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