Paula N Luu's blog

Top Impact Conferences for 2015-2016

From sustainability to social enterprise, this conference wishlist includes some of our favorite conferences that every Net Impact member should know about. Whether you’re looking to bulk up your professional skills, or network your way to your next impact career, these events are sure to get you one step closer to your big breakthrough. 

 

VERGE 2015

October 26-29, 2015 | San Jose, CA

A conference about sustainability and technology from the GreenBiz Group.

What they say: "Sustainability’s next tipping point. Interconnected technologies for energy, buildings, and transportation enable radical efficiencies and huge opportunities. VERGE reveals these opportunities, bringing together corporations, entrepreneurs, and public officials for practical, scalable, solutions-oriented conversations."

 

2015 Independent Sector National Conference: Embark

October 27-29, 2015 | Miami, FL

Nonprofit and philanthropic conference with tailored programming for CEOs, C-Suite, and 40-and-under sector leaders.

What they say: "Join Independent Sector at its 2015 National Conference where participants will leave the past behind and venture into an uncharted future. Join more than 1,000 forward-thinking leaders and professionals who are on a journey to radically improve the nonprofit and philanthropic sector."

 

2015 Net Impact Conference

November 5-7, 2015 | Seattle, WA

The premier gathering for next-generation leaders who want to change the world.

What we say: We’re biased, of course, but we think our conference is the place to be. We bring together students and professionals who want to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems. Our 100+ sessions span 10 fields of interest, and lots of those sessions are interactive. Our speakers are diverse, too; we believe true change only happens when everyone is at the table. The weekend is equal parts inspiring and practical, full of skill-building and networking opportunities. That must be why one attendee last year called it "beautiful and addicting.”

 

Sustainable Brands ’15 London

November 16-18, 2015 | London, UK

Where Brand, sustainability & design leaders find inspiration, tools and partnerships to drive business success and positive impact.

What they say: "The Sustainable Brands global conference network is ground zero for sustainability, brand, and innovation professionals who gather from around the world. Live events are ideal for collectively aligning our community of brand innovators toward our common vision as well as convening members to share challenges and successes face to face."

 

2016 GreenBiz Forum

February 23-25, 2016 | Scottsdale, AZ

A weekend of exploring trends, challenges, and what’s next in sustainable business.

What they say: "The 2016 GreenBiz Forum brings together GreenBiz Group, The Sustainability Consortium, and ASU's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. We leverage our vast networks, insights, and domain expertise to bring you the brightest thinkers and most influential leaders. You'll get an unparalleled, in-depth look at the key challenges and opportunities facing sustainable business today."

 

The 2016 Ashoka U Exchange

February 26-28, 2016 | New Orleans, LA

Participant-driven conference for higher education leaders to share how to advance social innovation on campus.

What they say: "The Ashoka U Exchange is the world’s largest convening for social entrepreneurship in higher education. The Exchange brings together 650 university faculty, staff, and administrators representing 150 institutions to share new ways of teaching and learning that will shape the way educational institutions influence the world."

 

2016 International Corporate Citizenship Conference

March 20-22, 2016 | Atlanta, GA

An exclusive event for corporate citizenship practitioners and industry leaders.

What they say: "At the 2016 International Corporate Citizenship Conference, you’ll hear from your peers, as well from experts from around the world, to learn how to create and execute meaningful corporate citizenship visions. You’ll walk away prepared to shape your company’s goals by building on your corporate values and leveraging the unique core competencies of your business, inspired to imagine what more might be possible." 

 

Ceres Conference 2016

May 4-5, 2015 | Boston, MA

A long-standing conference covering general trends and opportunities in sustainable business.

What they say: "Each year the Ceres Conference brings together more than 600 corporate sustainability leaders, the country’s largest institutional investors, and leading social and environmental advocates to mobilize action on the world’s most significant sustainability challenges."

 

2016 MCON

Summer 2016 | Washington D.C. 

MCON provides the foundation for understanding today’s cause movements and how to move interest in a cause into action for a cause.

What they say: "The two-day learning experience is designed to help causes and those interested in social good understand the complexities of today’s cause enthusiasts and how to move them into becoming cause activists."

 

Have you been to one of these events? We’d love to hear about your experience or any other conferences you would recommend for our network! Make a comment below or find us on Twitter.

