Episode 32

#32 All Investing Is Impact Investing: Fran Seegull, CIO Impact Assets

Even the Pope is talking about it, but what exactly is impact investing? Meet Fran Seegull, Executive Director of the U.S Impact Investing Alliance, a project of the Ford Foundation and Omidyar Network. Fran is also an Adjunct Professor at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Senior Fellow at the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, both at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Kelly Hoey and Fran chat about impact investing, the drivers behind this growing market, and how social entrepreneurs can find investors.

Show Notes

The Impact Economy: An Open Letter to the 2016 Presidential Candidates by Fran Seegull

Beyond Tradeoffs: The Rise of the Impact Unicorns by Fran Seegull

Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Two Years After White House Commitments: $1 Billion Deployed for Impact by US Investors

In 2014 29 Orgs Committed $1.5 Billion to Impact Investing. Where’s the Money after 18 Months?


“Impact Investing: What Will It Take to Get to Scale?” Conscious Company Magazine, January/February 2016

“Impact Investing for the Rest of Us,” Conscious Company Magazine, Spring 2015

Online video interview, “Is Impact Investing A Solution To Global Problems?” Forbes, July 13, 2016

Online video interview, “An Eventful Year in Impact Investing – An Interview with ImpactAssets’ Fran Seegull,” Next Billion, January 14, 2016

Online video interview, “Impact Investing No Longer Reserved for Country Club Crowd,” The Street, April 2015

Impact Investing With Fran Seegull of ImpactAssets by Charley Wright, DailyAlts

The Landscape of Social Impact Investment Research: Trends and Opportunities University of Oxford

Introducing the Impact Investing Benchmark Cambridge Associates

The Diana Project

F.B. Heron Foundation Is Going ‘All In’ by Anne Fields, Forbes

How Etsy’s IPO Could Spark Investor Interest in B Corps by Dennis Price, Entrepreneur

Toms Shoes Is Investing In Companies That Actually Care About The World by Alexander Kaufman, Huffington Post

Honest Tea: It Ain’t Easy Being Mission-Based by Leon Kaye, Triple Pundit

Ben & Jerry’s CEO: How to Get Your Social Impact Game On by Renee Faris, Triple Pundit

Guest bios & transcripts are available on www.broadmic.com.


Fran is the Executive Director of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, a program of the Ford Foundation and Omidyar Network. The Alliance works to increase awareness of impact investing in the United States, foster deployment of and demand for impact capital across asset classes globally, and partner with stakeholders, including government, to build the impact investing ecosystem.

Fran was the Chief Investment Officer and Managing Director of Investments at ImpactAssets where she headed investment management for The Giving Fund—a $300 million impact investing donor advised fund. Fran also oversaw product development and managed the Global Sustainable Agriculture and Microfinance Plus Notes.

Prior to joining ImpactAssets, Fran was Managing Director at Funk Ventures, an early-stage impact venture capital firm. She also served as Vice President of Business Development at Novica, an online retailer of products made by artisans in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fran has consulted to National Geographic and NPR West as well as a number of family foundations and offices.

Fran has a BS in Economics from Columbia University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She serves on the Board of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and served on the Investment Committee of the Goldhirsh Foundation and on the G7 Social Impact Investment Task Force Working Group on Asset Allocation. She tweets on impact investing at @franseegull


Fran: But the truth is that all investing is impact investing. The impact may be positive or the impact may be negative but how we invest, purchase goods, consume goods, drive, vote, all have an impact.

Female Voices: I am an entrepreneur. Be inspired. We are incredibly powerful. Color outside the lines. Open your mind. Dream big, be bold, take action. The narrative needs to change. We can fix this, we can change this. I know we can. Think broad. Think like a broad. Think broad.

Kelly: I'm Kelly Hoey, host of BroadMic. I speak with the most accomplished entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders about the issues that matter in building a business. You will get the inspiration as well as the picks and shovels you need to become a better entrepreneur.

