Jessica Student's blog
"3 Questions With" is a blog series that was launched in October 2019 by Net Impact, as a way to inspire our network of social impact leaders by interviewing influential members in the sustainability and social impact space. The series asks friends of Net Impact to explore three key areas: "the path to here", "today's impact", and "looking ahead." We hope you are inspired by those featured in this new series. If you are interested in being interviewed for the series or to nominate someone you are inspired by, please send an email to email@example.com, with Three Questions in the subject line.
Name: Lucas Turner-Owens
Role: Fund Manager, The Boston Ujima Project
Currently working on: There are several unique elements of our investment process, starting with the fact that each business we consider for investment has to be named by community members as a business that they love. In order to be admitted to the Ujima Business Alliance, each business must meet the minimum requirement in 36 categories of social and environmental impact. Once admitted, they can apply for investment from the Ujima Fund.
Currently, I am working on creating a report and video that will go out to our membership which outlines the first investment opportunity for the Ujima Fund. The report outlines the business’s mission, team, revenue model, cost structure, and growth plan. It is the job of Ujima’s voting membership to ultimately decide what the fund should invest in by reaching a majority vote with a quorum of 51% member participation.
Today we have over 250 voting members, and I am excited to see how they experience the first investment opportunity to emerge from our democratic process.
Q1: THE PATH TO HERE | Was there a defining moment in your life/career that brought you to this role or company?
"When I was 16 years old I volunteered with a local Boston grassroots organization called Alternatives for Community & Environment. I would stand in Mattapan Square and count the number of high-polluting commercial diesel trucks that drove through our community as a part of a study to see if commercial vehicles were disproportionately polluting working-class communities of color. Unsurprisingly they were, and we were able to convince the city of Boston to pay for air filters to be placed on the fleet of vehicles most responsible for the pollution and bad air quality in our community. That experience inspired me to try and shape policy through real grassroots organizing.
After graduating from college, I moved to Washington D.C. to work as a public policy analyst for a national nonprofit combatting wealth inequality and worked as an advocate for policies that would strengthen the social safety net. After doing this work from 2012-2016, I was hungry for more hands-on work and began volunteering as a one-on-one business consultant for 2 worker-owned cooperatives based in D.C. Following that experience, I came back to Boston in 2016 to begin work as a consultant for large nonprofits, and foundations.
What led me into this role at Ujima was my background and experience, but also my excitement about how Ujima does not make decisions on behalf of community members but instead moves in solidarity with community members. To take the position that the community knows best what it needs and will make the best decisions for itself is a simple premise that is radically unique within our field. Ujima’s members are investors, organizers, artists, educators, and business-owners and collectively each one of them shapes Ujima’s future when they show up to participate and vote in our ecosystem."
Q2: TODAY'S IMPACT | What impact is your company/industry/space creating?
At the heart of the Ujima ecosystem is the democratically managed Ujima Fund. Every Ujima member is given one vote to decide what the Fund should invest in, regardless of whether they are investors or the size of the investment they make. So far, the Fund has raised over $1M and will be invested in small business and affordable housing investments made over the next 5 years.
In addition to the Ujima Fund, the Boston Ujima Project is also doing incredible work. 9 distinct member-led groups work through open meetings each month to advance other components of our work. One such group is focused on mobilizing faith, healthcare, and higher education institutions to shift their spending to local vendors of color who are in the Ujima Business Alliance and asking them to invest directly into the Ujima Fund.
Additionally, last year, Ujima held 4 Assemblies for members where over 550 individuals came out to tell us the businesses they loved, needed and wanted to see replaced in their communities. At these four neighborhood and citywide assemblies, Ujima members also voted on the structure of the Ujima Fund (on specific issues like collateral requirements and the interest rate range the Fund should charge as a lender), as well as the social and environmental impact standards we would use to assess each business.
Aside from the assemblies and weekly open meetings, Ujima also has Black Trust: The Chuck Turner Arts + Lecture series which brings in painters, playwrights, DJ’s, professors, and other professionals to share the stage and share their gifts with the Ujima community. We have also had open mic events and a dance party because this work needs to be rooted in building the new world we want to see, and not only decrying the things we want to see undone.
All of these events, and inroads into the work help to make Ujima a truly member-led organization.
Q3: LOOKING AHEAD | What excites you most about the future of your work?
I am most excited to see Ujima’s members vote on the first investment opportunity this fall. Following that, I look forward to continuing the diligence process with other companies so that I can continue to present new investment reports and videos for our members to engage with. I think the experience of receiving this information and then making a vote, will be a unique and powerful experience of democratic control over something as immediate as helping a business down the street from you renovate their store. To hold the company overview in your hands, interface with the owner by asking them questions, and then ultimately see the impact of your vote on a real business in your community, is a feeling that I am proud to be able to bring to our members.
