Servant Leadership Workplace-Impact Investing

Impact Investing & Servant Leadership

“Servant-leader” and “investor” – can these two roles be fused in real life?

My sense of the present leads me to say yes.

Last week, the cover story of Barron’s magazine read, “Impact Investing Done Right: How three families got their portfolios to profitably reflect their values.” *

Generally defined, “impact investing” is the case where an investor seeks social and environmental impact together with a market rate of return.

The Barron’s story profiled three families who were benefiting on this so-called “triple bottom line” – social, environmental and financial.

These socially-responsible investors are real and not alone.

By all accounts, impact investing is a growth business. According to social rating firm Microrate, impact investment is the fastest-growing segment of responsible investing. As of year-end 2012, the global total was estimated at $89 billion; but this “do good” category of investing is projected to exceed $400 billion by 2020.

OK, you may say, impact investing sounds good; but how does it relate to servant leadership?

First off, I believe that the families profiled in Barron’s have a true desire to serve combined with excellent foresight in being out front of the impact investing movement. These folks have made a conscious choice to lead others by showing how, as an investor, one can “do well” at the same time as “doing good.”

Furthermore, impact investors are bringing servant leadership to the remarkable rise of social entrepreneurship around the world.

For example, The Economist recently ran an article entitled, “Learning unleashed: Where governments are failing to provide youngsters with a decent education, the private sector is stepping in.” *

As the article details, in poor countries where public education is inadequate, entrepreneurs are starting “affordable private schools” where, sometimes for only a few dollars a month, families can educate their children. Depending on the country, 20% of all students are enrolled in these affordable private schools.

One of the impact investors mentioned in The Economist piece, Atlanta-based Gray Matters Capital, does more than invest money in the affordable private school sector.

Gray Matters Capital desires to serve the enterprises in which it invests. In addition to essential capital, it seeks to provide connections, knowledge, mentoring – plus hope and courage – to entrepreneurs serving the poorest of the poor.

That sounds like servant leadership to me.


Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term “servant leadership” in his foundational 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, suggested this as the “best test” of a servant-leader.

“The best test [of a servant-leader], and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”

So, as I see it, when impact investing is done right, those served – in the case of Gray Matters Capital, social entrepreneurs and their social enterprises – do become healthier, wiser, freer more autonomous and more likely themselves to become servants.

And benefits to the least privileged – the people living at the bottom of the pyramid – that comes too!

What do you think? Does this make sense? Am I stretching too far to connect impact investing & servant leadership?

Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!


* Here are links to the Barron’s cover story and The Economist article.