Millennial Leaders Weigh in on Global Food Challenges

Understanding the Global Food Crisis

The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050. Right now, there are 805 million hungry people in the world. It’s estimated that 16% of those 805 million people live in developed countries. Meanwhile, agriculture contributes to almost 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses 37% of landmass, and accounts for 70% of all freshwater extracted globally for human use. It is also a major polluter, as runoff from fertilizers and manure disrupts water sources like lakes, rivers, and coastal ecosystems. Figuring out how to feed 9 billion people—while also advancing rural development, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting valuable ecosystems—is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

To contribute to the solutions for a sustainable future, Net Impact and CollaborateUp hosted two "Nourishing 9 Billion" SolutionLabs at UC Davis and Tufts University this spring. Both events were part of our new national series designed to allow students to work side-by-side with food system experts to engage with this critical issue and develop solutions that could change the world. A diverse group of over 60 students–from computer science majors to international development majors to soil science PhD. candidates–and young professionals gathered to generate groundbreaking ideas, all bringing a variety of perspectives and knowledge to the table and approaching the issue from different interest points.

Millennials Speak Up 

Regardless of what drew them to the event, one thing was clear: this issue matters to millennials. But don't take our word for it ... hear from a few of the students who are spending their time thinking about the world’s toughest problems. 

 

Students and young professionals at the SolutionsLab broke up into groups with the experts to develop ideas and solutions for a specific problem in the food system, which they pitched to the experts for feedback. Areas where the next-generation leaders saw the most promise included reducing food waste nationally and globally, coming up with a way to monetize food waste, and diversifying diet and farming practices in developing countries.

Students pointed out the problems with our current food system: 

 

Brainstorming about these issues also allowed some participants to make unexpected connections with their own work. Rashmi Ekka applied the learnings from the day to her business idea that she's lauching in India after she graduates from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

 

Even though the issue of solving our global food system seems daunting, students who attended were suprisped at how quickly their groups were able to come up with tangible solutions. Some of the solutions proposed to improve our global food system included: 

  • Adding freshness indicators on food packaging to reduce food waste
  • Developing a SMS texting service to help farmers plant the most efficient crops and reduce food waste on the farm
  • Creating a recycling center for food that would provide monetary incentive for residential and commercial customers to turn in their food waste
  • Targeting malnourished regions in the world to produce soil-appropriate plant crops high in micronutrients. 

Connecting with other students and professionals yielded more than just solutions. It inspired students to turn their passion into action, now and in their careers. 

 

Problems this complex always have more than one solution, and we're looking forward to hearing from more of you who want to tackle this important issue with us. We're expecting the Nourishing 9 Billion SolutionsLab to arrive on more university campuses in the coming year. Stay tuned for updates and be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter

We'd like to thank our partners helped make these events possible including UC Davis, Tufts University, Collaborate Up, and Monsanto. 

4 Skills Leaders Need to Drive Multi-Sector Partnerships

In today’s ever-connected world, driving change requires that impact leaders be effective boundary-crossers, working in partnership with organizations across sectors and industries. Research appears to support this too. According to a recent survey of more than 500 sustainability experts from around the world, multi-sector partnerships will be key to advancing sustainability in the future. 

But what does that mean for impact leaders?

If multi-sector partnerships hold the highest potential for creating pivotal shifts in our underlying systems, skills for building these effective partnerships will be increasingly valuable. Liz Maw recently gave the keynote address at the Center for Responsible Business Annual Conference at Mills College. The conference focused on how successful multi-sector partnerships tackle complex social challenges. From that keynote, we’ve created a list of skills we believe impact leaders need to drive these partnerships forward. 

Build Trust

An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This could not describe multi-sector partnerships more accurately. A multi-sector partnership is a long-haul effort requiring a lot of resources, time, and energy, so the leaders moving these partnerships forward need to trust the process! A lack of trust can sometimes be the biggest barrier to collaboration. The first part stakeholders in a this kind of partnership should focus on is building relationships and trust, so that people can work together on solving community problems. Setting up governance policies early will build trust and reduce opportunities for mistakes and misunderstandings.