Lucas Turner-Owens will be leading a session at the 2019 Net Impact Conference in Detroit, MI on Friday, October 25th, called "Community & Collaboration: Assets for Change". The session will explore how organizations are using community capitals to develop assets for positive change by exploring frameworks around human, social, and financial resources. Register today and join this important conversation.
To learn more about Lucas Turner-Owens, visit his LinkedIn page and connect. To learn more about The Boston Ujima Project, visit their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.
Net Impact is not a political organization, nor do we believe that climate change is political but rather supported science. The climate strike movement, inspired by Greta Thunberg, has spread rapidly across the world in the last 12 months, and rightfully so. Strikers are demanding that governments step up to take urgent action to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown by phasing out fossil fuels, accelerating the urgent transition to a 100% renewable energy powered world with climate justice and equity at its core.
On September 20th, three days before the UN Climate Summit in New York City, young people, companies (including many Net Impact sponsors and friends), and their supporters will strike all across the US and the globe, to demand transformative action be taken to address the climate crisis. It is core to the Net Impact mission to inspire and equip emerging leaders to foment a just and sustainable world. As an international campus-based and professional chapter organization with over 135,000 members, part of leadership amongst this community is in the personal choice to participate in activities aligned with your personal mission, your perceived purpose.
To the members and partners of Net Impact aligned with this position, the organization supports and commends you in your action towards addressing climate change on this day and beyond.
Net Impact is an advocate of civil discourse on topics related to sustainability and welcomes all genuine and transparent participants to discussion with the objective of better understanding and progress. It is Net Impact’s position that business can be a force for good and that there is a social contract amongst corporations and varied stakeholders, including community, employees, supply chain partners, and shareholders, to drive economic development, social equity and justice, and environmental conservancy.
We look forward to continued dialogue and action around critical topics like climate change and hope that you join Net Impact in our work towards a more just and sustainable world.
On August 19th, Business Roundtable, an association of Chief Executive Officers of America’s leading companies, released its latest Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. The Statement was signed by 181 CEO’s and is transformational.
Since 1978, Business Roundtable has periodically published Principles of Corporate Governance. Each version of the document issued since 1997 has endorsed shareholder primacy - that corporations exist to serve shareholders. With last week’s announcement, the new Statement supersedes previous statements and outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility. Specifically, that the signatories are committed to "Widening the Lens" and leading their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders, and further, dismissing short-termism, focusing instead, on building value over the longer term.
The message of the new Statement is in harmony with Net Impact's perspective and even reflects the theme of our NI19 Annual Conference - Widening the Lens (in Detroit this October 24-26th). Our member base is the demographic that the media suggests (and we agree) is demanding this new Social Contract. They want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that serve a higher purpose than maximizing profit to the possible detriment of people and planet.
System Design for the Empowered, License to Ignore
In a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed article, University of Chicago Economics Professor Milton Friedman wrote, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” This notion of shareholder primacy has persisted in many boardrooms over the last 50 years despite its losing favor, first in academic circles, then some investors, and finally the vast majority of NexGen.
Friedman’s take, that the corporation’s responsibility is to maximize value for its owners, its shareholders solely, missed the complexity of the myriad company relationships that weigh on corporate stability, valuation, and well-being, as well as the nuance in operating in an environment that is in a state of metamorphic change.
Arguably, the rules of the game have changed.
System Design Change to Empower all Stakeholders, License to Operate
In our own history, Net Impact has been advocating that business can be a force for good for 27 years. A broader definition of a company’s constituents, a "Widening of the Lens", from shareholder to the varied array of stakeholders suggests cognizance of the dynamic change in the factors that influence a company’s stability, valuation, and well-being. In Friedman’s time, many companies seized on a shareholder primacy-based definition as a license to ignore the complex, organic eco-system it operated within, in favor of ledger entry as the determinant of success. This is simply not the way the world works today and entreaties to still think this way are driving the car looking in the rearview mirror.
Regarding the Statement, the take of some pundits often ignores the wisdom and economic underpinning in the decision to re-define the Purpose of the Corporation to include a broader definition of the corporation’s “stakeholders” and to look longer-term. Most reporting has focused either on questioning the sincerity or suggesting it’s borne of pragmatism, and, therefore, not from the heart. Neither take is accurate, helpful, and perhaps, relevant.
In behavior speak, there’s the notion of ‘calibration’, which one that is well-calibrated, maps closely to the way the world really works. This is a component of emotional intelligence. Much of the commentary on the Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation seems to fail to see the reasoning for re-definition, focusing mostly on motives, as if the Corporation is some being, a person, and not a vehicle. This strikes me as particularly out of touch and poorly calibrated to the way the world works. Not surprisingly, cynicism around motive is deepest amongst the older and more establish observers, perhaps either wed to what has been or not entirely aware of what has changed and what is to come.
