Catholic Impact Profile: Ascension

Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization dedicated to transformation through innovation across the continuum of care. As the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, Ascension is committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. Our Mission, Vision, and Values guide everything we do at our 2,500 sites of care in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

In fiscal year 2016, Ascension provided $1.8 billion in care of persons living in poverty and other community benefit programs. Our investment portfolio is vital to providing this level of support to those in need. Equally important is our commitment to uphold our Catholic Values and Mission as we seek investment returns. To this end, we have allocated a portion of our investment portfolio to impact investments that we believe will align with our Catholic heritage.

The concept of impact investing was introduced to our executive leadership in 2013 and was described as an investment approach that not only avoids investments that violate our core principles, but also actively seeks to further a social responsibility mission. According to Pope Francis, financiers have the potential to use their resources to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people, and impact investing is one way that investors can "have positive social repercussions on local communities." In his speech to participants of a June 2014 conference at the Vatican on impact investing, Pope Francis discussed the need for this type of investing to promote social good. Ascension agrees and has been using impact investing since 2014 as a way to help people in need while also seeking a return on investment. We dedicated a portion of our allocation to private investments specifically to fund impact investments, initially committing $15 million in September 2014 and committing an additional $6.5 million in December 2015.

The impact portion of our investment portfolio is centered on investments that are expected to have a social and/or environmental impact. Investments with a social impact objective are designed to improve access to certain social goods and services that are deemed to be basic human rights and that may not be available (or may be available only on a limited or inadequate basis) to the poor and vulnerable. Examples include health and health care, clean water, food and nutrition, financial services, as well as adequate and affordable housing and education. Investments with an environmental impact objective target environmental stewardship, particularly those having a track record of excellent performance in environmental conservation and/or a focus on innovative “green” products, services or processes, such as clean technologies. Our investments are intended to align with these objectives, as well as target a return that would be reasonable for a traditional private investment. Our assets were placed in six investments over a two-year period: an emerging markets food fund; technology-focused food and agribusiness fund; Latin American low/middle income housing fund; African renewable energy investment; emerging markets-focused financial services fund; and an East African healthcare/pharmaceutical investment.

An example of one of Ascension's impact investments in Africa

An example of one of Ascension's impact investments in Africa

We feel that impact investing is a natural partnership of our investment portfolio and Mission. For example, as part of our impact allocation, we participated in a direct investment in an African-based pharmacy. The company provides trusted pharmaceuticals to 600,000 customers from convenient locations across East Africa. The company has quickly grown to reach 19 locations, with a total reach of 1.2 million people. The pharmacy was recently endorsed by The Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya as a best pharmacy practice in the country; a testament to its ongoing commitment to excellence in pharmacy practice. It is both widely recognized and trusted as a brand that delivers quality medication in a market where substandard and counterfeit medication are yet to be rooted out. The company’s goal is to expand to over 100 stores by 2021, reaching over 5.5 million consumers and creating over 700 jobs. Looking ahead, it is Ascension’s intention that impact investing remain part of our overall strategic asset allocation. We have already designated another $20 million to make additional impact investments.

We have found a significant challenge to impact investing is the ability to measure the impact generated by the investments over time. The funds in which our assets are invested provide impact measurement data at least annually to help us evaluate the impact of our investment. We also meet with other impact investors several times a year to deliberate on the topic of measurement and discuss the impact investment landscape in general. We acknowledge that the ability to determine the impact generated by these investments could take substantial time. We hope to work collaboratively with others in the impact investor community to develop standardized processes and best practices for accurately measuring the impact these investments are making.