Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 449–475 | Cite as

What’s in a Name: An Analysis of Impact Investing Understandings by Academics and Practitioners

  • Anna Katharina HöchstädterEmail author
  • Barbara Scheck


Recently, there has been much talk of impact investing. Around the world, specialized intermediaries have appeared, mainstream financial players and governments have become involved, renowned universities have included impact investing courses in their curriculum, and a myriad of practitioner contributions have been published. Despite all this activity, conceptual clarity remains an issue: The absence of a uniform definition, the interchangeable use of alternative terms and unclear boundaries to related concepts such as socially responsible investment are being criticized. This article aims to contribute to a better understanding of impact investing, which could help foster this specific investment style and guide further academic research. To do so, it investigates a large number of academic and practitioner works, highlighting areas of similarity and inconsistency on three levels: definitional, terminological, and strategic. Our research shows that, on a general level, heterogeneity—especially definitional and strategic—is less pronounced than expected. Yet, our research also reveals critical issues that need to be clarified to advance the field and increase its credibility. First and foremost, this includes the characteristics required of impact investees, notably whether they need to be (social sector) organizations that prioritize their non-financial mission over the business side. Our results indicate that there may be different schools of thoughts concerning this matter.


Impact investing Social enterprise investment Social finance Social impact investment Social investment Socially responsible investment SRI 



Bottom of the Pyramid


Community Interest Company


Corporate social responsibility


Environmental, social, and governance


Global Impact Investing Network


Impact Reporting and Investment Standards


Socially responsible investment



The article has been greatly improved thanks to comments by Timo Busch, Judith Mayer and an anonymous reviewer of this journal.


£ The analyzed academic contributions are indicated by use of a pound sign. * The analyzed practitioner contributions are indicated by use of an asterisk

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universität HamburgHamburgGermany

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