Impact Investing: A Focus for Higher Ed

by Jeramy Lund

We all tend to be in self-reinforcing circles of information these days. But, the idea of impact investing entering the mainstream seems to be a uniting vision among various stakeholders. As a Harvard Business School alum and because of my work at Sorenson Impact, I have recently joined an alumni impact investing group at HBS. HBS hired Margaret Busse, a fellow 2001 alum, to lead its launch. Mark Kahn (HBS ’06) of Omnivore Partners, Margaret and I have formed the executive committee for this new endeavor, which has a larger steering committee and a mission to help better connect and expand the field of impact investing. 

While the group is in its early stages, given the depth and breadth of talent in the steering committee alone, this is a team that can fundamentally help shape the conversation around impact investing on a global scale.

When we were students, HBS had social enterprise offerings, mostly geared around the successful business underpinnings of running a not-for-profit. Now, HBS is looking to further understand impact investing on several fronts, including exploring what its alumni are doing in the field.

This mirrors a common spirit with our pursuits at Sorenson Impact at the University of Utah, where I am the Managing Director of Impact Investing. Sorenson Impact was established in 2008 with a gift from James Lee Sorenson to further the practice of impact investing. The then-called Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center had a laser focus on first-class student training in financial due diligence. The students served foundations and other investors by performing due diligence on direct impact investments.

The program was modeled off the University Venture Fund, which pairs student teams with professional management to develop robust due diligence packages on companies at a lower cost than a “professional” consulting shop. At the same time, the fund provides a best-in-class experiential education opportunity for the students involved. 

From this beginning, the Center has morphed from two professionals assisting the student teams in doing due diligence on private companies to a full-time staff of 30 employees—still doing due diligence—but also having expertise in green fixed income, impact measurement, pay-for-success transaction structuring and evaluation, academics, and a team of data scientists to support all of these initiatives. Similar to the HBS alumni steering committee, this is a group that can fundamentally help shape the conversation around impact investing on a global scale.

My hope is that I’m not just sitting in a self-reinforcing bubble but rather that these increased efforts by leading academic institutions signal a true growth in interest in the field of impact investing. While I admit this is somewhat self-serving, I also truly believe shifting more capital to companies attempting to solve social problems—with an eye toward profit and sustainability—not only can make the world a better place, but it can reduce volatility in our business cycles by aligning capital with needs, as opposed to wants. 

I, along with my colleagues, look forward to watching what happens from here.

Lisa Cox
Student Spotlight: Sandra Octaviani

Meet one of our many shining Impact Fellows, Sandra Octaviani.

Sandra has been at the Center since the fall of 2016. She is a global citizen, having lived in Canada, Singapore, Germany, and Indonesia before moving to Salt Lake City to pursue graduate studies.

Affiliation: MBA student, David Eccles School of Business, The University of Utah
Concentration: No official concentration, but I take mostly finance electives.
Anticipated graduation: May 2018
Undergraduate degree: B.A. in Economics from Western University (Canada)

Why and how did you become involved with Sorenson Impact? 
I wanted to do work that is meaningful and that is a personal expression of my values, passion, and commitment to the betterment of business.

What is the most interesting project you've worked on at the Center?
I did due diligence on this really interesting biotech company that is tackling a cure for HIV.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
I have no idea! But probably something related to finance and entrepreneurship.

What are you passionate about?
Sustainable food and agriculture, clean energy, eradication of poverty, and space exploration—like using satellites to improve global internet service, colonizing Mars, and discovering new planets—it's kind of crazy, but I find it so interesting!

Do you have a favorite quote/personal philosophy?
"Grit your teeth and smile."
—Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Who is your idol and why?
My future self.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a messy eater!

Tell us your hobbies.
Rock climbing, hiking, surfing, and reading.

Lisa Cox
The Partner to Truth Is Narrative: An Impact Chat with David Bornstein

by Jack Robinson

In our current public discourse, data and evidence are increasingly being misappropriated or altogether ignored. That is to say, data and evidence are not enough: the narrative that accompanies both is incredibly valuable.

At Sorenson Impact, we pursue a common set of ideals: helping communities identify solutions to persistent problems and taking those solutions to scale. Through this work, we seek to empower communities with not only the tools of “what works” to tackle these problems but also with the resources to sustain this work. Project-by-project, investment-by-investment, we are achieving tangible, meaningful outcomes—but there’s so much potential for these successes to inspire and empower others.

Enter solutions journalism.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the leading voices and advocates for solutions journalism, David Bornstein, co-author of the Fixes column in the New York Times and CEO and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. If standard operating procedure for journalism is to provide an objective, fact-based reporting of events, think of solutions journalism as that plus, here’s someone who found how to resolve the issue and this is what they did. This approach to reporting on the how can call others to action. It can serve as an invaluable mechanism for increasing citizen engagement and strengthening our democratic society.

Think of this as a platform for highlighting the great work of communities. Solutions journalism is not so much the feel-good story portion of the evening news (yes, some days, we all need a bit more of that). It’s the “top-notch story-driven journalism that helps society understand how problems are being addressed,” as David Bornstein wrote in Forbes. It’s “looking at ideas and models that show promise based on evidence and data.”