Today, I have Fran Seegull in the studio. Fran is Chief Investment Officer and Managing Director at ImpactAssets, a nonprofit investment firm seeking to increase the flow of capital to impact investing. She leads the investment team at ImpactAssets, oversees product development and manages the investment strategy suite of products. Fran is also an Adjunct Professor at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Senior Fellow at the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, both at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

Today, we’ll be talking about impact investing, what it is, and the drivers behind this growing market. Welcome, Fran.

Fran: Happy to be here, Kelly. Thank you.

Kelly: So before we jump into impact investing, I want to dial back a little bit and ask you about a year-long field study on women's entrepreneurs’ access to venture capital that you did when you were studying at Harvard Business School in 1997, 1998. So tell us about your findings, and what's your thoughts on how the situation has evolved since then?

Fran: Sure. In 1998 when I was studying for my MBA, the Small Business Administration reported that just 2.5% of venture-backed firms were women-owned businesses. And 15 years later, in 2013, the Diana Report at Babson College found that only 3% of companies receiving venture capital had female CEO's. And I’m really disappointed that the situation hasn't changed in 15, 16 years and I was wondering then and now why women entrepreneurs’ access to venture capital is so impeded.

And a couple of my findings, I would say most of my findings, still hold true today. I found that there was limited eligibility for women entrepreneurs, meaning eligibility for the venture capital investment type. The majority of women-owned businesses are small sole proprietorships and are mostly service or retail based. Many women go into entrepreneurship to take more control of their lives and some of them seek independence, flexibility, work life balance and so that positions them as maybe a strong lifestyle business but not high growth business that would be commensurate with venture capital.

There's also limited access for women. The rules of the game of venture capital are very opaque. There is a much more of deal flow. It's all about who you know and most of those networks are male in nature and hard to break into. We know that venture firms with female partners are three times more likely to invest in companies led by women CEO's. But from 1999 to 2014, roughly the period of when I did the original research to today, the percentage of women partners in VC firms has dropped from 10% to 6%. So there are a number of challenges that women face and I think we're starting to see some movement finally with some headline news and other types of things that Ellen Pao, Kleiner Perkins suit, and greater interest among the media about the situation and how to rectify the situation. So I hope to see some movement to the positive for women entrepreneurs in the coming years.

Kelly: So one of those things we don't want to have this conversation in another 15 years.

Fran: Exactly.

Kelly: We solved this one. So let's just talk about you for a second. What was a pivotal moment in your background that moved you in the direction of impact investing and the area that you're working in now?

Fran: In the early 1990s, I started my career in philanthropy. I was a Program Officer at a family foundation in Los Angeles. So I was helping this family give away capital to nonprofit institutions. And I think we were doing some pretty innovative grant making at the time using our grant capital. So we would pay out 5% of our endowment in a year in order to maintain our foundation status.

But over time, Kelly, I started wondering what the other 95% was doing. How was the endowment invested? And was it invested consistently with the foundations mission or unconsciously across purposes to it? So that's what led me to apply to business school and so I went to business school at Harvard to figure out how to use the financial capital markets and for-profit business models to make an impact. And that was really my pivotal moment that shifted my career toward finance for good.

Kelly: So I would say, originally, were you thinking purely philanthropy?

Fran: Yeah, the first part of my career I was thinking mostly philanthropy and how to leverage those grant dollars in the most strategic way but I realized that if the endowment unconsciously was invested across purposes to the mission of the foundation, we probably were doing net negative mission impact and that seemed curious to me.

Kelly: Yeah, sort of walking in circles. So impact investing, I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who, you hear the words, the jargon is thrown out there. What, in your mind, is impact investing?

Fran: Impact Investing is investing for social and environmental impact as well as financial returns. Actually, religious investors, the Quakers and the Methodists, back in the 18th and 19th centuries pioneered the idea of impact investing and they were really driven by the desire to invest their funds consistently with their religious values. And recently, Kelly, even the Pope is starting to talk about impact investing. So, faith-based investors have been in the mix of impact investing for a very long time.

