By Carrie Hutchison, Marketing Manager at Calvert Foundation, @carriehutchi
When he got up to the podium to close out the day’s events at the International Impact Investing Challenge last Friday, Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business, said that the next generation of leaders will succeed because they have “confidence without attitude.” I scribbled this down, as did Paul Solli of Aperio Group, who was sitting next to me. “You like that too,” Paul said. And I realized that this was what made the whole day special: being in a room of people who were smart and caring and, well, confident without a bad or condescending attitude.
Paul and I, along with 15 others in the impact investing arena, served as judges for the International Impact Investing Challenge, put on by the Kellogg School of Management (and largely, the efforts of Jamie Jones – Assistant Director of Social Enterprise there – who has tireless energy and enthusiasm for this field). This is a competition open to graduate school students who submit ideas for investments that will create a financial return while making positive social change in the world. Now in its second year, the Challenge attracted over 40 submissions from student groups, and 11 were chosen by a panel of over 90 judges. Those 11 groups were invited to San Francisco to present. We chose the top four from those 11, and this “final four” presented to a larger audience of about 75 people that afternoon.
The student presentations were thoughtful and impressive – bringing us business solutions to societal/environmental/economic problems around the world, from the lack of electricity in Indonesia, to distressed cattle ranchers in the American Midwest, to women unable to afford educational opportunities in Latin America. The always dynamic Dave Chen, Partner at Equilibrium Capital Group, pointed out that many of these student groups put these ideas and presentations together without guidance from social entrepreneurs or programs that support impact investing at their schools. I am hopeful that this lack of guidance and mentorship is changing. I heard an estimate this past week that there are nearly 5,000 social entrepreneurship classes being taught in the U.S. This is a trend we in the industry – as well as outside, in “traditional” finance and for-profit businesses – need to support. I applaud Kellogg (as well as the San Francisco Federal Reserve and my fellow judges) for creating this competition to recognize and reward those bringing plausible impact investment products to life.
Government is playing an encouraging role here as well. In his keynote address to the larger crowd gathered that afternoon, Jonathan Greenblatt, the Director of the recently created White House Office of Social Innovation, listed a number of initiatives that have been created to support jobs and finance social programs. There is a positive correlation, he pointed out, between civic participation (such as voting, volunteering, donating, etc.,) and improved economic outcomes. In other words, impact investing isn’t just a feel-good activity; it could be a key driver to turning our economy around.
Meet the winners of this year’s Challenge, and find out how you can participate (or encourage students at your alma mater to do so) in 2012, which will likely be in DC. Coincidence? Jonathan Greenblatt would probably say not.