Establish a Governance Structure

Managing the expectations of all stakeholders can be the difference between a disastrous partnership and a successful one. All stakeholder need to agree and understand the governance process for the partnership: how success will be measured, what the accountability mechanisms look like, what will be considered confidential, how information will be distributed, what the role of the representatives will be, and any other important procedural guidelines. Also important is a contingency plan. When DevEx asked Sharon D’Agostino, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship at Johnson & Johnson what important lessons she had learned about multi-sector partnerships, she said, “It is important to have an exit strategy to which all parties agree, just in case the partnership fails.”

Be Inclusive

Multi-sector partnerships are based on cooperation rather than competition. In many situations, more effective results are achieved when people come together, pool their resources, and assist one another. The shift is profound. When business works with government as an ally as opposed to a regulatory force and when communities work together with business to solve local challenges, change happens.

The strongest multi-sector partnerships include all stakeholders: the private sector, the public sector, government, and the community. Unfortunately, many multi-sector collaborations do not give community members an equal role in the process. While these partnerships may improve conditions for communities, they don't help them build their own capacity for making change occur.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Like interpersonal relationships, the success of a multi-sector partnership hinges on the ability of all groups to effectively communicate with one another. Effective multi-sector leaders understand that communication is key from the get go.

In multi-sector partnerships, all stakeholders need to agree on what problem they’re trying to solve. Stakeholders may view the problem differently, representing differences in values, cultural perspectives, and other significant factors. It’s important for the group to explore this through discussion in order to build a common understanding of the nature of the problem.

Lastly, multi-sector leaders need to continually seek feedback from the community. The group can conduct open meetings, hold forums, distribute surveys, or use any other method that helps those in the partnership both give people information and get their input. Failing to do so could make community members become suspicious of the process, withhold support, or hinder the efforts of the partnership.

It’s true that multi-sector partnerships require more time, energy, and resources, yet this kind of collaboration is increasingly recognized as vital for entire systems surrounding communities to change. While breaking out of the silos of traditional partnerships can be a challenge, the net benefit is well worth the investment. 

Liz Maw speaks on multi-sector partnerships at the Mills College annual conference

Measuring the Impact of Governments and Nonprofits – And Their Muni Bonds

It’s important that impact investors know how to measure impact across all investments, including muni bonds issued by governments and nonprofits. This important but often overlooked segment includes bonds from three sectors: state and local governments, healthcare, and education.

Most investors have choices when investing for impact in the for-profit portfolios through publicly listed companies and mutual funds, including their 401(k) or 403(b) choices. In our feature on Impact Companies, we included firms on the S&P 100 and showed how investors can allocate their portfolio using impact scores of Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) indicators. Investors can use a similar methodology to measure, rate, and allocate portfolios to muni bonds – and their associated human, social, and environmental impacts on citizens and beneficiaries.

The Mechanics of Muni Bonds

Governments tax citizens, and nonprofits collect donations. In addition, both can issue Municipal Bonds, as described in our post on governments and nonprofits delivering impact for investors, to fund critical infrastructure development. The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) seeks to protect investors, municipalities, and the public interest by publishing information on municipal securities through an online tool EMMA - Electronic Municipal Market Access. Investors can find information using unique identification numbers of each muni bond, also known as CUSIPs (just like Ticker Symbols for stocks). Muni bonds can cover durations up to 30 or 40 years, and generally the interest paid to investors is tax-advantaged.

A Closer Look: Measuring Impact in Three Sectors

The top three sectors muni bonds include healthcare, education, and state and local government. In the following sections, we’ve outlined specific ways you can measure impact for each of these sectors.

Healthcare

Today, patient satisfaction with doctors, nurses, and hospitals is tracked and reported through avenues such as U.S. News and World Report's rankings of Best Hospitals. Our team analyzes hospital systems on their medical outcomes and patient performance. Doing so also links to the financial risks and returns of those issuers, as patient referrals and retention affects reputation and revenue.  The Medicare Hospital Compare Tool can also provide signals about problems with patients that may cause higher costs.    

Education

Graduation rates, test scores, and student-to-teacher ratios are important measures of results for education systems. In primary schools and K-12 school districts, these metrics suggest likely academic performance. School districts with higher test scores are more prevalent when class sizes are smaller, according to HIP’s analysis of more than 320 K-12 school districts. Families seek out high-performing school systems, which are funded both by city or county revenues, as well as with muni bonds. 

