Shari Berenbach, former President and CEO
Shari Berenbach joined Calvert Foundation in 1997 with the goal of popularizing community investment as a new asset class. While at Calvert Foundation, the organization has grown from $5 million to $500 million in assets under management, mobilizing capital from more than 7,500 investors. A leader in the community investment industry, Shari’s 30 years of professional experience spans microcredit to international business. In September 2010, Shari made the difficult decision to leave Calvert Foundation after more than 13 years of service. Read more about her departure here.
Prior to joining Calvert Foundation, Shari led finance projects for the International Finance Corporation. These projects, based mainly in Central America and the Caribbean, channeled more than $250 million to banking, power, telecommunications, tourism, and agribusiness.
Shari began her professional career as an Officer of the National Cooperative Bank, where she was responsible for technical services to U.S. production cooperatives. She later served as Program Director for the non-governmental organization, Partnership for Productivity International. As a pioneer in the microfinance field, Shari worked in over two dozen countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Shari has also held private-sector positions at Citibank, Salomon Brothers, and a start-up international telecommunications company, Radio Movil Digital.
Shari has published numerous articles, including a 2007 Investor Toolkit for impact investors, a 1997 study on banking regulation for microfinance institutions worldwide, and a 1991 paper on solidarity group lending methods. Shari serves on the Community Development Advisory Committee of the Richmond Federal Reserve, the Finance Committee of the Needmor Fund and the boards of Washington Grantmakers, CDFI Coalition, Community Wealth Ventures, and MMA Community Development Investments.
Shari has an MBA in Finance from Columbia Business School and an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. Shari lives in Bethesda with her husband and daughter.
What/who inspires you?
I am inspired by the real people on the other side of Calvert Foundation’s work. We sometimes can get caught up in the challenges we have in each of our lives, but frankly, what I have to deal with in my daily life – and overcome – is nothing compared to many of the people Calvert Foundation works with. First I am inspired by the organizations we lend to – the front line of the development process. These organizations are often masters at patching together a crazy quilt of support that they weave together to create and deliver programs that really touch people’s lives and support their own development processes. And then of course I am inspired by the many amazing individuals who receive our financing, and despite incredible odds, are able to generate livelihoods that support them, their families, and ultimately their communities. With really so little – food, medicine, savings, shelter, education – it is phenomenal to watch whole lives turn for the better, generating opportunity where there had been despair. I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world to have this job – and to have the privilege to be part of a virtuous cycle.
What is something you would like to see happen in the next 10 years?
Two recent films were really wake-up calls for me because they talked about issues that I had assumed didn’t really pertain to me: “An Inconvenient Truth,” which addresses climate change, and “Food Inc.,” which exposes our disastrous food system. It used to be that I thought that climate change and food systems were someone else’s cause (while I was busy working on poverty alleviation). Now, I see that this is all connected and that no one is immune from the impact of climate change. In fact, poorer families are all the more at risk. On the food system front, I have gotten used to cheap and convenient food all year round. Grapes in November – no problem. Strawberries in February – why of course. Our food system is unsustainable and causes great environmental degradation and serious health issues – again, affecting the low-income communities we care so much about. I believe we are likely to see some real changes over the next 10 years. I would like to see more sustainable, healthy lifestyles – not just for the rich, but for all of us!
What are you most proud of professionally?
I joined Calvert Foundation in 1997 when the whole idea of what we were trying to do was quite new. The very idea of using capital as a tool to end poverty – and making it accessible convenient for individuals to invest in communities – was a wild and wacky idea. I always said that the fundamental challenge Calvert Foundation had to effect was to popularize community investment – where the capital is directly used to improve economic opportunity – and to have this become a permanent part of the financial markets. We have come a long way towards this goal!