“A better way”: Q&A with Impact Investment Partners' Chris Croker July 2019

Chriscroker

Chris Croker is managing director and one of the founding partners of Impact Investment Partners. Impact IP assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities better share in the economic and business opportunities on their land or in their communities through linking them with investors. Chris tells Industry Moves about Impact IP’s recently launched Indigenous Infrastructure Investment Fund and how funds like this can address social issues in Australia. He also shares a glimpse into his 21-year-old self.

What drew you to Impact Investment Partners?

I’m one of the founding partners of Impact Investment Partners (Impact IP). Working with our other directors we set up Impact IP in 2014. Our original vision was to provide a ‘better way’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to participate or share in the economic benefits of business opportunities and investments that are happening on their land or in their community.

Can you tell us a little about IIP?

Impact Investment Partners (Impact IP) is a specialist infrastructure investment manager that applies social impact principles to large-scale commercial investments. Our executive team and board members have hands-on experience in infrastructure execution, construction and operations. Our Investment Committee also has a depth of experience in investment advisory, private equity, and Australian and international infrastructure funds management.

Since 2014, Impact IP has been delivering a range of consulting and advisory services to Australian state and territory governments, investors and Indigenous communities. We have contributed to policy development in respect to Aboriginal self-determination, regional infrastructure development and community housing investments. Impact IP has also built a large network of Indigenous community leaders and senior expert advisers in Indigenous affairs and advised on several large Indigenous infrastructure projects.

"Our original vision was to provide a ‘better way’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to participate or share in the economic benefits of business opportunities and investments that are happening on their land or in their community."

In 2017, Impact IP worked to secure one of Australia’s first Indigenous investments in a $20 million renewable energy project in Western Australia. We advised on a $14 million sewerage sludge treatment system in Western Australia that will provide significant cost savings and economic impact for Aboriginal communities. Impact IP has also provided commercial advisory services to Victorian rural Aboriginal communities for business case development, feasibility assessments, prioritisation analysis and support in the negotiation of financial investment and economic development agreements.

Why did you decide to launch the Indigenous Infrastructure Investment Fund (IIIF)?

The IIIF grew from our experience in providing business and strategic advice to Indigenous communities and investigating investment opportunities for Indigenous communities over the past three years. The IIIF is a great investment opportunity; the fund will target investments that close an essential service gap for Indigenous communities (e.g. reliable energy, safe drinking water, suitable health and education) that align to UNSD (United Nations Sustainable Development) goals. While the investments are social impact investments, they will all achieve good commercial returns for all investors and significant social benefits, directly for Indigenous people, but indirectly for the country as a whole. One of the crucial aspects of the fund is that over time, a majority of the funds invested will come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander investors – allowing these investors to own the outcomes and successes of the many investments directly.

"While the investments are social impact investments, they will all achieve good commercial returns for all investors and significant social benefits, directly for Indigenous people, but indirectly for the country as a whole."

What kind of assets will the fund invest in?

The IIIF is focused on unlisted high-quality infrastructure and social infrastructure assets in Australia, that deliver social and economic impact for Indigenous communities and that provide investors with stable long-term returns.

Currently, we have a dual investment strategy that focuses on investing in electricity generating assets across Northern Australia and investing in health and aligned social infrastructure in the south-east.

Do you have any initial investments you can tell us about yet?

An investment that we are currently working on is the creation of a new medical hub or super-clinic in a rural NSW town. The project is pretty exciting as it provides a community hub that is a central asset to the local Aboriginal community that allows more efficient and effective health care to be delivered to all community members – both Aboriginal and the wider community.

"An investment that we are currently working on is the creation of a new medical hub or super-clinic in a rural NSW town."

How has the fundraising process been? What kind of investors are you targeting?

While there is a lot of interest in the IIIF and fund-raising is progressing well, the process is slow. Social impact funds are typically foundations or non-commercial, some investors have limited experience with investing in Infrastructure – as Infra investments usually are substantial and only the realm of large pension and superannuation funds, and some investors have reservations about an open-ended fund, so most investors require some education of the benefits of investing in funds like the IIIF.

Because of this, we are targeting wholesale investors that are either already aligned with ESG (Environmental, social and governance) goals, are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander investors or are already experienced with infrastructure investments.

Do you think we need more funds like this in Australia?

Funds that focus on direct ESG or social benefits will continue to grow in Australia. More and more investors (or super members) are looking to ensure that their investments “do no harm” or even “positively address social needs”. Moreover, when we consider the current issues faced by Indigenous communities, multi-cultural communities or even the wider disadvantaged communities, there are many opportunities to ‘positively address social needs’ in Australia.

And a little bit about yourself…

Why did you decide to take this role?

When we were discussing the potential of setting up IIP, I was excited by the opportunity to apply both my business experience and deep understanding of Aboriginal social issues. I felt there was a real opportunity to collaboratively develop a better way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to actively shape and directly participate in our economic futures.

Did you have a mentor growing up?

My younger brother – Alan, was a great mentor in a way. He taught me to always listen to others, never give up and relax. Alan has worked very hard all his life but still has time to laugh with others.

What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Living for today is good, but you really should start thinking about tomorrow and the day after.

View Chris Croker's profile Read more about the Indigenous Infrastructure Investment Fund (IIIF)