It is no secret that MBA grads by the droves are seeking socially-conscious job opportunities. The community of socially-minded business school students continues to grow: Attendance at the Net Impact confer was up to 2,600 MBA students and professionals.
As an MBA student who was fortunate enough to have an internship in the field of impact investing at Acumen Fund, I’m constantly asked about my experience and tips for how to get into a popular and quickly growing field. Here are a few tips that I hope are helpful:
Events and organizations focused on impact investing are popping up everywhere. GIIN (Global Impact Investing Network) has weekly emails and events bringing together people from all over the sector. Closely follow organizations such as Acumen Fund, Rockefeller Foundation and ANDE (Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs) and the content, open panel events and industry conferences that they attend.
Academic internships are one of the most valuable ways to get involved and noticed within the Impact Investing sector. Taking advantage of a flexible class schedule, you may be surprised by the less than 20 hour a week arrangements that organizations—many of which are hungry for valuable resources—might consider. Some will offer payment, others will offer school credit and for some it will need to be on a volunteer basis.
With now hundreds of players in the sector, there is a broad range of approaches, structure, and specialties. Many are drawn to the sector because it seems to combine the moral validation of philanthropy with the prestigious rigor of finance, but the field is diversifying and developing quickly. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to understand these subtleties. The basic definitions of "returns" and "capital" can have different meanings among proponents of impact investing and between different firms.
Some key players in this sector are part of broader ecosystem of foundations, venture philanthropists, nonprofits, technical assistance providers, financial institutions and a growing number of major corporations. Just check out the ANDE membership to see the diversity among members.
In a rapidly growing but still relatively young industry, you’ll find different funds with similar philosophies pursuing different goals with varying strategies. While linked by a common thesis, they all have varying sector and geographical focuses and even slightly different priorities. It is important to really look into the aspects of each to find your best fit. If your interest lies in New York, look to the New York City Investment Fund or Contact Fund. If you love the idea of investing in farming look to Root Capital. From healthcare investments to financial inclusion to domestic issues or international development, there are now a range of approaches and sub-sectors to target based on your specific experience and interest.
While the management of investing in enterprises is at the core of many of these organizations, there are broad range of other opportunities and ways to be impactful. In addition to the standard departments such as development, communications and finance, many impact investing organizations have departments focused on measuring and tracking impact as well as training and developing the next generation of leaders in social impact. Once inside an organization, there may be opportunities to transfer between departments and broaden your experience.
This was one of the first (and most surprising) pieces of advice I got from my boss. But as I dug a little deeper, I understood that the advice was to ask for them in the right way. You can likely retrieve almost any piece of information from the internet. So, do your due diligence. Saying you are fascinated by the company’s growing energy investments in Pakistan and their impact on the overall stability of the country will resonate a lot more than saying you love the idea of impact investing and would like to hear more about it. Also, in the social network age, you have an opportunity to join the conversation without asking someone to give you a half an hour of their time. If you demonstrate your interest, knowledge, and ability to contribute before you even make the ask, you’ll have a much better chance of getting a chance to sit with someone to learn about opportunities to get more involved.
A question nearly every MBA ponders is whether to do the more traditional on-campus recruiting or to pursue individual opportunities. A number of senior leaders in the impact investing world have come from finance and consulting backgrounds and it has served them well. Both these sectors provide valuable insights that are essential to what firms like Acumen, Omidyar, Bamboo Finance, IGNIA and others do. However, this is not a prerequisite. There is a growing number of leaders who are sector experts, legal professionals, veterans of the non-profit world and others who are bringing their talents and knowledge to the table.