Member Musing

Caitlin Medley

Resetting with positive impact in the midst of COVID-19



By Dr Erin Castellas, Impact Investment Group and Caitlin Medley, QBE Insurance
Co-chairs of RIAA’s Impact Management and Measurement Community of Practice

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.” – Kitty O’Meara

In the midst of a global pandemic, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge this tumultuous time and the uncertainty it brings. People are and will experience real pain and hardship through this time. And many of the market gaps and inequities that impact investing seeks to address including issues of housing (or lack thereof), gender inequity, and social and economic vulnerability are being amplified now and will be into the medium term. We are seeing rising issues related to domestic violence, mental health, and social cohesion. And issues of socioeconomic and intergenerational disadvantage are becoming increasingly evident, including issues related to digital inclusion that are leading to a real divide in access to essential services and connection.


At this time, we acknowledge a lot is not in our control but still we find ourselves asking what can we do? We felt it was important to start a conversation to connect our work in impact investment to what we can do and what opportunities might follow. There may be no better community of practice than impact investing and responsible investment to influence how we re-set from this time.


We know that money means nothing without a healthy planet—that includes bees, fresh water, healthy soils, a stable climate, functioning ecosystems that underpin our survival. We also know that not much matters if we don’t have people to love and be loved by, people to laugh with, to see us, to be with, to support one another. And, of course, we need ways to earn a living as well as the systems and structures that help us navigate and hold much of this complexity together.


The whole premise of impact investing and responsible investing that has been built over decades of work is that financial returns and our understanding of value is inextricably underpinned by the way we not only manage environmental liabilities, social licence to operate and governance issues like bribery and corruption, but also how we fundamentally place value on healthy ecosystems, human vitality and economic resilience.




We have an opportunity now with a sudden shock and stop to many patterns of behaviour to pause, reflect and re-set. We are thinking about this in terms of understanding what types of sectors and businesses are likely to be more resilient in a time of shock, and we think they are likely to be those that create value by solving our most pressing social and environmental problems and aligning with community needs and aspirations.


As we take some of the best learnings from this period of shock and adjustment, there are likely to be long-lasting changes in our patterns of working and living alongside the way in which we think about what matters or what we value. Without the healthcare workers, teachers and food supply chains, where are we? For that matter, without logistics companies to deliver goods like toilet paper to their retail outlets, where are we? What is it that we realise we value in a time of shock?


We need shelter, food and water… And we need to invest in the health and resilience of the systems that deliver us shelter, food and water.


We need to feel connected, even when social distancing. How do we think about this fundamental need to love and be loved and connected and care for one another? And how do we think about the value of care and connection?


And when those needs are met, how do we ensure we have space and means to reflect, create, innovate, think, change, build.


Each of these layers of need present opportunities to think about societal well-being and environmental health and how those intersect with investable opportunities going forward. Given our work in thinking through how finance and investment has a role to play in driving more positive impacts for people and the planet, we think this is exactly the right time to influence what role capital has to play in reinforcing what we value. As the pandemic and economic shock has shown, we are as vulnerable as the most vulnerable in our societies, with different levels of ability to shelter from and respond to the effects. Some of us are in the position to seek investable opportunities with impact.


So now more than ever, amongst a global health and economic crisis, we wanted to distil some ideas about what we know and how this points to what we in our community of practice can do.


1. Resilience is the word of our times – not just adaptation and resilience to climate change but also social and economic resilience. The question we are all now asking is how do we become more resilient in times of volatility, financially, environmentally, and socially?


One of the interesting businesses to emerge as an asset in this time has been videoconferencing platforms that allow us to connect digitally while social distancing. Who would have thought a couple of months ago that video conferencing — seen as more novel or privileged ways of keeping connected — could be a socially resilient sector addressing a human need to connect and help us maintain each other’s well-being, a base need to work and keep goods flowing, and a higher order need to collaborate and create together?


What other emergent sectors and businesses might address the need we have to build social and community resilience and meet our different needs in times when we experience system shocks? How will existing inequities such as digital literacy or access present risks and impact investment opportunities? What new health opportunities are being created?


