Luisa Ferreira is the Head of the EIB Institute’s Social Programme where she notably created and developed the Social Innovation Tournament, a reference in the European Innovation ecosystem. She spent most of her personal and professional life working on impact: trained as an economist, got an advanced degree in poverty economics and spent twenty years working on education and social protection issues in East Africa and Latin America with the World Bank.
She joined the European Investment Bank in 1999 as a senior education economist, then an economic advisor, and with the kick-off of the Institute in 2012, she became responsible for the development and management of the Knowledge and Social Programmes. She is dedicated to her mission and often participates as a member of the jury in competitions in the area of social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Get to know Luisa Ferreira and her views on impact in the CEE region.
What motivated you to become part of the impact ecosystem?
Social innovation, social entrepreneurship and the impact ecosystem are all relatively new terminology but the actions always existed. When I was a child, I had these big ideas of wanting to change the world. And when I look back in fact, I have spent most of my personal and professional life working on impact. As an education economist, I was always working with schools and students, which have the most profound impact on people’s lives.
“However, the entrepreneur in me was always thinking about different ways to make an impact. So, in 2012 when the EIB created the Institute, we basically had a white canvas in front of us and a daunting mission: making people’s lives better!”
I always wanted to create an initiative with a bottom-up approach that would be close to the Bank’s mission, which would reach all European countries. With an economist’s DNA, I like competition, I like incentives. So I thought of creating a social innovation tournament (SIT) to select and reward Europe’s best social entrepreneurs. This would be a way to find the best projects addressing important, neglected problems. It was a pioneering concept in 2012. We have now hosted 11 editions, and there are more than 150 entrepreneurs in Europe in our Alumni network that we support and nurture.
But I also see how the ecosystem has evolved. Impact has become a household concept. There are now many competitions and incubation and acceleration programmes. It is a revolution and I am proud, at my level and with my team, to take part in it.
As the economic and geopolitical landscape changes faster than ever, what do you see as the impact ecosystem’s biggest challenges and opportunities in the next 12 months?
The challenges are the same — climate change, bringing with it climate injustice, depletion of natural resources, from raw materials to food to clean air, social inequalities as well as discrimination, migration, technology, artificial intelligence, and so on, but in light of recent events we need to act much faster in solving them! This is everybody’s responsibility. Governments and institutions cannot be expected to solve everything.
Looking further ahead, how do you think the ecosystem will evolve in the next 5-10 years?
I think we will see impact investment growing immensely. I often hear impact investors saying that there are not enough good ventures to invest in, and then I hear impact entrepreneurs saying that there are not enough investors to support them. Clearly we have a market clearing problem and asymmetry on the information.
Initiatives like the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, established in June 2020 by the European Commission, making direct equity and quasi-equity investments (between €500 000 and €15 million) in European high impact and deep tech startups and scaleups have an important catalytic effect in the ecosystem.
Through your extensive work with European social entrepreneurs, you have gained a thorough overview of the ecosystem. According to you, what would be a good opportunity for a nascent social entrepreneur to start with?
I could not, off the top of my head, think of an area that lacks attention but I am sure that if there is one, social entrepreneurs will find it and come up with a solution. Social entrepreneurs recognise and target all sorts of societal challenges and design solutions to them.
“It is just that we would need more social entrepreneurs and more available solutions in most areas (think of health, mental health, inequalities, education, inclusion, etc.) and faster!”
I also hope that true social and environmental impact will replace the practice of greenwashing and that we realize the importance of measuring impact — that it becomes mainstream.
As the head of the EIB’s Social Programme, you meet hundreds of social entrepreneurs every year. What do you think they need the most when they start their journey?
If you were to run a survey among social entrepreneurs you would get a long list of “needs”. I think entrepreneurs in general, and social entrepreneurs in particular, need to be very resilient. It is a very long journey and most of the time (not to say always) the road ahead is quite bumpy. This takes a toll on your energy levels and, ultimately, on your life. So mental health and well-being is an important topic that is almost always neglected. Only recently have I started seeing reference to it. So, I would echo Jake Chapman’s words that “Investors and entrepreneurs need to address the mental health crisis in startups” | TechCrunch. Why not, as he proposes, allow that “a portion of financing rounds […] be earmarked for the founders themselves and investors should hold founders accountable for investing in their well-being and development.”
Luisa is excited to participate at the CEE4Impact Day. As she said, this is the first event as such in the region and it is about a very important topic.
“We have one SIT Alumnus in the programme (Vortex Bladeless, Spain) and that is something that is always special. I am also excited to listen to Charly Kleissner and his keynote about the role of impact investing in the midst of the new challenges we are facing now. He is such an inspiring speaker and individual, and his international perspective will set the stage for the conference.”
Join us on the 14th October 2022, at Budapest Music Center, where you can meet Luisa Ferreira and the key players of the CEE impact ecosystem. It will be a place to get inspired and change perspectives!
At the CEE4Impact Day we will explore the power of impact investing in an international environment, with international speakers and presenters coming from the CEE/V4 region, seeing what the trends are, where the gaps need to be filled and in what manner.
Agenda and tickets: www.thbe.hu/konferencia