Global Development Investor Discusses Industry Challenges

Impacting investing strategist Kusi Hornberger argued that his industry suffers from systematic flaws that hinder its efficacy at a Friday afternoon seminar hosted by Harvard’s Center for International Development.

Speaking to a crowded room, Hornberger—a Kennedy School alumnus and senior project manager at Dalberg Global Development Advisors—detailed the challenges associated with fundraising and deal-making in the impact investing sector, which looks to invest in opportunities that also generate social or environmental gains.

“I would say funding sources limit innovation in deal structuring and risk-taking, in the sense that because a lot of this capital comes in with a lot of additional precedents and restrictions,” Hornberger said. “What the funds can do with this capital is actually very limited.”

Despite his qualms, Hornberger also touched on several “bright spots” in the impact investment market, where he observed the market moving towards greater democratization and clearer standards. He discussed his former employer Global Partnerships as a model.

“Every investment [we made] had an impact thesis—not just an investment thesis, but an impact thesis. That impact thesis came before we found an investment opportunity,” Hornberger said. “We went to the field and sourced the idea from the people we were already working with.”

Although Hornberger’s points found a warm reception from most of the audience, some voiced their disagreements with Hornberger in pointed questions asked throughout the hour-long event.

Mads M. Asprem, a Business School fellow and researcher in high-impact investing, found particular trouble with Hornberger’s point that without a standard career path for impact investors, the industry was deprived of experienced people.

“The industry attracts a lot of people with experience from other sectors, which I think is very positive, which he thinks is problematic, but he’s wrong about that,” Asprem said. “Impact investing should be very happy that there are people from the private equity sector, which knows this stuff, coming to the sector.”

However, many like Willene J. Johnson ’68, president of the forestry investment company Komaza, Inc., found that Hornberger’s perspective properly acknowledged impact investing’s real difficulties.

“I think he’s candid, in terms of identifying the many risks that exist and the particular challenges that face developing what is really a new approach to investment flows and development in emerging markets,” Johnson said.

Hornberger is one of several individuals invited to the Center for International Development’s speaker series to discuss their experiences working in development.

“The idea of bringing people like Kusi [to speak] is so that students and other community members have an opportunity to learn and hear from people who are working on the ground,” said P. Andrea Hayes, the Center’s events and outreach manager. “We want to bring a variety of people who can speak to different types of projects.”

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