Millennials and Gen Z, our Net Impact network, (projected to be 75% of the workforce by 2025) are firmly in support of the tenets of the new Statement. In fact, a recent Core Communications survey suggests that:
- 75% of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company
- 76% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work
- 64% of Millennials won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate responsibility practices
The operating landscape has changed. Stewards of Corporations can no longer assume they will attract talented employees if they aren’t attuned to current and future stakeholder/employee’s beliefs.
A New Social Contract
Globally, with one in every four dollars now invested through a Responsibility lens, the investment community (professional) and their clients (individuals) are progressively favoring those companies that score best utilizing Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) screens. Even the corporation’s first favored stakeholder, the shareholder, is increasingly choosing to invest in companies that seek to do well by doing good. Note that with $50 Trillion changing hands inter-generationally in the US over the next 30 years, NexGen is the shareholder-stakeholder that the Business Roundtable is considering with definitional changes of the Statement.
In one of the great indications of a shifting power dynamic in business, the consumer as a stakeholder is demonstrating great influence, wielding purchase decisions predicated on the consumer’s sense of the social responsibility of the company in question. Without getting political, simply look at decisions recently made by Nike, Dicks Sporting Goods, Apple, eBay, Bank of America and others, regarding a public stance on a particular issue. Agree with them or not, but do you really think these decisions are contemplated without considering sales and market consequences? Companies are managing for multiple outcomes, in a more nuanced way, recognizing that it is good business to "Widen the Lens" and consider all stakeholders. There is, in fact, greater stability in embracing this broader stakeholder philosophy, embracing this dynamism, rather than looking only at the profit and loss on the ledger, indifferent to employees, consumers and community, after all, exactly who would a solely bottom-line driven company think the are (in a DNA sense)?
The re-definition of the Purpose of a Corporation recognizes the powerful influence of once lesser-heard voices. A Corporation is not management, nor is it its owners. Widening the lens to listen to the broadest definition of stakeholders is conscious recognition of the Corporation as an entity comprised of myriad stakeholders, all of whom determine who the company is and what it is worth.
Net Impact applauds Business Roundtable for their Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation. In "Widening the Lens" to incorporate a broad definition of stakeholders and state shared objectives and obligation, they are driving system design change through this evolution and calibrating to how the world works and where our Net Impact emerging leaders will take it. We hope to see you all and discuss this further at our NI19, Widening the Lens – Annual Conference in Detroit October 24-26th.
"How do I find a job in sustainability?”
That’s the #1 question I get asked when teaching or coaching emerging leaders and young professionals. It’s the wrong question. The right question is, “How do I make my job about sustainability?”
I often see professionals struggling with this dilemma: smart, well-intentioned people who want to be successful, make a decent living, and feel valued, but also have a disquieting feeling that the work they do does not address the most important problems in the world. In fact, it may actually, if unwittingly, contribute to them. Is it possible to do well and do good in your day job? The answer is “Yes!” but not with “Business-As-Usual.”
These pressures include a set of largely tacit beliefs about the purpose of a business and how work should be conducted, including the belief that maximizing shareholder value is the only objective for business decision-making. Business-As-Usual also incorporates norms for business conduct that often overlook bad behavior or adverse consequences for the sake of expediency in pursuit of shareholder value.
This mindset sets strong expectations for what professionals should accomplish through their daily work. It prioritizes near-term revenue growth and expense cutting rather than innovation and long term value; neglecting negative externalities that may take decades to manifest, but may ultimately be devastating to the business, community, and environment. It rewards going along with practices that are “normal for our industry” rather than questioning them. It creates expectations for how you “get ahead” and succeed in your career.
But when you go along with Business-As-Usual, knowing that your actions could be creating long-term harm (even if they are legal and typical for your industry), it can create a conflict with your personal values. On one hand you quite naturally want to protect your job and your livelihood. Pushing too hard against the prevailing culture and norms can be career-limiting. On the other hand, bending to those pressures eats away at your sense of purpose and fulfillment, and erodes your sense of wellbeing.
The result is that many professionals feel a nagging tension between their two opposing selves. Oneself does what’s needed to bring success and retain their livelihood; the other-self goes home each night feeling guilty about not doing more good through their work.
It’s tempting to demonize companies, their executives, and their cultures for pressuring professionals to compromise their values for the sake of making a living. But this is an over-simplistic view that lets professionals off the hook too easily and allows them to avoid taking responsibility for initiating change.