In the video below, David and I discuss how people holding themselves accountable—a core asset of democracy—is made stronger when we can provide an understanding of the nuts and bolts of how people and providers are doing better. For people to recognize that they can improve, sometimes we need to show that pathways to improvement do indeed exist.

My colleagues and I strive to contribute to solving problems in communities throughout the world, and I am thrilled to know that there are journalists like David who can amplify the voice of the community champions who make these solutions possible.


See more of our Impact Chats here.

Lisa Cox
An Impact Chat on Gender Lens Investing

by Kimberly Venable

I had the privilege of introducing the Impact Investing through a Gender Lens panel at our 2017 Winter Innovation Summit held in January, with Jacki ZehnerJackie VanderBrug, and Robyn Scott. The panel was a crowd-favorite that left the audience wanting more.

Fortunately, Jacki and Jackie also took a moment to sit down with us for an Impact Chat to discuss their views on gender lens investing. In the video, Jackie asserts that "financing feminism is profitable."

As Women's Month comes to a close, I invite you to watch this thought-provoking Impact Chat posted below. And if you're interested in more on gender lens investing, check out Jackie VanderBrug's bookGender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns, and Impact. Also, stay tuned for when we release Robyn Scott's impact chat later this year.


See more of our Impact Chats here.

Lisa Cox
Student Spotlight: Chance Murray

Meet one of our many remarkable Student Fellows, Chance Murray.

Chance has been at the Center since January of 2016. He hails from Utah but most recently called Arlington, Virginia, his home (before returning to his graduate studies).

Affiliation: MBA student, David Eccles School of Business, The University of Utah
Concentration: Finance & Strategy
Anticipated graduation: May 2017
Undergraduate degree: BA and Masters in Accounting from Utah State University

Why and how did you become involved with Sorenson Impact? 
Several professors at the David Eccles School of Business recommended I apply to the Center. I wanted real-life experiences in direct investing while I was going to school. Also, impact investing is a great balance between doing good and making money (to do more good). 

What is the most interesting project you've worked on at the Center?
One of our recent due diligence projects focused on mobile money (fintech) in Latin America. For most of my life I've had an affinity for Latin American culture, and this project gave me the opportunity to analyze how a company could improve financial access for millions of people.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
I want to build businesses, whether from the inside out or outside in.

What is a cause you're passionate about?
Women empowerment.

Do you have a favorite quote/personal philosophy?
Make money, help people, and have fun (my personal motto).

Who is your idol and why?
Right now, it's Adam Brown, a former Navy Seal and member of Seal Team Six. He's a recovered crack addict, father & husband, man of faith, daredevil, and the hardest working person you'll learn of in this decade. He was a gentle warrior, flipping back and forth seemingly at the flip of a switch.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Most people don't know that I'm deathly shy.

Tell us your hobbies.
Cycling, hunting, fishing, tennis; pretty much anything that entails 'outdoorsing.' Also, I love learning about American history.

Lisa Cox
Welcome to Our Think Tank

An Ambitious Agenda

by Jeremy Keele

Since being named President & CEO at Sorenson Impact in January, I’ve reflected on our past accomplishments as well as a number of exciting opportunities for our future. As friends of the Center know, many great minds have contributed to today’s organization. It’s worth reflecting for a moment on the Center’s path—started by our founder, Jim Sorenson—and his remarkable vision to create a center of innovation that directs resources to proven models in the social sector.

In 2001, the University Venture Fund (UVF), the first experiential student venture fund in the country, began training and educating students on social impact investing domestically. Then, in 2013, Jim endowed the Sorenson Global Impact Investing (SGII) Center. SGII built on UVF’s success of offering students training in impact investing due diligence skills—this time for opportunities worldwide. Undergraduate and graduate students were able to advise on tens of millions of dollars in investments every year. Also, in 2013, I helped launch the Policy Innovation Lab with a combination of public and private grants to bring innovative financing tools to governments and nonprofits in order to make measurable social impact.

These groundbreaking platforms are now under one roof: the Sorenson Impact Center.

We focus our energies on three main areas: impact investing, impact measurement, and social sector performance and innovation. The skills we have developed over the years in data analysis, financial structuring and investment, and implementing new, innovative projects and policies uniquely positions us to help our clients and partners make an outsized impact that outlives our involvement.

Along with developing invaluable skills, we have attracted world-class talent. Over the past several years, we’ve built an incredible team of 30 professionals. Our theory of change is to engage with myriad stakeholders to drive impact. This approach has attracted in-house experts in international development; financial markets and tools; nonprofits, philanthropy and government; and data science. 

This exceptional bullpen of professionals enables us to break down common silos, champion the best solutions from each sector, and work together to solve pressing social challenges that impede global progress.

It is my hope that this Think Tank will be a place to hash out new ideas, form connections, and discover different perspectives on important issues.

I invite you to explore our new website and come back often, as we provide updates on the exciting projects we have the privilege of pursuing.

Lisa Cox