When analyzing school districts, another indicator of impact is whether the school district board reflects the diversity of the local population, which more closely links the decision-making to the community. Similar to the myriad studies indicating that diverse corporate boards lead to higher returns, the same thesis can be applied to education. For example, if the board of a school district in a border town in Texas is made up of all white males, its decisions may not be appropriate for the students it serves, which could affect the bottom line and future performance at the school district.

State and Local Governments

US census data tracks many of the ways that cities, counties, and states serve their citizens. We’ve found a few indicators that, if measured, can help determine the effectiveness of state and local governments.

  • The physical health (e.g., obesity, diabetes) of the residents links to current and future healthcare costs a city may need to finance in emergency rooms, public hospitals, and through its pension systems.
  • College and high school degrees link to the quality of the talent pool and innovation potential of local businesses and corporations that pay taxes on payroll, property, and earnings.
  • The percentage of women and ethnic entrepreneurs links to the strength of middle-class job creation.

All of these metrics help impact investors understand how competitive a state or locality might be – to attract citizens to a high quality of life and build a strong foundation of home ownership and income growth. In an era of increased risks of municipal bankruptcies, impact metrics can provide an early indicator.

Want to learn more about the impacts of governments and nonprofits and their muni bonds? HIP Investor teams with SNW Asset Management to help investors find attractive, impact-focused portfolios that both benefit society and pursue investor goals of income and impact. Get the latest by following the market updates on the SNW blog.

And finally, when pursuing a career in public service, seek out governments and nonprofits that are metrics-focused to help them accelerate and develop expertise in constructing meaningful impact measurement systems that link to financials.

                                        

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"What Do You Like About Being White?": Reflections on Racial Equity

“What do you like about being white?"

It was a question I’d never heard asked before. Nor had the few dozen people sitting around me at a North Carolina church.

I was at a two-day workshop facilitated by the North Carolina-based Racial Equity Institute. My workshop participants were a mix of races and professions, with a high percentage of teachers, police officers, church members, and social change professionals in the room. 

Our responses to the question varied. Some answers were mundane – “my hair is easier to manage.” Others were about the fundamentals of race in our society. Power. Authority. Safety. The most common answer was almost an inverse of the question:  “I like that I don’t have to think about it.”

If you don’t think much about your race, it’s because you’re white. Some of the people of color in my workshop were incredulous because they think about race all the time. The privilege of being white and part of the dominant culture is that your experience is considered the norm  which allows you the option of ignoring culture and race. That’s not true for everyone.

I am not an expert on race by any means, but I’ll do my best to mention some of the workshop themes I found most powerful. Our workshop facilitator went through the history of systemic racism on which the United States is founded, perpetuated by government laws well into the twentieth century through segregation. The legacy of this continues with a dramatic disparity in wealth between white people and people of color – white Americans have 22 times more wealth than black Americans, for example.   While  I had learned much of this information  in history classes in high school and college, this was the first time I had contextualized these events as a set of legal actions that have  disempowered and oppressed all people of color – from Native Americans to Africans to Latinos to Asians – through most of United States history.

Workshop organizer Deena Hayes used a powerful analogy of  joining a game of Monopoly after everyone else had been playing for two hours.  The icons would be gone; the properties and hotels purchased. It is almost impossible to win. That’s what it is like for people of color after white generations have benefitted from low mortgages, strong unions, top universities, and full employment.    

Recently, a lot of people criticized Starbucks for mis-stepping on their race initiative. Some chalked up the campaign as a marketing ploy. Others thought the multinational company was doing its part to address a pressing social problem. Personally, I applaud companies like Starbucks that take risks in order to better society and see business as a tool for social impact. As I took away from the Racial Equity Institute workshop, we need to be talking about race more. Being color blind will not help us improve race relations – in part because colorblindness is just not possible, even if you tried, and in part because race is embedded in every system of our society, and we need to really see that in order to move ahead. 