While you may be looking to the most senior officers of your organization to initiate change, many corporate executives themselves struggle with this same dilemma of doing well versus doing good. They would like to pursue a sustainability-focused business strategy, but can’t yet see the kind of benefits to their core business that would also satisfy investors. They fear that pursuing sustainability goals could become a distraction, causing the wheels to fall off the enterprise, thus threatening shareholder value (and their own career). Doing good still feels like something extra -- something off to the side, outside the main business. However strategic, sustainability is viewed as philanthropy, which is by definition, not core to the business.
These same executives are also seeking new sources of innovation to stay competitive—the very kind that sustainability strategies can provide. And yet, professionals like you -- the very ones that could help their organizations move beyond Business-As-Usual-- aren’t being tapped to do so.
Too many professionals in this situation resign themselves to coping with the organization as it is, waiting for a miraculous transformation of enlightenment to occur in the corner office. But that rarely happens. And so the business stays stuck in Business-As-Usual. And so you remain torn -- and unfulfilled.
Escaping the Tyranny of Business As Usual
You may be thinking that you need to quit your job to find an organization that is more mission-driven than yours, or one with senior leaders who will be more supportive of bottom-up change initiatives. But the truth is that all organizations and their top leaders are struggling against Business-As-Usual forces, even sustainability icons like Interface and Unilever. Whatever your position, you have opportunities from where you stand to pivot to a positive direction.
The key is not to wait for your boss, or your boss’ boss, to create fulfilling work for you, but instead to realize that you can initiate change in your organization that both advances your career and moves your organization in a direction that creates social and environmental benefits. This requires shifting your own paradigm away from Business-As-Usual and trade-off thinking to embrace your own leadership potential and ‘both-and’ thinking.
This is not easy. It requires confidence, competence, and credibility to be an effective change leader. You need the confidence to know that change is possible and that you can lead innovation from your position within your organization. It requires competence to identify high-leverage opportunities, to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders, to build a coalition, to connect your initiative to your organization’s strategy (and value creation), and to make a compelling business case. It also requires that you establish credibility with stakeholders and senior leaders to demonstrate that you have what it takes to produce results, not just fantasize.
Gaining Competence, Confidence, and Credibility
There are a number of ways to build your competence, confidence, and credibility to escape Business-As-Usual, but here are a few suggestions, in order of investment required:
- Join an Affinity Group in your company, industry, or community with like-minded professionals. One excellent place to start is with Net Impact (and their annual conference happening this October in Detroit, MI!)
- Learn and practice the fundamentals of sustainable business through the University of Vermont’s Leading Sustainable Innovation Certificate Program. It takes only eight weeks, does not require you to leave your day job or your home (in fact, you can take it with you -- wherever in the world there is wi-fi!). The program gives you an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of sustainable business from world experts, while immediately applying the principles with a global, virtual team through an intensive, highly realistic business simulation. For less than $2,500 you can earn a certificate from one of the most reputable, sustainable business schools in the world. Registration is due September 17, 2019 for the next program which runs September 23 to November 17, 2019. Register here.
- Gain insight and accelerate leadership skills through service, by immersing yourself in a short-term pro bono assignment like Corporate Champions for Education, implemented by PYXERA Global. Companies can place employees in four-week assignments in emerging and developing markets for $16,000, inclusive of training, travel, and accommodation. Slots are available for the next cohort, which go to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on February 14 - March 14, 2020; commitment is required by September 30, 2019. More here.
- Earn an MBA in Sustainable Business through top universities. Check out the Princeton Review for the ‘Top 10 Green MBA’ programs, based on the programs’ ability to enable students to address environmental, sustainability, and social issues in their careers. The Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont is at the top of that list and offers the Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA), which can be completed in 12 months, including a 3 month, full-time practicum. The practicum can be in service to an existing company or a new enterprise focused on sustainable and inclusive innovation. Tuition for the program is affordable at $32,000 for Vermont residents; $53,000 for out-of-state students.
About the Authors
Matt Mayberry, Ph.D. is the founder of WholeWorks. For more than two decades, he has worked with a variety of corporations to improve their business performance through simulation-based, strategic leadership development. He is also teaching a course on systems thinking at the University of Vermont Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation - MBA program, which draws on the stakeholder-oriented principles of sustainability, critical for many of the strategic challenges of today’s turbulent marketplaces, providing a useful framework for creative thinking about new products, processes, and business models.
I am an older white man and an ex-Wall Street asset manager. That’s surely the simple telling of my tale. How much easier to tell the “why me” story if the ‘optics’ were better? They aren’t, but there is so much more to my story than just the optics. This is my personal journey to purpose.
I’ve done many things in life. Painted houses, washed pots and pans, waited tables. I’ve done factory work and I’ve done office work. I’ve played in bands and have been a camp counselor. I’ve worked on Wall Street, started an underground hip-hop label in the late ’90s and my own investment firm in 2009. Most recently, I’ve been teaching Impact Investing at Fordham University and running a 100% Impact Investment portfolio for our family office.