But the truth is that all investing is impact investing, and that's a recent quote from Clara Miller, who is the CEO of the Heron Foundation. So all investing is impact investing. The impact may be positive or the impact may be negative, but how we invest, purchase goods, consume goods, drive, vote, all have an impact. Currently, there's about $6.5 trillion invested with impact in the United States across asset classes, which I'll talk a little bit more about in a moment.

That's a 76% increase from 2012. Most of this money is in the public markets. The public stock and bond markets, invested with negative screens such as those that screen out alcohol, tobacco, firearms. So you're screening out a universe. But increasingly in the public markets, the capital is invested with positive screens so investing in companies that have progressive environmental social and governance practices. And we are seeing now, in a number of studies that I can talk about later, we see that progressive environmental social and governance practices correlate strongly with financial returns and also risk mitigation.

There's about $60 to $100 billion worldwide today in what we call deep impact investing in private companies where the central focus of the company is the mission. And investment themes here might include jobs creation, financial inclusion, sustainable agriculture and water. I can offer a couple of examples later. And, yeah, that's the definition of impact investing.

Kelly: And, you know, I truly love the fact that you said, everything, like all investing is impact investing, positive or negative. And I think that's one of those things that particularly listeners of the podcast who are women need to think about. By your choice in how you spend, which bank you use, all of those things, you're having an impact and whether it is ultimately the impact that you want to have in terms of what other things you do and you care about. In terms of right now, what do you think is filling this growth in impact investing?

Fran: Sure, I think about the growth of impact investing coming at the intersection of the demand side, meaning demand for impact capital and the supply side, meaning the investment side, the investment side. So on the demand side, there are number of social and environmental demographic driving forces that are creating the opportunity to create financial returns and the imperative to create impact.

One is simply global population. There are 7.4 billion people on the planet, 80% of them live on less than $10 a day, which is a little inconceivable to consider. Global population will grow to about nine billion by 2050 and most of this population growth will occur in emerging markets. We need to increase food supply by over 70% to meet this demand, to ensure food security. And there are other social driving forces including lack of access to good jobs, the right jobs at the right wages, access to healthcare, strong education and housing. On the environmental side, the driving forces are many as well, including climate change, dwindling natural resources and biodiversity, drought and access to clean water.

So there is an increasing need for impact capital to contribute to solving some of these social and environmental challenges. On the supply side, on the investor side, we have an increasing mistrust of the capital markets in the wake of financial crisis and dissatisfaction with the short term focus of Wall Street, also called short termism, so the slavish devotion to quarterly returns.
There's also an increasing impatience with traditional models of philanthropy, like the one I talked about in my opening remarks, where we are putting 5% for impact and grants, but the corp is, [inaudible 00:11:23] is not invested consistently with the values. But there's also an increasing understanding that government aid and grant capital alone are not enough to move the dial on the pressing social and environmental issues of our time.

And then finally, you mentioned women investors and your listeners a moment ago. There is a $40 trillion wealth transfer that is going to occur over the next 30 years. Eighty percent of that money will go to women as their husbands pass, and then ultimately to millennials. This is an enormous wealth transfer that's coming. And we know that women and millennials are cohorts that 75% of both are interested in investing consistently with their value.

So we see this as a huge sea change in investor demand and are coming sea change as well in, or asset attrition, for our wealth advisers who don't get on board with what these folks are interested in. So there's been a tremendous increase in interest and impact investing driven by this intersection of the growing supply of impact capital among investors and increasing demand for impact capital.