That’s one reason why Net Impact is partnering with the Racial Equity Institute to launch similar racial equity workshops on three campuses this Spring (Mills College, University of California – Berkeley, and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill), with the support of Symantec and the Levi Strauss Foundation. Our country’s racial legacy underlies our communities, economy, and government, and we want our next generation of leaders to understand this as they enter the working world. Is it possible that Net Impact or our funders might get criticized for launching these discussions? Sure. But it’s a risk we’re willing to take in light of the need, and opportunity for change.

Back to my opening question … what do I like about being white? Reflecting recently on the shooting death of Michael Brown, Tamir, and others, I stared across my kitchen table at my son’s milky skin and blonde hair.  I thought to myself how lucky I was that I didn’t have to worry about him getting harassed, or worse, by cops. The fact that not every mother in America can think this thought is a tragedy. And one that will continue unless we all – regardless of our color, our profession, or our comfort level – dive in to confront race together. 

How Governments and Nonprofits Can Deliver Impact for Investors

For the next few months, our friends and Net Impact members at HIP Investor will be contributing posts to help you break into the field of impact investing, learn how to measure impact across all types of investments, and find great places to work.

We all hear about the daily ups and downs of stock prices, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500. But what about the bonds issued by governments and nonprofits?

In the U.S., municipal bonds (munis) account for $3.7 trillion of financing for investors, which are attractive for their tax advantages and provide capital for positive impact. How does this support building a better world?

  1. Tax-exempt investing helps society improve

Munis are debt securities issued by governments (states, cities, counties, housing agencies) and nonprofits (universities, health care systems) to finance future spending and infrastructure, like schools, roads, and water delivery. Munis are funded by investors who are promised complete return of their principal investment and semi-annual interest payments. Where applicable, these investments are exempt from federal, state, and local taxes, saving investors taxes on those earnings to finance public good, serving citizens and beneficiaries with social services and environmental benefits.

  1. $3.7 trillion market is large pool of capital

The first municipal bond in the United States was issued by New York City in 1812 for digging a water canal, which resulted in other states financing more construction for new roads, bridges, and waterworks. For the past 200 years, muni bonds have grown to $3.7 trillion invested, according to EMMA, which tracks all issuances. Munis typically fund capital expenditures (new buildings, water pipelines, airport runways) or debt repayments. The wide range of investment opportunities in critical public infrastructure makes muni bonds a significant asset class and provides an exciting opportunity to more closely connect munis to impact investing.

  1. Impact ratings for muni bond investors help drive more impact

Munis represent an existing financial infrastructure that could help citizens to fund sustainable development in their own communities if municipalities were to issue bonds with impact metrics, such as a city implementing renewable energy production. With the strong demand for Green Bonds by investors, the U.S. municipal bond market is ripe for the application of impact ratings to existing issuances and embedding metrics into new issuances. Today, our analyst team at HIP Investor produces ratings for 4,000 muni bonds, which are used by fixed-income managers like SNW Asset Management (www.SNWam.com) to serve impact investors. Fewer than 5 percent of bond managers claim to integrate impact into their financial analysis, according to a Mercer Consulting review of fund managers. This is a risk, especially as low-impact ratings and historical muni bond defaults among cities and counties appear correlated, according to published research from HIP and SNW.

Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission is calling for a mandate on issuers of muni bonds to adhere to Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) recommended best practices for increased transparency. Similar to how many impact-savvy companies increase efficiency with water, energy, and waste reduction that ties to bottom line profit and prepares them for any government mandates, the public sector needs to start incorporating greater accountability and transparency into its issuances. Similarly, an Institutional Investor article warns of the risks associated with muni investors overlooking the impacts of climate change on their investments.

What does this mean for you as an impact professional or impact investor? There are more opportunities to drive higher positive impact inside governments and nonprofits by openly communicating performance and connect that to existing financial vehicles like muni bonds. Thus, we can bring benefits to citizens and beneficiaries through increased accountability that can be supported with impact investing in muni bonds.

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How and When to Integrate Social Values into a Business

This post is part of our Voices series, featuring Net Impact leaders around the world who are making a difference on their campuses and in their careers. They’re sharing their insights and their inspirations, in their own words.

Expectations of business are shifting. Consumers increasingly choose brands that strive to embed positive social and environmental values and practices into their products, services and workplaces. In particular, millennials, who account for $1.3 trillion in spending power in the U.S., want to interact with and work for companies that not only focus on profit, but also deliver value to people – employees, communities, consumers – and the planet.