13 years ago, when my son, Max, was born, my wife Kelly challenged us to think about what charitable work we should do – what ‘mattered’ to us as a family. Kelly challenged us to set the example we wanted our son to see as a commitment to improving others’ lives. This challenge and the work that followed truly began my re-invention toward purpose and impact.
It was at this time that I had the epiphany (one had by many before me, but no less earth-shattering for me) that one could do well by doing good. I began to study impact investing and the corporate sustainability movement, coming to believe not only that this was where the future was going, but that it was how we collectively can work to combat the world’s largest problems.
“Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation.” —Stephen Covey
I’ve had 3 personal re-inventions that have brought me to my current role. A hedge fund manager, music producer, and educator/impact investor. As I take on this new role, I once again find myself at the intersection of re-invention but this time for deeper cultivation of my purpose work as a sustainability and impact advocate and the CEO of Net Impact. I am passionate to undertake this important effort at this pivotal time. I think my experiences make me who I am, and wisdom is experiential residue. Walking in all these worlds allows me to speak passionately about Net Impact and our collective objectives (for the benefit of people and planet.)
This is my time and place. This is my purpose.
Net Impact’s mission is to inspire and equip emerging leaders to build a more just and sustainable world. This makes the CEO role, more Chief Evangelical Officer. I love this and am passionate about this work! My recent work has been dedicated to teaching emerging leaders that you can do well by doing good, inspire and equip them to do so, and then get them placed in positions to make a difference. Moving from academia to Net Impact affords me to do this work at scale, because of you, our vast community of change-makers.
Over the next 30 years, a generational transfer of wealth in the US will occur, placing approximately $50 Trillion in the control of women and Millennials. The demographics of these groups overwhelmingly suggest they want to do work that they perceive as ‘good’ and work for companies that they are proud of. In markets, they care as much how money is made as that the return on investment is good. This generation will have a more harmonious way of balancing the living/working/obligation to people and planet. It will be innate to them because it already IS innate to them.
But what happens between now and 30 years from now? How best do we bridge this transition until our inspired and equipped future leaders take the reins? How do we maintain and quicken momentum? How do we convert the majority of people in authority, the stewards of companies and capital, that know this is right but always have a reason to wait? How can I hasten it in my new position?
At this critical now, so much can be done to accelerate the acceptance of social responsibility. Sustainability and Impact are at that exciting part of the S growth curve where advocacy is turning quickly. Net Impact, as an iconic sustainability ecosystem, is at a later part of the curve, given its frontier, pioneering legacy. Net Impact must both lead and mirror the path of the sustainability and impact field.
As CEO, I plan to honor and reinforce the 25+-year perspective and tradition of this iconic and seminal brand, but take us in new directions too. This will require both harnessing and honoring Net Impact’s roots and current raison d’etre, but also coherent extension and re-invention (and perpetually so).
There will be new initiatives. We will burnish the brand and make the association more valuable for our members and stakeholders. We will hasten the adoption of sustainability and impact amongst entrepreneurs, companies, investors, and educators. I also want to reinforce that as we influence the shape of our future world, win hearts and minds toward a more sustainable future, that we must endeavor to populate the networks that share our passion, come with boundless energy and look like the people part of people and planet we seek to serve.
There is a vast world to influence. Net Impact operates, inspires, equips, places, and evangelizes for the benefit of people and planet. Let’s help accelerate the discussion today, so that our inspired and equipped emerging leaders have a shot.
I am flattered, honored and excited to do this work with you, as part of Net Impact. Let’s further its grand legacy and create the change we wish to see.
CEO, Net Impact
"When consumers purchase a product, sustainability should come as a requirement, not as a rare bonus."
This spring, I had the opportunity to participate in Net Impact’s 2019 Wear It Wise Campaign for sustainable fashion and was honored to represent Net Impact and the program at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in Denmark. The Summit brought more than 75 speakers and attendees representing more than 48 countries, an audience including some of the most insightful top management leaders who are actively making a change in the world. This event was a great learning experience because everyone there was not simply focused on fashion, but also on the impact it has on the earth.
The theme for this year’s summit was to “take it from words to actions,” meaning rather than just talking about the negative effects, we should be engaging in activities that reverse them. Founder and CEO of Wedesign, Simon Collins began the summit by addressing this issue, suggesting that we need to act now. He told the audience that we were the leaders who would be informing and inspiring others to make the changes that will better our planet. We are the ones who have to take that first step and start educating others over the dangers of the fashion industry. Before it is too late, we must come together and begin implementing these healthy practices.
Many speakers addressed the need for regulations and practices to change, to be stricter on environmentally-friendly rules over the methods that brands use to produce their clothes. It is important that we create a universal standard that everyone is required to practice on. Speakers stressed the need to change the way we produce, market, and consume fashion in order to make the earth a healthier place. When consumers purchase a product, sustainability should come as a requirement, not as a rare bonus.
