A first-hand understanding of impact investing at the Mason School of Business

Last Tuesday, the Finance Club and Net Impact Club welcomed a distinguished a Mason School of Business alumni Sarah Williams ’76, M.B.A. ’78, who spoke on the topic of impact investing. She is currently serving as the Chief Risk Officer of Virginia Community Capital. She spent six years studying and living in Williamsburg, she quickly broke the ice with students by talking about news in Williamsburg.

Impact investing is investment activities in companies, organizations, and funds aiming to generate measurable social and environmental impact along with a financial return. It has been gaining momentum in recent years, and such investors can range from individuals to small and large corporations. Impact investors actively seek to place capital in businesses and funds that can generate the positive power of enterprise. This type of investment can also occur across asset classes, for example private equity or venture capital, debt, and fixed income.

With years of work experience in investment banking and venture capital industry, Sarah has always been on the front tier of the future of impact investing. Her presentation was very interactive; she explained the concept of triple bottom line (e.g. People, Planet, and Profit) to students who are not familiar with the concept. She then went on to elaborate on the shifting trend of the rising number of top corporations in America focusing not only on profitability, but also social impact.

Additionally, Sarah also discussed the importance of local impact in bringing social economic benefit back to the local community. Businesses around the country are coming to the realization that while outsourcing might bring more savings, the overall result could backfire. Outsourcing oftentimes means shedding local jobs, which could lead to a long lasting negative impact on the local community. In recent years, however, more and more business are moving productions back. Business leaders are realizing that localizing production does not only make economic sense with the rising cost of transportation and labor cost overseas, but also, localizing production is brings positive social impact to a local community.

Sarah also addressed second year MBA candidate Guyon McKnight’s question on whether there is demand for impact investing projects. To our surprise, the demand for impact investment is rising so fast that Organizations such as the endowment of University of Virginia is having trouble finding the socially responsible ventures to invest in. Billy Ekofo asked about how impact investing could potentially benefit developing countries around the world? Sarah introduced the concept of micro-financing, a business model that small business owners in developing countries can receive many smaller amounts of funds from many investors. A popular platform of micro financing is Kiva.

Finally, Sarah wrapped up the discussion by encouraging attendees interested in Finance or Corporate Social Responsibility to seek a career in impact investing. I followed her advice and searched for Positions such as Portfolio Manager, or Investors Relationship Manager. It turned out that impact investing is just as multifaceted as a regular career in investment. Overall the presentation was extremely informative and inspiring. I strongly urge all my classmates to learn more about impact investing and possibly starting an interesting and meaningful career.

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Hanyan Wu
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Hanyan Wu is a MBA candidate with the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary.

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