Does what we do shape what we believe?
Or does what we believe shape what we do?
I’ve spent my entire career in the investing world. It’s what I do.
About three years ago, I made a life pivot. My goal was to work independently, combining what I do with things I care deeply about—leadership, girls’ education and empowerment, and global investing. It’s not retiring; it’s choosing to work differently. I call it a Portfolio Life.
One of my goals was to learn more about impact investing. I decided that the best way to learn was by doing. So I became an impact investor with my own portfolio.
Impact investing is not an asset class. It’s not some pursuit of the uber-wealthy. It’s simply a change in mindset.
If we agree that we should seek to spend our money on items and experiences that best reflect our values, why would we not seek to invest our money that way?
For those who ask me about impact investing, I offer three pieces of advice:
- Start by identifying what you believe in.
- Just get started. It’s an ever-evolving journey.
- Anyone can do this. Starting tomorrow.
Three years ago, if you asked me my specific passion and investment thesis, I wouldn’t have had a crisp answer. I didn’t get hung up on it. Because I could easily point to some core beliefs:
- The overlooked opportunities in emerging markets
- That unlocking the leadership potential of women and girls is the best investment opportunity of our lifetime
- That removing inefficiencies in entrepreneurs’ ability to access capital is a tremendous investment opportunity
What I had done shaped what I believed.
What I believe would now shape what I do.
While my prior emerging markets work focused on Asia, my current interest is East Africa. I believe Africa offers great long-term promise. From favorable demographics to improving infrastructure to incredible entrepreneurs, the opportunities for strong financial and social returns are often overlooked. Plus, I want to spend more time traveling there.
In 2014, I spent a month volunteering at a girls’ school in Kenya. I trusted that a philanthropic or investing idea or two would follow. Instead, a flood of ideas followed. In one case, a friend introduced me to Chris, who was launching an innovative technology for entrepreneurs involved in trade finance in Rwanda to access capital. His company Kountable became my first impact investment.
I continued to read, research, and find interesting people and organizations. LinkedIn and Twitter became key tools. I had phone calls, coffee dates, and explored different impact investing opportunities and networks.
On one coffee date, I met Amanda. Amanda reminded me of myself two decades ago. Our shared passions for learning and global growth connected us; her smarts, wisdom and get-it-done attitude glued us. We collaborated on several projects. When she co-founded Rwandan-based company Kasha, which strives to be Africa’s largest platform for women’s health products and information, I became their first angel investor.
A year later, I was introduced to Matt & Laura, the founders of RENEW. RENEW facilitates private investments in Ethiopian businesses from individual investors. They source, conduct due diligence, and structure deals for members of their network. But RENEW’s larger mission is to change the way Western investors view Africa. Their business approach and passion for making investing fun and interesting mirror my own. I joined the network, have made two investments, and have been a contributor and beneficiary of a robust investing community.
By just jumping in, I learned several things about myself:
- I look at things through an economic lens. “Impact” means different things to different people. For me, “impact” is more about jobs created and sustainable practices versus lives saved. I believe that social good follows when families have a solid economic base. It took a while to settle on what impact investing means to me.
- I like getting my hands dirty, building communities, and making investing fun. I’ve participated in launch parties and onsite due diligence visits in East Africa. I willingly share my stories with others, inspiring them to think differently. I enjoy leveraging my professional expertise of helping forward-thinking companies grow and strengthen an investor base; its even led to consulting and advisory roles.
- Girls’ education and empowerment remains a priority; but it’s harder to “invest” in. So I made it a focus of my philanthropy.
My beliefs shaped my doing.
But my doing was further shaping what I believe.
This is just the beginning of my impact investing journey. I’m certainly not seeking to have an entire portfolio dedicated to private investments in Africa. But by jumping in and working through the harder stuff, its given me new ideas on what I might do with my more traditional (i.e., publicly listed U.S. equity) investments.
I will never achieve an ideal investment portfolio. But it’s not about the destination; it’s all about the journey.
The journey challenges me to constantly ask myself: Am I spending and investing my most valuable resources–my money, time and social capital–on the things that are most aligned with my values and beliefs?
Are you asking yourself the same question?