Transparency is key to making this possible. Consumers have the right to know where their clothes are coming from and the conditions of those involved in the creation process. Katherine Hamnett, CBE, designer, and activist in the industry for over 30 years, talked about how tags on clothes should provide more details on what the clothes are made out of and the effect those textiles have on landfills. A Swedish startup group is doing this exact thing, describing every stage of the production process on their clothing tags. This level of transparency can be a model for all fashion corporations.
The summit also hosted an “Innovation Lab,” where sustainable companies came to showcase their updated methods. One company that really stuck out to me was Repack, who provides their customers with a new way to ship items. The packaging they use is made up of 100% recycled materials and once the package has arrived at its destination, the recipients can ship it back to Repack at no extra cost, so that the company can reuse the package again and again. Well-known retailer, H&M, had an interesting pop-up shop that mixed virtual reality and clothing. Participants were able to pick out a donated shirt and give it new life by using a VR technology to see a variety of colors and patterns. Once the participant created their new shirt virtually, H&M was able to print the design onto the donated shirt, making it an entirely new one.
Overall, my time at the Fashion Summit has greatly influenced the lifestyle I choose to live. Rather than shopping in fast fashion, I strive to purchase the majority of my clothing from secondhand stores. I love getting to share my newfound knowledge with others and I know I am making a difference in the world. As a result of my experience participating in Net Impact’s Wear it Wise Campaign, I now have the power to lead and inform my peers for years to come. I learned that the solution is not a sprint, but a marathon that every company, large and small, needs to be working towards. Everyone is a part of the change; from designers and manufacturers to consumers and sellers, we all must work together to enforce sustainability.
Kaci Floyd graduated in May 2019 from Texas State University with a BBA in Marketing and a minor in Fashion Merchandising. Kaci was awarded the opportunity to attend the Copenhagen Fashion Summit after her team placed second in Net Impact's 2019 Wear it Wise Campaign. Her team's campaign reached over 700 people and featured a campus-wide fashion show highlighting Waterless Jean line, Levi Strauss' sustainability initiative to teach the industry how to use less water in manufacturing. Kaci served as the President of the Fashion Merchandising Association at Texas State University and will be interning with WSL Strategic Retail Consulting in New York City in the summer of 2019.
Whether you’re on LinkedIn, Twitter, or really anywhere on our physical plane, almost every conversation about “impact investing” includes the question of “how do I do it?”
At Spectrum Impact, we spend a lot of time advising organizations on how to build these approaches. But there are different ways to ways to think about “doing it.” As an investor, consumer, or changemaker, the opportunities to put a dollar to work - in alignment with your values - is one highly meaningful path and the work we do at Spectrum Impact, to advise others based on our experiences, is another.
But there’s also a growing group of individuals looking to build a career in impact, and admittedly, these steps are less clear. Whether connecting with strangers on LinkedIn, former colleagues, or soon-to-be graduates, I’m constantly bowled over by how much time my colleagues spend sharing their own journeys in building impact investing careers. Happily, there’s plenty of positive signs that the way we answer the question of “how” is evolving:
- Through open and candid discourse around what training the next generation of impact practitioner should look like
- Casting a wider net beyond finance-only trainees
- Ensuring we don’t forget that this is still an investment discipline
For those of you who are ready to map out your own impact career journey, here are 3 key questions to ask yourself before getting started:
1. What kind of job do I want to do?
This may seem obvious, but the conversation around what you should do needs to start with what you want to do. While there are some non-trivial training restrictions in any investment discipline, many of these functional competencies can be self-taught and perfected in your new role. Yes, you’re unlikely to get an investment gig if you have limited investment experience (nor should you, because many of these roles include an actual fiduciary duty that shouldn’t be treated casually). But many proliferate impact investors I know have honed those investment skills on the job. They self-trained to develop new skills, using a range of tools like online learning, MOOCs, and certifications that are even more accessible today.
Instead of starting the conversation with what you “can’t do,” start by thinking about what you want your day-to-day to look like.
For example, do you like to solve big, complex problems alongside the people designing the solutions? Are you interested in changing a system, shared norms, or updating “how” we think about things? Then a strategy/program role might be right for you. This can include jobs like program officers, think tank fellows/researchers, consultants, individual advisors and educators, and more.
If you desire an investment role, ask yourself whether you want to work directly with entrepreneurs, the funds who find and support them, or the individual investors who help scale them (either directly or indirectly)? Do you have time to fill in the skill gaps you currently have? How about the aptitude interest - and ultimately - commitment to obtain these new investment skills? If the answer to all of the above is yes, you might join a startup, an investment fund (which can range from deploying concessionary capital to scaling growth stage companies), an endowment or investment office, a community-based lending fund/institution, or help shape a portfolio directly from within a family office. (Jargon pause - “The Seven Kind of Asset Owner Institutions.”)
