My Experience in Impact Investing

By: Stephen Blackburn | August 9, 2017

Stephen Blackburn is a summer intern with The Kresge Foundation’s Social Investments, Finance, and Investment teams and a rising sophomore at the University of Chicago. Read on to learn about his experience with Impact Investing this summer and how it has impacted him personally.

When I started my internship this summer at The Kresge Foundation, a private philanthropy in metro Detroit that seeks to expand opportunities for people with low-incomes in America’s cities, I came with a mix of feelings that ranged from nervousness about the position to cynicism about the actual impact that the philanthropic sector can have on the world. The former would be expected of anyone starting an internship at a place like Kresge, but the latter had not always been the case for me. In fact, it was just recently that my outlook on the world had become more pessimistic. I was dealing with the loss of a close friend from college, and that coupled with some things happening at home and the inundation of negative news from around the world left me thinking that certain problems are just impossible to solve, and that it might be better to just throw in the towel.

That all changed when I got to Kresge.

You see, there is a certain nobility that comes with impact investing. Of course, in these transactions, you want to employ strategies that yield a financial return, if at all possible. But the noble side of the work is the reason I wanted to spend my summer in this field. I got this internship through a program at the University of Chicago called the John W. Rogers Jr. Internship Program in Finance. Formerly called the Ariel Investments Internship Program, it was generously started by John W. Rogers in order to increase access to jobs in finance for underrepresented students. The program provides industry training, skill building, and site visits to some of the top financial firms in the Chicago area.

In my internship, I am rotating among three teams at the foundation: Social Investments (SI), Finance, and Investments. I spent my first three weeks with the Social Investments team, and this was my intro to the impact investing field. During this part of my internship, I was able to attend the CDFA Federal Urban Finance Forum and the Mission Investors Exchange Institute, both of which gave me real experience in networking and hearing from two important players in the impact investing field. It was enlightening to discover how institutions at these conferences are thinking about solving the problems that most affect their communities by deploying capital in strategic ways.

I also had the chance to work on several projects during my time with SI, such as reporting on the impact of the foundation’s investments, researching measures in the surety bond market to help higher risk businesses, and performing financial and trend analysis on a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and a Development Finance Agency (DFA). I’ve also had the chance to work with some of the most knowledgeable people in the field, including Kimberlee Cornett, Kim Dempsey, Aaron Seybert, and Joe Evans. These people are absolutely amazing and work relentlessly to ensure that the impact investments Kresge is making are strategic in removing barriers that prevent communities from accessing resources in a way that aligns with the foundation’s programmatic mission.

I have learned so much this summer in such a short time that it amazes me to think about where I was before I started. I think my time at Kresge has renewed my belief in the potential to promote human progress in the United States and in the world. My outlook on the future has improved as well knowing that by 2020, approximately 1 trillion dollars in capital is expected to be committed to impact investing. And it is not just the ideal of impact investing that makes me hopeful, because that alone is insufficient. What makes me hopeful is that I am seeing in real time families being able to buy homes, entrepreneurs being able to move their ideas forward, and cities being reenergized and rebuilt due to the work of impact investing. 

Net Impact is a grantee of The Kresge Foundation and is working on content and resources to help prepare young people for careers in impact investing. For more information on Impact Investing see our Impact Investing Portal

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