Greed No Longer Good as MBAs Get into Impact Investing | TopMBA.com

Greed No Longer Good as MBAs Get into Impact Investing

By Seb Murray

Updated June 3, 2019 Updated June 3, 2019

In the 1987 blockbuster film Wall Street, fictional financier Gordon Gekko declared: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” For today’s future business leaders, however, that statement seems out of touch.

MBA students at Ivy League business schools are increasingly interested in impact investing — investing that intentionally seeks measurable social and environmental benefits.

“I believe that business can be a positive force for good. And businesses that do good, whether helping to improve access to education, or cleaning up the environment, are businesses that perform well financially,” says Gabe Elsner. This Wharton School MBA candidate founded a nonprofit clean energy thinktank before enrolling in business school, and says he chose the Wharton MBA program to, “solve some of the problems we face as a society.”

A sought-after program among Wharton MBA students

Elsner is one of 40 MBA students on Wharton’s impact investing program. Participants conduct due diligence and recommend investments in social enterprises from six sectors including education, energy and the environment, and financial inclusion. In partnership with OurCrowd, a crowdfunding platform, Wharton MBAs put forward up to three companies each year whose pitches are subsequently placed on OurCrowd.

It’s one of the most sought-after programs on campus, according to Nick Ashburn, a senior director at the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.

“People might think that our MBAs go straight to Wall Street or large consulting firms,” he says. “That is absolutely true, but we also see that many of our alumni, 90,000 globally, are actually actively engaged in some sort of social impact career.”

It is not just at Wharton where interest in having ‘impact’ is a primary career motivation. Bain & Company, the management consultancy firm, polled 1,500 MBAs and more than 50% said they will prioritize impact in their careers over financial rewards. Social impact has resonated particularly well with the millennial generation — those aged between 20 and 30.

“These young professionals expect to be able to bring their values with them into their work,” says Megan Kashner, director of social impact at the Kellogg School of Management. “This generation has grown up knowing that climate change is a threat; that global poverty is a problem. It is logical to them to think that the markets in which they are working in have a role to play in addressing these global challenges.”

This has prompted business schools to roll out more opportunities for MBA students to do good. The MBA Impact Investing Network & Training program (MIINT), for example, counts 25 business schools as its members, including MIT Sloan, INSEAD and Michigan Ross.The program has taught 600 participants how to think like an impact investor. Over six months, MBA students are asked to define a thesis, source investments, conduct diligence and, at the end, present recommendations to a panel of established investors. (Read more about the culmination of this year's MIINT program on TopMBA.com.)

Career opportunities are growing says Kellogg’s director of social impact

The growth in impact investing at business schools mirrors the growing roster of large financial institutions diving into the space. Investment banks Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and BlackRock, the asset manager, have all set up funds. The sector is growing; US$60 billion of assets under management are currently held in impact investments, according to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN).

“Impact investing is moving from the fringe into the mainstream,” says Kashner at the Kellogg School, which has two MBA classes that are focused on institutional and early-stage impact investing.

This has widened career opportunities for MBA students, she says. “My inbox is full of emails from employers looking for the best and the brightest for summer internships and full-time roles...Whether students want to do this on the ground — in venture capital or private equity — or in an institutional financial role, those opportunities are there, and are growing.”

Wharton’s Ashburn is more cautious on job prospects. “They are still somewhat limited,” he says. But he also believes opportunities are growing: “Now mainstream players like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and asset managers like BlackRock are starting to get into this space, we are seeing more impact-related career offerings from more mainstream institutions, and that is what it will take to grow job opportunities in this space.”

Adam Connaker is a program associate at the Rockefeller Foundation, a pioneer in impact investing. He says the organization hires up to eight people for internships and full-time roles each year, most of whom are MBAs. “We look for people who can speak the language of finance and who understand how our projects connect with different institutions. We also look for people who can understand development objectives. Before we make an investment, we must say we strongly believe it will have a strong impact on the world. This is something MBAs do well.”

“I’ve always liked the idea of investing for a purpose” says Kellogg School student

For those who do not wish to work at a financial institution, there are also opportunities in social entrepreneurship.

Before coming to the Kellogg School eight months ago, Ashwin Halgeri did not know that impact investing even existed. Today, he is the cofounder of EduIndia, a startup trying to foster education access in India, which recently won Morgan Stanley’s sustainable investing competition.

“I’ve always had a problem with traditional investing — you should do something with your money, other than seeking fiscal returns,” he says. “I’ve always liked the idea of investing for a purpose, and impact investing is that.

“It’s not philanthropy — you’re not giving away money. But you want to get something other than financial returns. That’s what investing should be like: You get returns, but have impact in the world too.”

Greed, it seems, is no longer good.

This article was originally published in May 2017 . It was last updated in June 2019

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Written by

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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