Whenever I have the pleasure of interviewing an impact investing leader, I love to ask if they have an “a-ha moment” that led them to impact, ESG or SRI investing. It's one of my favorite things to ask, and it's one of the things my readers tell me they most enjoy. Below are some of the highlights, with links back to their interviews.
Geeta Aiyer, Boston Common Asset Management
“I had a couple of ‘a-ha’ moments.
The first was with an issue that we now would call “financial materiality of ESG data.” Back in 1992, we didn’t have that term yet. I was an analyst at US Trust Boston, and Albertsons was one of the supermarket stocks that I had recommended. When their competitor, Lucky Stores, settled a class action gender discrimination lawsuit with a landmark judgment of $108 million, that gave me the opportunity to approach Albertsons and ask them what measures they were taking to prevent the same business risk there. By demonstrating that unfair employment practices were a financial liability, we shareholders were able to push Albertsons forward on gender equity policies.
Another a-ha moment- One of my clients, Sister Mary Barrett, SND, asked if we were fighting for board diversity because it was the right thing to do, or because it would make the board and company better? Back then, we were fighting for board diversity to break up the crony capitalist model. The boards we were asking to diversify were full of members who were interconnected and thought about things in the same way. As shareholders, we wanted boards to provide independent oversight. We know now, that improving board and management diversity improves the operating results of the company. And of course, we wanted equity for underrepresented groups. So the answer to her question wasn’t one or the other, it was both.”
Full Interview With Geeta Coming Soon!
John Streur, Calvert
“My a-ha moment was my very first day at Lehman Brothers when I entered financial services over 30 years ago. I got into the business and immediately realized I would be moving around large amounts of money, influencing client and corporate outcomes. The concept of my responsibility as an investor was on my mind and I felt the weight of that responsibility. That weight caused me to build a framework to think about discharging my responsibilities in a manner that put the clients’ interest first. At the end of the day, I think that putting the clients’ interest first is what Responsible Investing really is.”
Cat Berman, CNote
“The first time I saw how an investment could deliver tremendous social good was many years ago when I was offered the opportunity to invest in a for-profit social venture making energy products available to the world's 1-billion off-the-grid customers. I was mesmerized. How amazing that I could be part of an incredible social mission - not as a donor, but as an investor. My investment helped showcase that this for-profit company not only had a deep social impact, but also a creative and sustainable business model. Supporting individuals and companies outside of philanthropy felt like a natural way to open more capital for strong organizations that were solving real societal problems; I’ve been a fan of impact investing ever since.”
Pat Tomaino, Zevin Asset Management
“In the course of a shareholder engagement with Abercrombie & Fitch early in my career. When I initially wrote to A&F to address working conditions in their supply chain, the company ignored me. They were completely dismissive. But my follow up shareholder proposal pressed the company to finally publish a code of labor standards for its supply chain factories. Seeing the process from beginning to end made me realize that using shareholder rights can re-focus companies on problematic practices and accelerate change.”
Gloria Nelund, TriLinc Global
“As a full time career endeavor it has only been since 2008 when I started TriLinc; however, I have always been a believer in it – even before it had a label. Growing up in Ohio with a father who was a business owner, it just made sense to me that you would make better returns if you invested in “good companies” with quality management teams and ethical business practices, and who gave back to their communities. So, in the late 90s when I had the opportunity to support the development of a socially-responsible investment (SRI) product at Scudder, I was excited. It wasn’t that easy though - as you know, it really hasn’t been until the past few years that you could easily get the information needed to make that analysis.
Then, when I was at Deutsche Bank, a leading institutional supporter of microcredit, I led the effort to create multiple programs to help Private Wealth Management clients learn about and invest in the sector. I also served on the Board of the Deutsche Bank Americas Community Development Group, which provided loans, investments and grants to targeted organizations throughout the U.S. and Latin America.”
Betsy Moszeter, Green Alpha Advisors
I’d like to say that my transition to impact investing was one of brilliance, but it wasn’t. It was one of pure luck. After spending 15 years on the traditional side of asset management in both Boston and Washington, DC, I had grown tired of the east coast culture that requires extra-long days in the office; and I was tired of a long commute. Meanwhile, I had a friend in Boulder who always got to leave the office at 5pm and was out hiking by 5:15, while I was still in the office on the east coast at 7pm. Hiking is my favorite activity and I was ready to make a change, so in 2013 I sold my stake in my asset management firm, left DC, and moved to Boulder!
It turns out that Boulder is quite a hub of impact investing, second only to the Bay Area, as you know so well, Sonya! When I started looking for investing jobs in the Boulder area, I discovered impact investing. In my research process I was overwhelmed by the evidence about impact investing- how it can outperform over the long-term, the material impact it can have on the economy, and the myriad of options investors have. Once I knew the facts, transitioning to impact investing was a clear choice for me.
Kristin Hull, Nia Impact Capital
“I have been exposed to finance and entrepreneurship since I was in high school. Being involved with my father’s trading firm had me talking puts, calls and futures from an early age, yet I didn’t catch on to the power of investing to create positive outcomes until later. In 2007, at the Global Philanthropy Forum I first heard of the concept of using a foundation’s endowment as a tool to enhance or propel forward the grant's mission. That moment was a big ah-ha for me, and that day I started paving my path forward in aligning assets with values, and with our vision for the world in which we want to live. 2007 was the year I oversaw the creation of the nation’s first 100% impact invested foundation endowment. In 2010, I moved from President and Chair of the Board of a family foundation, to launching my own Impact Investment firm.”