2. Environmental health, in particular climate change and the health and resilience of ecosystems and biodiversity is a fundamental driver of value. Now more than ever, there is a clear case for how we establish reliable sources of clean energy, including models that lead to energy autonomy. The trend we have been seeing toward distributed systems in, for example, energy (i.e. rooftop and community solar) and water (i.e. rainwater tanks and water sensitive urban design) are likely to provide more resilience to shocks and systemic disruptions like the one we are now experiencing than centralised top down delivery of services that were dominant models of the past. So how does this point to possible investable opportunities going forward? We think that investing in environmental health and resilience in a way that prioritises multiple co-benefits, like community empowerment and community resilience are likely to be the approaches that offer win-win opportunities for impact investors.


More widely, we are seeing government responses for the medium term intersect with the standing low-carbon agenda such as the European Council members to maintain and integrate sustainable and digital factors into post-pandemic recovery packages – to support longer term resilience of business and systems into a low carbon economy.


3. Co-design may also lead to less risk and more resilience. Localisation has been amplified, with cooperative models and local community response, local community re-establishing mutual aid. Businesses and assets that are deliberately engaging with communities in new models of ownership and co-design are creating inherently less social license risk (less outraged and angry people) and are more likely to be creating assets and markets with willing workers, consumers, tenants, partners and advocates.


4. Localisation – the counter trends of globalisation and localisation are apparent in the global nature of the pandemic, disruption of global supply chains, and the economic effects of shut-downs to contain the spread. These are being viscerally experienced at the home, in social distancing and public health responses and shut-downs necessary to stem the pandemic and the ethical and social response to make resources available and directed to our most vulnerable. What does this mean for new emerging opportunities and how we value impact, and the possibility that a much larger portion of our society may place enhanced value on these factors in future? Many of us would have friends and family that have lost small businesses that serve as glue to local communities, and what can we do to support these efforts at a local level to regenerate the strength of local economies and communities?


Social cohesion becomes more important than ever. Times of crisis can bring unity and solidarity, which we see in acts of song, rushing in to help neighbours, and the empathy we feel and share across nations and generations. However, crisis can also spurn fear and drive protectionism, tribalism and self-interest – not just pride and civic participation locally but moving toward unrest between subjective boundaries that divide rather than unify. In part, by recognising our own vulnerability, it provides an opportunity to build empathy, and to reduce stigma associated with social disadvantage. How do we think about investment in building empathy, connection, a shared humanity so that we live in more cohesive, safer, kinder societies and communities that reinforce mutual support and reciprocity? We think there are opportunities to think about underlying models that address trust, projects and opportunities that allow for people to feel valued, and collaborative models that allow for shared experience and empathy.


5. Values alignment is not just a cool and catchy phrase… Being deliberate about curating a portfolio, projects, partners, tenants, and staff who are values aligned and vision aligned is likely not only a more resilient road with longer term value, but a nicer road to be on too. It’s nice to like the people you work with!


We firmly believe that this time provides us the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about the value and power of money and drivers of risk and value. We think this is exactly the right time for us to be doing this work.


As we consider the paths that may be open to us for economic, social and environmental resilience, we can aim to frame decisions and advocacy to ensure that the short term and longer term responses to the current economic and social disruption are inclusive and do not exacerbate existing inequities.


In this time of global pandemic, it is hard not to feel all the things that accompany change and uncertainty. In fact, it feels very human to share both our anxieties and our generosity of spirit in this time.


One offer we are making in our community of practice is to continue to hold the space to bring people together to share what we are experiencing but also give us the opportunity to think through the future together. If you’re a member of IMMCOP, you’ll see some invitations coming out to join regular catch-ups as we continue to do the work and break into smaller digital groups to workshop ideas and think through the way forward.


We know it is a very uncertain time, but we hope that with uncertainty and often painful change, there will emerge some real beauty. Hence the quote at the start of this article. Thanks, Kitty O’Meara!


Like others we see an opportunity to collectively influence this fundamental moment of change and look forward to working with RIAA’s IMMCOP community to work together at what is now possible.