So if you are not yet thinking about social impact, when is the right time to start?

From day 1:

If you are a budding entrepreneur with a great idea, embed positive social and environmental values and practices into your company from the start. At the Net Impact Conference 2014 there were a number of highly successful mission-driven companies - Honest Tea, Greyston Bakery, Happy Family, and others - that have been that way from the start. It has not necessarily been an easy ride, however, these companies are demonstrating that is possible to be a successful business while also having a strong commitment to social good - there are many valuable lessons that can be learnt from them.

When you are big:

It is never too late to think about the social impact of your company but, if you leave it too long, it becomes harder and takes longer to change. At the Net Impact Conference, we heard from Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, who talked about the multi-year journey that the company is on as part of its comprehensive Sustainable Living Plan. The process is highly complex and requires a huge amount of vision and leadership from the business, its partners and suppliers to get there. The same is true of other multinational companies such as Nestle, Pepsico, and P&G that are on similar journeys. While these efforts should be applauded and supported, if you have the choice, why wait?

So that leaves one option...

Act now as you grow:

While your company is smaller and more agile, make the shift today and embed a strong social mission and values into the business, culture and brand. It will not happen overnight but, if done in a strategic way, taking action may benefit the growth and success of the company.

Look at Chipotle. For over a decade, it has worked hard to embed its commitment to “food with integrity” into its business and brand. Earlier this year when it was forced to remove pork supplies from a third of its restaurants due to animal welfare concerns at an estimated cost of around $2 million in sales, there was no question about what action should be taken; the company knew that standing by its values was more important. CEO, Steve Ells told investors “customers are commending us for taking action against the inhumane treatment of animals, and congratulating us for standing by our business values.”

When is the right time to think about social impact? The answer is now. Whether your company or the company you work for is new, growing or more established, the sooner you take action to meet the changing expectations of today and tomorrow’s consumers, the better position the company will be in for long-term growth and success. 

Harriet Henry is a Senior Consultant at Cause Consulting and works with a range of European and Global companies helping them to integrate their business objectives with relevant social and environmental opportunities. She is passionate about the role a company’s “purpose” plays in embedding socially responsible practices into business operations.

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3 Skills Impact Investor Leaders Need

For the next few months, our friends and Net Impact members at HIP Investor will be contributing posts to help you break into the field of impact investing, learn how to measure impact across all types of investments, and find great places to work.

In our last post, we pointed you to the top 10 leader and laggard impact companies to work for, as noted in the HIP 100. We know many of you currently work for some of these leaders and laggards, so we're here with some insights into the skills, talents, and innovations that we think you need to continue the great work of the leaders -- or to help the laggards improve their rankings in these indexes.

1. Analytical Rigor

Whether working within a large organization or seeking out a job in the field, analytical rigor is a must in order to create significant impact and remain competitive. Sustainability professionals within companies prioritize and then quantify and measure sustainability initiatives within their firms, like Danone does on its top four initiatives. Similarly, successful sustainability analysts are able to uncover knowable but largely ignored public information on companies and guide impact investors toward more intelligent investment decisions for both themselves and their clients. The most competitive sustainability professionals speak the language of finance. This means being able to tie sustainable management practices to the bottom line of both large and small organizations.

More specifically, impact investor employers are usually looking for candidates with proficient skills in Excel – like being able to calculate a net present value and discounted cash flow, perform pivot tables, and utilize the VLOOKUP function. Candidates should also be able to read a balance sheet and name the assets and liabilities.  

The field of impact investing and other types of sustainability professions requires data-driven, quantifiable reporting in order to continually make two cases: the first case for socially responsible investing and the second against business-as-usual. Practitioners need to able to carry out rigorous analysis of a variety of indicators, many of which have been previously ignored.

2. Collaborative Entrepreneurship

Since impact investing as a field and discipline is still in its early stages and has not quite reached a critical mass, working as an impact investor requires sharing ideas. Impact investing seeks to reinvent capitalism as a less extractive force to a more regenerative mechanism for solving human needs. For this reason, impact investors need the skills to forge relationships across disciplines. Entrepreneurship, in this field, is more about the collaborative practice where the best available information is shared among like-minded professionals rather than a competitive landscape.

