What an incredible day!
Each year, the CEE Impact Day gathers global organisations, individual and institutional investors, and selected ventures to explore the growing investment opportunities in the Central and Eastern European region. This year was the 5th anniversary and approximately 120 new and established players gathered at Impact Hub Vienna to participate. It was a unique opportunity for all participants to interact on a one-to-one basis.
Everyone was in a celebratory and positive mood when the day kicked off.
The keynote speeches
We started with Uli Grabenwarter from the European Investment Fund who spoke about the disconnect between traditional investment and impact investment. Uli believes that today, profit is not enough and that investors are also looking for businesses that will give back to society. Investors see these organisations as having a competitive advantage. To this end, impact investment is an enabler and a means to establishing a new way of conducting business that actually serves society.
“Venture philanthropy is about matching the soul of philanthropy with the spirit of investing.” This visionary statement was how Ewa Konzcal from the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) opened her keynote speech. For the EVPA, it is all about matching funding with the right venture. They believe that the ventures (and investors) are out there, but that the connection is missing. EVPA likes to ask ventures – “What would you do if you had all the resources and money to make your dream happen?” – and then set about making this dream happen for them.
Cornelius Pietzner from Alterra Impact Finance talked about how there is more to investing than just projections and plans. For him, it is about telling a story and understanding WHY the ventures do what they do, how they interact, their hopes, dreams and feelings. He believes that these things can tell you more about a venture than a 5 year projection.
The breakout sessions
After this inspirational start we broke into the first of 2 interactive sessions, where participants both learned from, and contributed to, the conversation. A range of impactful business topics were discussed and debated. Participants weren’t shy about asking tough and relevant questions to experts that they would not otherwise have had access to.
These groups talked about what investors really wanted and how important financial returns were to them. They discussed investor segments, including geographic location, risks with respects to financial returns and actual impact that they are interested in (education, sustainability, etc). This level of conversation would not have been possible without a facilitated event like CEE Impact Day and participants made sure to take advantage of the opportunity.
Before breaking for lunch, we reconvened and groups were asked to give a quick 1 minute review of their session, forcing group representative to be succinct and to the point. By doing this, other participants were able to find out about the other sessions and follow up with any questions during the lunch break. Participants were also able to talk one-one-one with some of the social impact ventures working across Europe, including Robowunderkind, aWATTar, Compuritas and FragNebanan.
After being revived by Iss Mich food, participants again broke into breakout sessions. The second round of topics were extremely interesting and participants were forced to choose between the following options:
- Climate change and sustainability
- Migration & Integration
- Agriculture and food
- Ecosystem in the Western Balkans
A new feature this year was the inclusion of breakout sessions focused specifically on different regions in Central and Eastern Europe. The Western Balkans and Danube were each given their own breakout session with the aim of promoting investment in the region. These areas are seen as a new frontier for impact investing in Europe.
After much debate I decided to attend the Migration & Integration session, which proved to be innovative and informative. We were given updates from a number of groups working in the field, including Magdas Hotel, Refugeeswork.at, younited Cultures and the Austrian Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs & Consumer Protection. All the other groups reported that their sessions were equally as good.
The wrap up
Everybody reconvened for the final session and participants got intimate – chairs were rearranged and everyone sat in a giant circle, with many people sitting on the floor. The session was hosted by Charly Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation and Toniic, who spoke about how far the sector had come and how much was still to be done. Charley then brought things back to an emotional perspective, rather than a financial and logical one. He asked the participants if they were doing what they loved – really loved – and doing it not just because it was successful. He talked about how it was important for all of us to grow in a sustainable way, meaning that the person AND the company could sustain this growth. One must achieve personal satisfaction to continue to grown their organisation.
The room was then open for discussion and all participants were invited to give their feedback and opinions. The microphone was passed around and everyone was included and their opinion valued. It was a wonderfully unique opportunity for all in the room to take a holistic look at their career focus and goals.
Then finally it was time to kick back, relax and let the learnings of the day sink in.