Institutionalization of impact investing through societal management pressures: an action research inquiry

Abstract. Impact investments are emerging as a new asset class of social finance. These investments intend to create positive societal impact beyond a financial return through the development of social enterprises. Scholars have highlighted the conflicting institutional logics that these later hybrid organizations must face when combining social welfare and profitability. Yet we lack in-depth, systemic insight into how impact investing funds are responding to similar pressures and specifically to the pressure to conform to societal performance management. This paper builds on a three year action-research program conducted with Schneider Electric, a multinational enterprise specialized in energy management. The company initiated and sponsored an impact investing fund targeting energy access ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside four Development Finance Institutions. The article is grounded in neo-institutional and resource dependence theories to analyze the perceptions of the fund’s managers’ regarding emerging societal performance management procedures they were urged to adopt. The findings suggest a pattern of responses from the fund’s managers starting with passive conformity to external pressures and eventually turning to more resistive compromise with their own investors through interorganizational arrangements. The paper further asserts the establishment of impact investing as an institution in the making with potentially conflicting but not incompatible logics.