In addition, collaborative entrepreneurship requires talented teams to work well together by recognizing the unique contributions of various disciplines. Of course, an MBA serves one well for commercial skills, but, increasingly, the nuanced educations and skillsets of MPAs (Masters in Public Administration) and MSWs (Masters in Social Work) are highly valued. A multi-disciplinary approach not only facilitates more diverse teams, but also helps build more resilient solutions to the seemingly intractable problems the field sets out to solve.

3. Compassionate Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a skill that is highly valued among sustainability professionals and entails the process of understanding how different parts of a system relate to and influence each other. The ability to think in systems allows talented potential employees to seek out companies that rank higher on some of these indexes for their environmental and social performance. This is because they fundamentally understand the interdependence of social and environmental factors on financial returns, as these factors make up the financial system as a whole.  

Adding a compassionate component to systems thinking aligns well with the goals of impact investors and socially responsible businesses. However, even those who work for some laggards can help create greater impact on society from the inside out. As an example, Chevron earned a perfect score for its tenth consecutive year by the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for its efforts in both protecting and expanding workplace equality for its LGBTQ employees. Some of the skills associated with advancing compassionate systems thinking include acting as an ambassador to bridge cultures through reflective listening and finding common goals. Chevron recently embraced a more progressive approach to inclusive health benefits and anti-discrimination policies, an effort that likely got traction because its employees centered the business case around the financial return for introducing these initiatives. After all, research has shown that when employees feel engaged, firms could generate higher returns.

A compassionate systems thinker also has the ability to read between the data and recognize other societal factors that contribute to potential financial returns. For example, one of our HIP analysts discovered that nurses from one hospital system in Oregon were essentially protesting the hospital’s administration due to staffing shortages. This information factored into the entire hospital system’s overall rating since it indicated that management practices may be inhibiting the hospital’s ability to deliver effective and efficient care for patients.

Regardless of whether you work for or want to work for a leading impact company or you find yourself working for a laggard company, it is important to remember these skills and talents that will help bring innovation wherever you land in a company.

HIP (Human Impact + Profit) Investor is an expert in rating investments (4,500 companies and 4,000 governments and nonprofits), applying those ratings to portfolios, and managing money for investors. In addition to measuring impact, HIP’s Ratings are leading indicators of future risk and return potential. HIP's Ratings measure quantifiable results, such as human capital value and carbon efficiency. HIP serves investors, advisors, fund managers, and 401(k​)​ plans seeking to manage future risk, return, and impact.

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10 Impact Companies to Work for (and 10 You Can Help Transform)

For the next few months, our friends and Net Impact members at HIP Investor will be contributing posts to help you break into the field of impact investing, learn how to measure impact across all types of investments, and find great places to work.

Want to work for a company that delivers positive environmental and social benefits while remaining profitable, i.e. employable? Would you like to be part of a large organization with management practices that are considered attractive by all types of impact investors? Perhaps you want to work as a sustainability investment analyst?

One way to find these companies is by perusing indexes, such as the S&P 100, a subset of the S&P 500 (maintained by Standard & Poor’s), featuring 100 of the largest companies in the United States. Impact investors often take a closer look at investment indexes to determine if the companies listed are creating value in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

At HIP Investor, we have reweighted companies in the S&P 100 (as well as 4,500 corporate stocks and bonds) and created a human impact index called the HIP 100. Some of the leaders of the HIP 100 include technology companies like Microsoft (MFST) and Intel (INTC). These companies embed solving human problems into the products and services they deliver, which are accessible to people around the world.

The lower weighted members of the HIP 100, such as Halliburton (HAL) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) may deliver benefits of energy production, transportation, and production of materials such as plastics, but they include high consequences for society and the environment. These companies do not rate high and, therefore, are not attractive to impact investors.