Kelly: I'm so glad you brought up the point about the wealth transfer because it's a topic that I often raise when I'm speaking and I talk to people about it, and the number of people who debate or want to debate whether or not money is going to be massive this wealth transfer, the largest in human history that this money is going to end up mostly in the hands of women. People want to debate this and I always sort of say to them, we're earning it, we're inheriting it. There's other involuntary transfers of wealth, you know. If women are all drug dealers and we have it, who cares? The point of the matter is we're going to have this money and what the heck are we doing it?

Fran: Yeah. Exactly. And we see wealth advisers, young wealth advisers, robo advisers coming to the fore that are more focused on investing with values and we think that that is really a source of competitive advantage for the wealth advisory community and for asset managers as well. And one of the things that I speak about when I talk to young folks and to women and to all audiences is, it's your money whether it's a capital that is in savings and checking account or whether it's your 401-k or whether family has a foundation. These are assets that you can steward and you should steward and if you're not getting the service that you want from your financial services providers, you can find something that's consistent with your values elsewhere.

Kelly: All right so let's talk about your day, the other day job, Chief Investment Officer at ImpactAssets. Tell us about ImpactAssets, you have many roles, and you have various roles there?

Fran: Sure, so as you mentioned earlier I serve as Chief Investment Officer and Managing Director at ImpactAssets. ImpactAssets is a nonprofit financial services firm focused on impact investing. We work to democratize access to impact investing trying to expand opportunities for investors to put capital to work consistently with their values. On particular, we provide investment products and thought leadership that enable philanthropists, other asset owners and wealth advisers at all levels to make investments with positive social, environmental, and financial returns. We run a donor-advised fund focused on impact investing that's at about $280 million. We recently bought to market two impacts securities: one focused on micro finance and the other focused on global sustainable agriculture, designed to lower investment minimum. So come impact investing products for the rest of us. So we're really excited about this democratizing process and if folks want to learn more they can check us out at www.impactassets.org.

Kelly: We'll definitely do that. How do you source deal flow?

Fran: We source deal flow, we look at individual companies but we also look at a lot of funds and impact assets. And we source deals the way anybody would source deals. We look to trusted intermediaries, we look at trusted parties, we look at co-investors. My team and I do a lot of calls with fund managers. So I would say that we source and we actually diligence deals very similarly to our traditional finance brethren, But with the added aspect of impacts, so it is impacts central to the business model of the company or fund. Does management have a demonstrated track record of impact metrics, measurement and reporting? We need to see the track record of impact creation and reporting in the same way that we look at a track record of financial returns.

Kelly: I guess with some others, in terms of impact, you know, I'm just thinking of someone who's been trying to get my attention on something and sometimes, I want to say, when you're looking at impact or a situation I'm thinking about, this company keeps trying to tack on, “Oh we're doing this nice thing in the environment” but they're sort of tacking on something good in the community as opposed to building, I want to say, impacting community into the company from the get go.

Fran: Exactly. And so we start seeing some impact washing, some greenwashing at times from public companies and private companies. So, those of us that practice impact investing feel that the impact should be, as you indicated, an integral part of the business model. It shouldn't be kind of an ex-post affair, like, we do our business here and then we give some corporate philanthropy over here, or we treat our employees not as well as we should but we offer them a couple of volunteer days. So trying to really look at how value gets created by a company in a holistic way. So that it's not exposed almost like a PR initiative. And for us, the most impactful companies really have impact baked into the DNA of the company, the product, the service, the constituencies served themselves.

Kelly: That's what I need. I don't know if anyone else needed to hear that, that's what I need to hear because some of these stuff, like I said, when you see, as you said, sort of feels like a PR initiative and no way shape or form related to the DNA of the company or the product. It just doesn't feel right, anyhow. I could go off on that one for a while but why don't we talk about this. So we've talked about how your diligence and your deal flow is similar. What about exit strategies for impact ventures? Are they same, similar? What does that look like?

Fran: The key with exiting impact ventures is that we want to maintain impact on change of control. We don't want to have something that I call impact dilution and we talk all the time in startup finance about ownership dilution. But we also look at impact dilution. From whom are you taking on money? How are you exiting? And is there impact dilution in the process and the transaction?

