2016-); international environmental science and policy lecturer, Harvard University (2015-). Formerly: led sustainability programs for TransCanada and Royal Dutch Shell.