Top 10 Impact Companies (rankings revised as of December 31, 2014)

  1. Microsoft, MSFT, 71.2
  2. Intel Corp., INTC, 69.9
  3. Baxter International Inc., BAX, 69.7
  4. Merck & Company Inc., MRK, 68.5
  5. Texas Instruments Inc., TXN, 65.8
  6. 3M Co., MMM, 65.5
  7. Biogen Idec Inc., BIIB, 65.4
  8. Accenture PLC Class A, ACN, 65.1
  9. Johnson & Johnson, JNJ, 64.6
  10. Dow Chemical Co., DOW, 64.2

Bottom 10 Companies You Can Transform

  1. Halliburton Co., HAL, 35.3
  2. Capital One Financial Group, COF, 35.10
  3. General Dynamics Group, GD, 33.9
  4. Devon Energy Group, DVN, 33.6
  5. American International Group, AIG, 31.7
  6. Simon Property Group, SPG, 31.6
  7. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B, BRK.B, 30.7
  8. Schlumberger NV, SLB, 29.5
  9. National Oilwell Varco Inc, NOV, 29.0
  10. Anadarko Petroleum Co., APC, 27.7

Surprised by anything on these lists? Comment below! 

Read part two: 3 Skills Impact Investor Leaders Need

HIP (Human Impact + Profit) Investor is an expert in rating investments (4,500 companies and 4,000 governments and nonprofits), applying those ratings to portfolios, and managing money for investors. In addition to measuring impact, HIP’s Ratings are leading indicators of future risk and return potential. HIP's Ratings measure quantifiable results, such as human capital value and carbon efficiency. HIP serves investors, advisors, fund managers, and 401(k​)​ plans seeking to manage future risk, return, and impact.

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Are Social Impact Start-ups Set Up to Fail?

Why we have 100 dating apps and not 100 apps that solve homelessness.

Entrepreneurship is a real, undisputed driver to solve big, hairy urban problems like public transportation, homelessness, and workforce development. Urban issues are becoming more important as more Americans move to cities; 81% of the country now lives in a city.

Even though millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation in history, a small proportion of young entrepreneurs are starting enterprises to solve our community’s toughest social issues. This is because the funds available to impact entrepreneurs are a drop in the bucket compared to the funding available to more traditional entrepreneurs. Research shows urban impact entrepreneurs are 35% as likely to secure funding as their traditional peers. As a consequence, entrepreneurs are following the funding dollars in sectors that have been proven to be profitable and interesting to funders. That’s why we have 100 dating apps and not 100 apps that help solve homelessness.

Clara Brenner is co-founder and CEO of Tumml, a nonprofit urban ventures accelerator. Tumml’s mission is to empower entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. In her TEDx talk, Clara argues that for the social enterprise sector to scale, more investors will need to join the urban innovation movement by helping seed fund for-profit startups that are tackling problems that really matter.

How can investors support urban impact enterprises?

Social startups are not getting the resources to get off the ground, but Clara notes two ways impact investors can step up. Unfortunately, most tech angels and micro-venture capitalists think investing in social enterprises yields lower returns. In truth, urban innovators are generating real returns – look at Revolution Foods and Zipcar as examples. Companies like these are scaling, creating jobs, and doing so profitably.

The second way impact investors can drive change is by investing in more seed funding. Traditionally, impact investors haven’t invested in seed funding because of the higher risk of investing in untested business models. In a recent study, JP Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network identified $46 billion dollars in impact assets under management, but only 3% are earmarked for seed funding. That 1.38 billion represents such a small part of the overall investing bucket. To put that in perspective, that’s how about as much as Uber got in its last round of funding!

Impact investing also has long vetting cycles that require long proposals with a ton of metrics that brand new startups typically don’t have. In contrast, traditional seed funders have shorter seeding cycles that allow startups to move quickly. There are fewer metrics to prove out a theory of change. For impact investing to truly become mainstream, Clara argues that this is how investors should be operating.

What’s at stake?

When impact investors fail to support new enterprises, those impact entrepreneurs also miss out on the invaluable guidance from investors who can help make sure that social priority is not lost as the company scales. Urban impact entrepreneurs often find themselves in a catch-22: investors demand results before deploying capital, yet entrepreneurs lack the funding to produce early results. However, by writing off urban impact entrepreneurs, we are missing big opportunities to innovate and solve our most pressing social issues. Once more impact investors seed successful social enterprises and help drive urban innovators to operational milestones, a larger variety of investor classes will enter the market. Impact investors need to step up; without them, urban impact entrepreneurs will not be successful.

Watch Clara Brenner’s TEDx Talk on why social start ups are set up to fail

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