Impact Management | July 19, 2018

Development professionals-in-training make good impact investors, too

Rehana Nathoo
Guest Author

Rehana Nathoo

An impact investor without financial training cannot perform key parts of their job. But an impact investor without a systems level understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve is equally ill-equipped.

Just as business-school grads learn impact on the job, on the road, on the plane, and on the ground, so too can development students learn about the financial side of the equation.

As the impact investing industry trains the next cohort of talent, let’s invite students and educators from across disciplines to learn more about this space in the same way we attempt to work within it – together.

Knocking down persistent myths about impact investing

In this year’s Global Impact Investing Network’s annual survey, 20% of respondents said “professionals with relevant skillset” continues to be a challenge. To bring more rigor and perspective to impact investing, we must push past the persisting myth that business school is the only way to get this “specialized” training

The Kellogg School of Management’s Impact and Sustainable Finance Faculty Consortium last month focused on the importance of training the next generation of impact investors. Departments and schools who don’t have “business” in their core offerings must throw their hat in the ring.

The translator

Broadening the impact investing practitioner tent requires the type of translator that uses both art and science. One who understands the investability of a solution as much as the history of the problem. That can comprehend that successful scaling  is as vulnerable to the traditions of local markets as it is to limited track record of the entrepreneur.

Interestingly, the would-be practitioners who are trained to look at entire systems, a range of complex actors, centuries old conflicts, last-mile impact and large-scale financing of projects are development professionals.

I have the honor of teaching at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. The students and faculty that I engage with have experiences far richer than a single industry, geography, or moment in time. They’ve seen history repeat, programs thrive, and innovation fail. They’ve been on the ground working with governments, the private sector, and local communities.

Last year, the school’s impact investing and social finance courses were oversubscribed, and continue to have increasing demand. The students that make it into these classes represent interdisciplinary learning in action. They specialize in everything from public policy, to communications, to development, and to business. They have a chance to learn together, share their own experiences, and thoughtfully debate the right approaches towards a set of shared solutions. Many of them don’t have these same opportunities for classes offered through the business school.

Development professionals are hungry to use their training across sectors, industries, and outcome areas. They are motivated so deeply by solving centuries-old problems that they run full speed into a life of less pay, tough working conditions, and days and years away from home. In no way are they more enlightened than their business school colleagues, but they are certainly qualified to be solving the same problems.

If we really are in an era of true-impact, then impact-washing, green-washing, return-washing or any kind of inauthenticity has no place in the next evolution of our growth. Combating such washing requires true diversity of perspective and training. Let’s invite everyone to the conversation.

Rehana Nathoo is an adjunct professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the founder and principal at Spectrum Impact, which works with organizations, families and funds looking to grow their impact investing footprint. Also from Rehana on ImpactAlpha:

The Path Forward for Impact Investing in the Trump Presidency