2. Where do I (physically) want to work?
Conversations around job prospects in the impact field are very different between emerging and developed markets. For example, The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) devotes a good chunk of their annual survey examining how impact investing evolves differently across geographies. Through my work with Georgetown University’s Global Human Development program, I’ve seen firsthand how student experiences - and job prospects - change based on their personal exposure to the communities they are working with.
This analysis is important because not all of these impact ecosystems are growing in the same way, and certainly not at the same rate. While you’re trying to figure out what your day-to-day looks like in an impact job, think also about where you want to do this work. Are you focused on the community where you grew up, live now, or one you’ve recently connected with? What’s the current investment landscape? Is there established infrastructure around policy, philanthropy, and ease of doing business (all critical in creating the right levers to deploy capital effectively)? Let this information help point you to the job opportunities you may now have that you didn’t in a different location (i.e. building one of the above-mentioned pieces of infrastructure) or simply conduct your own assessment of whether these ecosystems are ready for the kind of work you want to do. If you’re committed to working in a particular place, adjust your search accordingly.
Any consideration of a career in impact without geography could set you up for disappointment and unmet expectations around the problems you’re trying to solve. It can also create some confusion between the change you want to see and what your employer needs. Be honest with yourself about these geographic opportunities and limitations.
3. Do I see myself as a generalist or a specialist?
Much has been written - across sectors - about whether our society should be moving toward one of generalist knowledge workers or specialists. In the impact space, I believe there’s room for both, but like many fields, building a specialist knowledge-base takes time and exploration.
If you’re deeply passionate about being a specialist, identify that focus early and hone your job search accordingly. Even these narrowed thematic pathways are big and broad enough for you to design an exciting and variable career. Specialization doesn’t mean being pigeonholed. Similarly, generalization doesn’t mean you lack expertise. Use your birdseye view to focus on identifying and connecting the patterns you’re seeing across many applications of your work, distilling those lessons-learned across various audiences.
Whatever path you choose, one thing is clear - there is no shortcut to building proficiency in this space. Anyone who guides you to take a bunch of trap doors or superspeed escalators to go higher, faster, is forgetting how easily this can create bad actors and advisors.
Take the latest scandal around TPG Rise Fund’s key leader, Bill McGlashan. Many folks argue that had we maintained that high bar for who can call themselves an impact practitioner (by way of hard-earned training, experience, and actual practice,) we may not have had one bad actor cast a shadow on a whole industry. This is true of generalists and specialists. Both are practitioners.
Beware of simply winning that “ideal-sounding” job and commit instead to building a career - one peppered with many learning experiences. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do a job but listen up when they tell you the best way to do it and acknowledge where you need to buff up your own skills and abilities to do it best. As you follow the journey of impact leaders who inspire you, look beyond the one job they are in now and look back on the steps they took to get there.
My hope is that as this field continues to sophisticate, we create clearer pathways for each of you to take impact investing to the next level. While we’re on our way to creating ways to do this more easily, you can start - today - to push the needle further in how impact investing is designed and practiced.
Rehana Nathoo leads Spectrum Impact, an impact investing strategy firm which helps organizations expand their impact investing footprint. She teaches at Georgetown University within the Global Human Development Program and serves on various boards and investment committees related to impact investing and philanthropy.
In partnership with the Levi Strauss Foundation, Eileen Fisher, Columbia Sportswear and Remake, Net Impact is excited to announce another successful year of Wear it Wise, the organization’s first program dedicated to addressing the impacts of the global fashion industry. Selected Wear it Wise leaders were tasked with designing and executing a public awareness campaign with the goal of educating communities about the social and environmental impacts of the global fashion industry.
Paramount to the campaign goal was to highlight solutions that consumers can take to improve their consumer behavior on an everyday basis. It’s no small task considering the statistics around fast fashion, but as a Masters Candidate in Sustainable Design, Net Impact Chapter Leader and campaign lead Rina Strydom saw a ripe opportunity to put her passion into action. To make the most lasting impact, the Savannah College of Art and Design student focused her campaign to target classmates studying fashion design. Strydom and co-leader Sierra Saia partnered with the SCAD Slow Fashion Club to put on a Sustainable Fashion competition using only upcycled clothing, which debuted at the campus’ Earth Day celebration bringing in over 300 students and faculty. The competition’s judging panel featured faculty members in the Design and Fashion departments, as well as, a local Savannah-based entrepreneur.
