How to accelerate impact investing

Interview by Phillip W. Fisher, founder of Mission Throttle in suburban Detroit, dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in communities; and Douglas Bitonti Stewart, executive director of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, whose mission is to enrich humanity by strengthening and empowering children and families in need.

Fran Seegull is president of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, which works to increase awareness of impact investing in the United States; foster the deployment of impact capital across asset classes globally; and partner with stakeholders, including government, to build the impact investing ecosystem. Seegull also serves as the executive director of the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing, a donor collaborative focused on scaling the field with impact integrity.

Previously, Seegull was the chief investment officer and managing director of ImpactAssets, where she headed investment management for The Giving Fund — now a $3 billion impact investing donor-advised fund. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Barnard College and an MBA from Harvard University. She serves on the investment committee of Align Impact and the advisory boards of SOCAP and the CASE i3 Initiative at Duke University. Seegull joins many others in reimagining capitalism in the future.

What’s your background in leading the nation’s premier field-building organization committed to accelerating impact investing?

My journey into impact investing began nearly 25 years ago at Harvard Business School. I was working in family philanthropy as a program officer for the Peter Norton Foundation (established after the success of the Norton AntiVirus program), and we were making grants in very innovative, creative ways, especially for the time.

Eventually, I started thinking about how the endowment was invested and whether it was consciously or unconsciously invested at cross purposes to the foundation’s mission. That’s what led me to business school: my desire to explore how the financial capital markets and for-profit business models could create positive and measurable social, economic and environmental impact alongside financial returns.

At the time, Harvard Business School was rooted in the Milton Friedman model of neoliberalism, where the purpose of a corporation was understood to be about maximizing shareholder value. I believed this view was fallacious because it failed to account for businesses’ negative and positive externalities.

Since graduating from Harvard, I’ve been running, consulting or investing for impact through mission-driven businesses and/or funds. I also serve as executive director of the Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing (TPF), a donor collaborative and sister organization to the U.S. Impact Investment Alliance. The two organizations share a mission of growing the impact investing field with integrity. Whereas the Alliance employs public policy advocacy, investor engagement and field building, the TPF utilizes grantmaking to move the dial.

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Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-staffed Foundations

Seeking to increase their philanthropic impact, many engaged foundations are turning to impact investing. The reason is clear: The field and practice of impact investing have matured—structures are in place, best practices have emerged, and opportunities have multiplied—enabling more foundations to use this powerful tool.

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‘Saving trees and saving lives’: Urban Ashes expands nationally with the help of ex-inmates

During an early September 1988 morning, Calvin Evans and a friend set out on what was supposed to be a routine drug run.

But the deal suddenly went south. The acquaintance they were buying from stole their dope, leading Evans’ friend to shoot and kill the man. The Mt. Clemens police hit Evans, then 18 years old, with a second-degree murder charge.

While Evans maintains he wasn’t the shooter, he doesn’t deny a role in the crime, and he admits that he “lived by the code of the street” and existed in a desperate situation likely to end with his own death or a life sentence.

Thus, he considered the 25- to 40-years he received for the murder a sort of blessing in disguise that forced him to assess his life.

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Michigan can be global laboratory for new ways to solve old problems

I think most people would agree that Michigan is on the rebound. In Detroit, where I live, new restaurants are popping up on a weekly basis, national retailers are moving in, and corporations are opening new offices. This hint of change in the Pure Michigan air is still polluted, however, by many of the same intractable issues — homelessness, unequal access to education and food, and environmental degradation, to name a few.

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A Way for Local Businesses to Grow

ON Tuesday, Michigan became the first state in the country to enact a law allowing the modern equivalent of a local stock market. The Michigan Investment Markets bill went little noticed. But it revives a forgotten American tradition that once fueled economic growth — and perhaps could again.

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What’s the Future for Impact Investing

If the world is to solve its huge environmental and social problems, it’s going to take more than government spending and private philanthropy. These sources can bring in billions of dollars, but what’s really needed is trillions—the sort of money only business and the markets can provide.

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Impact investing: What’s in it for your nonprofit?

Are you a nongovernmental organization wondering how to benefit from impact investors? You are not alone. The Nonprofit Finance Fund recently surveyed U.S. nonprofits, and 20 percent of respondents said they will be seeking funding other than grants and contracts — such as loans and other types of investments — within the next year. In addition, 26 percent are considering pursuing an earned income venture as a way to diversify their sources of revenue. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Global investors are expected to commit 19 percent more capital to impact investments this year than they did in 2013, according to a joint study from JP Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network. A growing percentage of their portfolio is projected to be deployed to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia as well.

It’s safe to assume that impact investing will play an increasingly important role in the funding of organizations involved in making an impact in developing countries. While the appeal of impact investing is undeniable, nonprofits should know that taking investors on board is a major step, and implies a vast number of changes in the way their organization operates — changes that might conflict with their mission. When would it make sense, then, to transition to a revenue-generating model and when would it be better to remain a “traditional” nonprofit? This guide will hopefully allow you to get a better sense of what impact investing means for your organization.

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The state of social entrepreneurship in Detroit

In recent years, Detroit has been the setting of several prominent business success stories, from the growth of restaurants like Slows Bar-B-Q to the rise of high-end watch manufacturer Shinola. These profitable companies have contributed to and benefited from the Detroit revival narrative and we are all familiar with their stories.

But there is a growing number of Detroit business ventures concerned with more than simply making products and earning profits, and their success is equally as important to Detroit’s future as that of traditional businesses. They’re called “social enterprises,” and their story deserves the same amount attention we give to traditional business development in the city.

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