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Impacting Investing: How One Billionaire is Building Change With Social Solutions

Impacting Investing: How One Billionaire is Building Change With Social Solutions

Social Solutions’ partnership with the Ballmer Group was recently highlighted in this Forbes listing of the billionaires leading the way in Global Impact Investing. Read below to learn more about how Steve Ballmer and other top investors are getting involved in impact investing. For more information on the Ballmer Group partnership, sign up here to receive updates on program details and matching grants that can help bring the power of Apricot software to your nonprofit or public sector agency.


Eleven years ago, at a small gathering at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy, the term “impact investing” was coined. It was not a new idea, but it finally had an official name. “We gave everyone a rhetorical umbrella under which they could huddle together,” says Antony Bugg-Levine, who convened the meeting and is now the CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Since then, many financial firms and investors have embraced the term and invested in companies and funds that not only make money but have a measurable, positive social or environmental impact. At least $228 billion is at work in such initiatives, according to the Global Impact Investing Network. Meet 24 billionaires leading the way.

Bill Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates do impact investing with a twist—using philanthropic dollars from their foundation, with any financial returns staying inside it. Since 2009, it has put about $2 billion into 70 initiatives, including AgBiome, a North Carolina biotech firm working to identify microbes to help crops resist pests and diseases, and Vir Biotechnology in San Francisco, which is developing vaccines for HIV and tuberculosis. The foundation lent $5 million to M-KOPA, a Nairobi startup that enables low-income customers to buy solar-powered lighting and mobile phone charging systems on credit with mobile payments.

Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook cofounder and his wife Priscilla Chan have invested $100 million across more than a dozen startups, mainly in education, through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Their first lead impact investment was in Andela, a New York-based startup that trains software developers in Africa. About one third of their portfolio is international investments, such as Indian firm Byju’s, a personalized learning app for 4th through 12th grade students in math and science.

Steve Ballmer

The former Microsoft CEO is helping schools, nonprofits and social service agencies bring their technology up-to-date. In August, Ballmer and his wife, Connie, said they would invest $59 million in Social Solutions, a software company that helps organizations digitize files and conduct data analytics for the communities they serve. The Ballmers had tried unsuccessfully to tackle the problem with philanthropy, donating money to help Washington State’s child welfare agency better harness data.

Michael Dell

Through his namesake foundation, the computing tycoon has invested in education technology companies in India, which teach skills ranging from “English-language fluency, to repairing cars, to learning optometry.” The foundation previously invested in the Unitus Seed Fund, an accelerator for Indian health, education, fintech and mobile startups.

Laurene Powell Jobs

Powell Jobs has quietly built a 140-plus person philanthropic, investment and advocacy entity, Emerson Collective, which partners with entrepreneurs, policymakers and advocates to advance social causes and access to education. Emerson Collective has invested in startups that provide tools for improving government accountability (public sector budgeting software OpenGov), climate change (environmental sensor network Alcima) and education (such as the edtech tracking tool for schools, LearnPlatform).

Paul Allen

The Microsoft cofounder’s foundation, Vulcan, focuses much of its impact investing work on Africa. It owns ten solar-powered micro-grids in Kenya, which provide electricity to villages with a combined 21,000 residents, and funds a low-cost internet provider, Mawingu Networks, also based in Kenya. Vulcan says it concentrates on projects with the potential to impact one million lives or more.

Ray Dalio

Dalio’s family has made about $100 million of impact investments over his lifetime, about one third of them just in 2017. Two areas of focus are emerging market technologies that promote education and health, and financial inclusion in the US.

Pierre Omidyar

Ebay’s founder set up the Omidyar Network in 2004, before the phrase “impact investing” existed. He’s put more than $600 million, including $100 million in 2017, into startups that tackle issues like climate change and affordable education. In 2010 he invested in solar-powered lighting startup d.light, which brings electricity to communities with limited power access in over 60 countries. It has reached more than 80 million people with products like solar-powered lanterns, chargers and radios. Two years later he invested in Ruma, a financial and information services company in Indonesia that trained 10,000 low-income entrepreneurs (mostly women). It was acquired by Indonesian ride-hailing firm Go-Jek in 2017.

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