The Olympics officially open today in Rio de Janiero. Whilst political and economic turmoil in Brazil and the outbreak of the Zika virus have overshadowed and at times even threatened these games, the first ever in Latin America, a more recent cloud has been the Russian athletes and the reactions of various authorities to apparently proven allegations of state-sponsored doping. In the UK, many have clamoured for the banning of the entire Russian team, as a means of “getting tough”, “cracking down” and in varying terms, acting in a way which will discourage others. Banning is the ultimate sanction we use in such circumstances – short of violence.
When I had the privilege of attending the Lisbon meeting of the Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group (GSG) a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the meeting I also attended of the G8 Social Investment Task Force Plenary (G8 SITF) in London in July 2015. On both occasions I found myself asking, “Where is Russia?” As they are a member of the G8, I was always bemused by the fact that somehow Russia was out and Australia was in. Nothing against Australia, mind you, but the G8 is the G8! Now I have no idea why Russia was not there – asked a few people who seemed not to know. It is quite possible they were invited and did not attend of their own accord.
What was impressive was that many new countries were involved in the 2016 meeting in Lisbon – Mexico, Portugal (the host), Israel, Portugal and India. The world of impact investment, and in general, is enriched by the inclusion of many differing voices, and these five added a great deal to the meeting. Russia’s absence disturbed me, whatever the explanation. A world where pariah states come to exist, even if their behaviour brings it on themselves, is less appealing to me than one in which all countries continue to meet and we endeavour to improve behaviour through engagement.
Another absence from the two meetings was any country with a predominantly Muslim population. I myself would have particularly welcomed hearing an insight into how such countries are approaching impact investment. In particular, I would be keen to see how Sharia Law impacts on the funding and enterprise models. Again, I do not know how many were invited to join and what efforts were undertaken in this direction. But, in a world where western anti-Muslim feelings are increasing, in part as a reaction to atrocities linked to those claiming religious inspiration, I feel it is important to work doubly hard to engage. A positive force, such as impact investment, could become a key bridge between communities, acting in a useful way to counter-balance the forces of exclusion, anger and hostility.
This is why I am delighted that 70% of Russian athletes (over 270 according to the BBC) have been allowed to compete in the Brazil Olympics, despite state-sponsored doping. It might even be the case that some crooked athletes compete and win. But against that, it also means that innocent Russian athletes are not penalised so the “international community” can make a point at their expense. And overriding all of this is my strong desire to act against what I see as global entropy – where all around the world nations seem to be pulling apart, vigorously acting against each other in pursuit of their narrow interests. Having a first Latin American Olympics is, by contrast, a positive act against entropy – by bringing a unifying global event to a new stage.
I think that impact investment can and must play a role in counteracting this worrying trend. As the leading forum in the global movement I am hopeful that the GSG moves to engage, broaden and further diversify its membership base. The stakes are high.