By Marc Wancer, Senior Vice President, Financial Institutions Analyst, Aeris
After spending a great day last weekend at the Spark: Yale Social Impact Conference interacting with the next-generation of leaders and innovators in the social sector, I am pleased to report that the future looks bright. Now in its second year, this annual student-led conference exists to “further engagement in the social sector by bringing together committed, driven students and leaders in social impact.”
I sat on a panel discussion with Rachel Reilly Carroll, Assistant Director of Impact Investing at Enterprise Community Partners; Xau Ying Ly, Portfolio Manager at Boston Impact Initiative; and James McIntyre, Head of Public Finance at Neighborly. The combined expertise and unique perspectives of the panelists were put to work addressing a large topic, “Investing in Development.” We chose to focus in particular on how capital can best be used to create sustainable, equitable cities by addressing some of the social and economic challenges of urban development.
One of the key themes was the importance of local- and community-focused investing, as well as the many opportunities that urban communities present for deploying capital. The panel agreed on the importance of public, private, and philanthropic partnerships, and the need for appropriately structured and layered capital, alongside public policy advocacy efforts, in addressing urban development. Detroit serves as an example of local and national CDFIs, working together with foundations and banks, making positive inroads to develop commercial corridors and reinvigorate communities through neighborhood-driven strategies, coupled with policy and rezoning efforts.
Another thought-provoking topic that we tackled was the somewhat conflicting nature of achieving mission versus a return on investment. The panel seemed to agree that return on investment does not necessarily need to be compromised to achieve impact. But we also wrestled with the tension created as CDFIs and other organizations become more sophisticated and expand their base of impact investors. The panel wondered: is the push to quality compromising on meeting some of the needs of the unbanked businesses, consumers, and nonprofits CDFIs have traditionally worked with?
Many challenging questions and roadblocks certainly remain before we fulfill the vision of more sustainable, equitable cities. But as the session wound down with the insightful and probing questions from the students in attendance, it seemed clear that whatever challenges may face our nation’s cities, the commitment to community and impact is robust and strengthening among the next generation of social sector leaders.