LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- Jean Case is upbeat about the future of impact investment.
In an interview with TheStreet.com at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles, the co-founder and CEO of the Case Foundation said "it's exciting times" for impact investing.
"There's an unbelievable acceleration and momentum in the sector," Case said.
Case launched the 18-year-old philanthropic organization with her husband Steve Case, founder of the once pioneering Internet company AOL, which later merged with Time Warner (TWX). The Case Foundation aims to support socially and environmentally minded organizations and programs worldwide.
The power couple has been at the forefront of not only investing their own organization's money in worthy causes, but also in encouraging other major investors to do the same.
The annual Milken Conference brings together business and thought leaders to discuss a wide range of issues. The event is among the high points of the year at the Milken Institute, a think tank created by former investment banker Michael Milken.
The Case Foundation recently made a $2 billion pledge to impact investment initiatives. But Case was also buoyed by a commitment from major financial services groups, such as Black Rock and Bain Capital to also become active in this area.
"We've seen big finance moving into the space," Case said. "It's been a big year in getting some traction.
Case said that this is largely because there is an increased understanding of impact investment -- how to become involved and the potential benefits. She said that such insight will grow as awareness increases in the investment community.
"In movements we've been a part of in the past, we would be in the early days," Case said. "People are comfortable waiting until they can get to the point where there's data and models to show them."
Case noted that several large, publicly traded companies have simultaneously also become more cognizant of how their own impact investment initiatives can reflect well on their brands. She cited GE's (GE) Head Health program and Proctor and Gamble's (PG) Tide detergent's move to adopt more environmentally attuned practices similar to those used by Method.
GE created the Head Health program to develop technologies for diagnosing early-stage head injuries and improving brain protection. Privately held Method creates personal care and cleaning products from non-toxic ingredients.
Case said that smaller companies in the technology sector were also generating a number of impact investment opportunities. This is particularly so in education. "Tech is an empowering tool, and we see this playing out probably no better than in ed tech, where a new generation of entrepreneurs is coming forth, many of them former teachers who saw problems, and like many entrepreneurs, said 'I have a better way to teach students, to help them learn, to address challenges in the classroom,' " Case said.
Case said that impact investment can only succeed for both sides -- investor and business -- when they are clear about an initiative's intent, methods, and the criteria for success. "It's almost a compact that the company and investor have together around 'what are we doing and what can we expect in terms of returns,' " she said.