Note to Investors: The Gen Zers Are Coming

Photo credit: CUNY, The Graduate Center

Note to Investors: The Gen Zers Are Coming

Yesterday I attended the Sixth Annual New York University (NYU) Social Innovation Symposium. It’s a joint program organized by graduate students from NYU Stern (Business), NYU Wagner (Public Service), and NYU Law designed to showcase new ideas in the social impact space. This year’s theme, Integrated Impact: Collaborating for Change, focused on how businesses, nonprofits, and governments are sharing ideas and strategies aimed at creating lasting social change. The event was open to the general public, but I’d say at least 75 percent of attendees were current students, which puts them into the demographic called “Gen Z”—those born after 1995.

Panelist and venture capitalist Jalak Jobanputra (Future\Perfect Ventures) noted that a lot of VC eyes are on new applications for the blockchain, the secure transaction-ledger database that propelled the popularity of bitcoin. Moderator Scott Taitel, Wagner professor and Director of Social Finance, fielded many questions about social impact bonds (SIBs)—pay-for-performance vehicles that made their U.S. debut in 2012 in New York City. (A social impact bond is also called a pay-for-success bond and social benefit bond.)

That first SIB program was aimed at cutting recidivism rates among Rikers Island adolescent inmates. It involved the MRDC, a Goldman Sachs loan, and a Bloomberg Philanthropies loan guarantee. Though it did not meet its stated performance goal and Goldman lost money, it cost the city nothing. Even so the program is considered a success by many measures, and Kristin Misner-Gutierrez, Director of Social Services in the New York City Mayor’s Office, was on hand to explain why.

All in the symposium was enlightening and very inspiring—and it got me wondering whether there are any initiatives around SIBs and food waste reduction. On Wikipedia I found a compilation of states around the U.S. that are exploring ways to use social impact bonds to achieve social goals; most are currently focused in areas such as foster care, homelessness, recidivism, and public health. I was unable to find anything similar around food waste, but I did come across a paper by David Nicola in which he made the case for environmental impact bonds, as well as Blue Forest Conservation‘s forest resilience bond.

Since solving problems around food security are intrinsically linked to addressing environmental issues, can something called a “food security impact bond” and other types of innovative solutions be far behind? Judging by the number of Gen Zers in the NYU audience—a group who say they intend to “change the world,” “make a difference,” and “make an impact”—I’m very optimistic.