Maaike Veen is an experienced financial journalist and active fundraiser for impact ventures. Together with Het Financieele Dagblad, she recently launched Impact Investor: a weekly newsletter for the impact investing sector.
In this introductory interview, Maaike shares how journalism and impact investing go hand in hand.
What do you consider the major challenges facing impact investing today?
I am optimistic about the possibilities of impact investing but also believe we should be critical. I think we need to watch out for green washing and impact washing, and be open about everything. This means not just focus on what works but also on what doesn’t work, so we can learn from our failures. For example, when we invest in wind mills, solar parks or large agricultural producers in an emerging market, does the local community benefit and are their rights taken into account?
Another problem in the impact world are the hundreds of methodologies and measuring standards. I always tell my journalists to first find out how someone actually defines their impact, because different definitions can lead to huge misunderstandings. I think it is imperative that, as a sector, we find some universally agreed-upon denominators, allowing for increased clarity, better measuring tools and transparent benchmarks.
What are key elements to change?
To me, change is not a black/white exercise. As a journalist, I want to look at all perspectives. It’s a constant conversation in which we need to keep the small story as well as the big picture in mind. For example, organic food is great but can you feed the world population with organic farming? And plastic packaging in supermarkets might look nonsensical, but plastic can also help preserve fruits and vegetables, limiting food waste and honouring the precious resources it took to make.
I don’t believe the acute and complex problem of climate change is solved by simply telling people to eat organic, get rid of their car, fly less, go vegetarian and so on. There have to be more positive alternatives and a re-evaluation of what is important to us. How can we consume less but better, how can we invest differently? And then there is the problem of elitism. People with low incomes might not be able to afford groceries at the farmer’s market or solar panels on their roofs. So we need to think greater and more inclusive: big corporations need to do business differently and governments need to set new rules. Only then can we ensure a sustainable future for our planet and the people on it. In the meantime, we should continue to investigate and explore, and refrain from too much preaching and judging. We can encourage everyone to make better choices, based on positive incentives, rather than negative fear-mongering.
What ‘world problem’ would you like to solve?
Personally, I am an advocate for nature conservation. Plants, trees and animals don’t have a voice, so I feel passionate about giving them one, by supporting great conservation projects. So I was on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute in the Netherlands and currently still work with the Black Jaguar Foundation, one of Brazil’s most ambitious reforestation projects, restoring the 2,600 km long Araguaia Biodiversity Corridor that runs between the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado Savanna. The deeply committed but small team have been working tirelessly on this for more than 8 years now and I am so in awe of them; their professionalism, the growing group of partners they attract and their impact. They are now planting the first million indigenous trees in collaboration with local landowners and are ready to scale up rapidly.
How do you see the future of impact?
Courageous entrepreneurs and pioneering investors are showing us that we can go beyond no-damage and actually create positive impact, but I think the future of impact is all about Institutional funds, like big pension funds. As soon as they (get the opportunity to) invest in impact, we can close the finance gap needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
What makes the Impact Investor Newsletter unique?
The more I work in this sector, the more I realise how niche the market still is within the world of investing, despite the growing attention. For example, there are still very few journalists specialised in this field and even less publications dedicated to this new expertise. There is Impact Alpha but it is very finance- and US orientated. We are more European, and broader than just finance. So even though we are a trade publication, we steer away from high-level strategy talk and excluding jargon. We write from the perspective of the impact investor, whilst seeking to bring the industry together by connecting people beyond finance and the ‘deal’. This means highlighting the problems investors are trying to solve, focussing on concrete investment examples, signalling trends, and profiling pioneering businesses and investors.
What is next for ‘Impact Investor’?
What I love about this field, is how open-minded people are, and how motivated they are to help each other. We take this energy forward in our publication. Our curated information connects people not just to a bigger community but also to a greater vision than just their focus area. This is why we recently decided to include links to external sources; we want to offer our reader more information, more depth than just the story at hand, and continue to do so in the future. We want to give our reader a window to the field of impact investing. In some ways, I see it as a Google for impact; the first place to start your search!
How did you become an (impact) journalist and start working with PYM?
My journalism journey started age 13, during a visit to Berlin. I had learned about the iron curtain at school but seeing it in real life made me want to investigate the world! So as soon as I came home, I subscribed to Newsweek and decided to become a journalist. After studying Economics and Journalism, I worked as a correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal in the Netherlands. Between 2004 - 2013 I lived in London, where I swapped my job on Fleet Street for freelancing as a UK & Ireland correspondent for several Dutch media, and also worked as investment writer for a Financial Times publication aimed at institutional investors, which is where I first discovered socially responsible investing.
Back in Amsterdam, I soon began to use my journalistic skills in the impact investing world, from helping NGO’s apply for institutional funds to working with small accelerators, startups and business angels. After a while, I realised, there is a lot of information, but there are very few stories published by independent media, nor is there a platform that offers a general overview, considering the sector as a whole. This led me to pitch Impact Investor to Het Financieele Dagblad (FD). Then, during our initial market research I met Frank van Beuningen and Edwin Backes. They were setting up PYM and approached me to help with the launch of the new foundation.