The Brief | November 21, 2023

The Brief: Private equity’s sustainability billions, Raj Shah’s big betsThe Brief:

The team at


Thanksgiving greetings, Agents of Impact!

At ImpactAlpha, we’re grateful for your attention, community and impact, day in and day out. We’re taking a Brief break for the US holiday and will be back Monday, Nov. 27.

Featured: Private Equity

Private equity is leaving billions of dollars in sustainability value on the table. Private equity firms have amassed hundreds of billions of dollars in capital from institutional investors looking to juice their returns. As they put that fundraising bonanza to work, they have an historic opportunity to create financial and societal value through sustainability. Some PE firms and investors, primarily in Europe, have developed sophisticated value-creation approaches. For example, Europe’s Investindustrial boosts sustainability in its portfolio companies to attract higher valuations at exit. But many firms do not know how to identify, create or capture that value, according to fresh research from New York University’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business. Interviews with general partners, or GPs, and limited partners, or LPs, found that due diligence focuses mostly on “red flags,” write the Stern School’s Tensie Whelan and Julien Marchese and Florent Nanse of Arthur D. Little in a guest post on ImpactAlpha. ESG efforts often are little more than collection of metrics after an investment is made. “Many GPs and LPs are at the beginning of the sustainability value-creation journey,” the authors write, “which creates a lot of opportunity for improving societal impact and growing financial returns.” 

  • Returns on sustainability. The researchers base their assertions on the Return on Sustainability Investment data they have collected across industries. Among the nine performance drivers of sustainability: operational efficiency, risk mitigation, improved employee productivity and retention, innovation, sales and marketing, customer loyalty, earned media, and better supplier and stakeholder relations. For more on the first phase of the Center for Sustainable Business research into private equity, see, More private equity firms embrace impact as a path to outperformance.“
  • Tools for value creation. The researchers will launch a set of sustainability value-creation tools for GPs and LPs in ImpactAlpha and at an NYU Stern CSB conference, Tuesday, Dec. 12. Join ImpactAlpha’sAmy Cortese with ImpactAlpha’s discount tickets to this invitation-only event. Be one of the first 20 people to register with the code ImpactAlpha2023 for $50 off the $149 ticket.  
  • Keep reading, “Private equity is leaving billions of dollars in sustainability value on the table,” by Tensie Whelan and Florent Nanse and Julien Marchese. And catch up with Whelan’s earlier research here.

Impact Voices: Personal Impact

Big Bets: Rockefeller Foundation’s Raj Shah on how large-scale change really happens (excerpt). Climate change. Poverty. War. The daily drumbeat of news can cause people to become cynical, detached or apathetic. Even for those committed to positive change, barriers seem insurmountable. Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, calls that creeping feeling of helplessness the “aspiration trap.” The antidote, he argues: betting big. Big bettors don’t seek to better a few lives with charity or comfort, says Shah. Instead, they set a huge, audacious goal. In an excerpt from his new book, Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens,” Shah explains the mindset that has informed his career. Rockefeller has bet big on climate action, with a $1 billion commitment over the five years. This month, the foundation awarded $11 million to 25 companies.

  • Big matters. “If you aspire to solve big problems, people – sometimes one by one – will join you. They will pull more than their weight. Sometimes they’ll even perform unimaginable feats,” writes Shah. “The bigger your goals, the better your chances of bringing in sufficient partners, allies, and supporters to solve root causes and deliver large-scale change.”
  • Personal journey. “I was inspired to make the world better when I was 17, and that desire came by a twist of fate,” Shah writes. “Even then, and long after, I struggled to give that calling a firm direction and worried how it fit with the expectations that come with being the first child of immigrant parents building a middle-class life in the United States.”
  • Read an excerpt from “Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens,” by Raj Shah on ImpactAlpha.

Thank you for your impact. More all day at