The grassroots campaign’s reach didn’t stop with the aspiring fashion designers. Strydom and Saia’s campaign featured a campus-wide clothing swap as well as three “Mending Pop-ups” that educated the general campus community on how to fix their clothing to prolong its life and keep it out of the landfill. They spent their time showing students how to re-sew buttons, close holes, repair backpack straps and zippers, sweaters and belt loops. “It was a wonderful way to get students involved in conversations about sustainable fashion and clothing care values. The audience walked away with a “new” old garment and some home-baked cookies” Strydom said.
Taking the campaign on the road, they also hosted a tour of the local Goodwill and Salvation Army with Fashion Professor Doris Treptow and the managers of the facilities. “The goal of the trip was to go behind the scenes of these organizations and expose students to the reality of the garment and goods disposal.” Afterward, the group of students discussed the lifecycle of garments and the importance of circularity in the fashion industry.
And the concept of circularity doesn’t only apply to their sustainable fashion campaign. Strydom’s next step is laying the groundwork for future SCAD students to take action in the fashion industry as well. “My leadership role in the Slow Fashion Club is to set-up the students of the next generation to take these learnings and continue the work we have achieved over the last months,” said Strydom. To follow their campaign and see more photos of their events, you can follow @SCADslowfashionclub on Instagram or follow their journey with the hashtag #ReWorn.
How can a major wine company talk about sustainability while remaining authentic and relatable to U.S. consumers?
In our recently completed program, The Best Grapes are Green: A Sustainability Case Competition from Kendall-Jackson, participants took on this real-world business challenge and made recommendations on what Kendall-Jackson can do to connect their sustainability commitment to consumers in the store.
After reviewing 40 applications, 12 teams made it to the semi-finalist round where they went on to develop full marketing plans with support from Net Impact and Kendall-Jackson. From this prestigious group, three teams were selected as finalists and invited to participate in a pitch-off event in front of an esteemed judging panel and a room full of Kendall-Jackson staff in Sonoma, CA. Finalist teams represented Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, George Washington University School of Business, and the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business.
The wine and marketing filled weekend kicked-off with the pitch-off event at the beautiful Pavillion at La Crema Estate at Saralee's Vineyard. Each team had 20 minutes to present their marketing plans, followed by a 25 minute Q&A session from the judges and audience.
The team from the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, made up of Margaret Baughman, Erin Casale, Renee Medina, and Daniela Trigo, gave an exciting presentation that focused on experiential partnerships like a collaboration with Airbnb brought to life through farm-to-table aesthetics.
Amanda Lane, Aimee Smith, Susi Eckelmann, and Liz Albright representing Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business went second. The team presented ideas that targeted consumers by region with strategic partnerships like gift boxes and meal delivery services featuring partnerships with sustainable food brands.
Last to present was the team from George Washington University School of Business. The two-person team made of Simge Okut and Jennifer Swartz, revealed their plan focused on water conservation and a wine truck that would tour 15 U.S. cities that are popular with Millennials!
The judges – an esteemed panel made up of Katie Jackson, VP External Affairs & Sustainability, Jackson Family Wines, David Bowman, EVP Marketing – Classics & Estates, Jackson Family Wines, Marcelo Aguero, SVP JFW Distribution, Jackson Family Wines, Shilah Salmon, VP Creative & Strategy, Jackson Family Wines, and Virginie Boone, Contributing Editor to Wine Enthusiast -- deliberated and made a tough decision of picking a winner to be announced later that evening.
The teams then joined the judges and Kendall-Jackson staff for a farm to table lunch and garden tour with executive chef Justin Wangler at the Kendall-Jackson Winery Estate and Gardens. Judge Aguero said before the start of lunch, "We were so impressed by the research and effort you put into your presentations. You'll find out the winner tonight, but don't be surprised if you see elements of all your proposals in upcoming K-J initiatives."
Teams spent a fun-filled day learning about the sustainability commitments Jackson Family Wines has implemented across their many brands, including mapping animal migration paths to ensure their vineyards don't disrupt the local ecosystem and cutting-edge barrel washing technology, which recaptures thousands of gallons of water from a previously very wasteful process.
The teams and judges met for dinner at Spoonbar for a farm-fresh meal and the winner announcement. Julien Gervreau, Director of Sustainability at Kendall-Jackson, stated, "You've inspired us all to think about our brand in new ways" before announcing that the team from George Washington was named the winners of the pitch-off. Georgetown earned the audience choice award for their ideas.
The next morning, teams headed back to the La Crema Winery for a tour and tasting. Students learned more about K-J's sustainable harvesting procedures, the Tesla batteries used to power some facilities, and the care K-J puts into considering native birds, foxes, and otters as they work to protect their vineyards without harming the ecosystem.
"It was great to come and not only participate in the pitch-off, but also get to know the Kendall-Jackson environment and the team a little better. We had been working on this project for so long that actually getting an insider look into what we've been writing about was eye-opening." Simge Okut, George Washington
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