Impact ventures can exit through an IPO. For example, Etsy is a B Corporation, which again is a certification, it's not a corporate form, and so we have been looking at Etsy to see over time, does the B Corporation status in any way affect the stock price over time? So that's something that we'll be monitoring. Toms Shoes, which we can debate about whether or not it's an impact venture, but they were partially purchased by Bain Capital and so we will look to see how the business model may or may not change over time and the impact may or may not change over time as Toms takes on a different type of capital.

There also may be straight up acquisitions, so mergers and acquisition, M&A, like Honest Tea was bought by Coke and I think Seth Goldman has done a terrific job of sustaining the impact despite the sale to or maybe in part, not in spite of, but because of his exit. So on the face of it you think Honest Tea exit to Coke you would be worried about impact dilution. But they've been able to hold the line quite nicely around their impact and use the power and scale of Coke to actually expand their impact over time.

So it's important to watch not just the moment of exit but also how things play out over time and then there are other exit innovations that may be particularly well suited to impact ventures including revenue rights, demands dividends, an employee stock ownership plan and others. But throughout you want to make sure that the impact is really written into the documents, the founding documents and the financing agreements on the company in order to sustain impact throughout.

Kelly: So we don't have the Ben and Jerry’s effect?

Fran: Ben and Jerry’s is such an interesting example. So Ben and Jerry's was bought by Unilever and at the time that it was bought, a lot of the impacts were eviscerated. The local jobs were lost, local factory was closed. Some of the sustainability practices were diminished or completely obliterated. But over time, this very interesting CEO of Unilever named Paul Polman has come to the fore and it's been fascinating to see how Unilever, of all companies, has really reinvented itself around sustainability practices and has almost reinvigorated the impact within Ben and Jerry’s. And so, it's almost like an impact turnaround from the inside against all odds. So I love that example.

Kelly: So it's always like, you use Ben and Jerry's, since that example of, here is this company and they got purchased and here their great model got blown up, yet here they were, I want to say, like a positive cancer cell within a big company that now is changing in the practices of the big company I love it.

Fran: Yeah, exactly.

Kelly: What do you see is the future of impact investing?

Fran: You touched on it earlier actually when we talked about externalities. So to me, the future of impact investing is, again, all investing is positive impact investing, so the externalities may be carbon first will be priced so that what I call the phantom balance sheet. I think of externalities is like off balance sheet financing on the backs of communities and employees and environment. So when the phantom balance sheet comes on balance sheet, that is, in a way, game over because the markets will price or have true cost accounting as you had indicated earlier.

But when we're already seeing some evidence of this mainstreaming So Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch have all started the impact investing groups at the behest of their clients. So, again power to the asset owner. Asset managers like Black Rock, the largest asset manager in the world, and Bain Capital are launching impact investing products and we see asset owners kind of pressing their wealth advisers and intermediaries, including Stanford, divesting from fossil fuel on the university endowments side, pension funds. Like here in California, CalPERS and CalSTRS have been among the most progressive in impact investing.

We see foundations like the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, the president the Ford Foundation, issuing a missive of Q4 of last year, saying he no longer finds it defensible that the Ford Foundations endowment is not invested in lines with the values of the foundation. MacArthur Foundation, Gates Foundation is getting in the mix. Families of like the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have created this commitment to give away nearly all of their assets and they've created this LLC.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the foundation of the Rockefeller family, is divesting for fossil fuel so the heirs of Standard Oil are divesting from the source of their asset. The world is really changing [inaudible 0:24:25]. There's some really enlightened Rockefeller's there running the show and doing some very, very interesting things. So we start seeing the Goldmans, the Black Rocks, Ford Foundations of the world, Rockefeller Brothers Fund churning and facing the reality of our future. Getting back to those driving forces, we know that we're at the beginning of some major change for impact investing and investing in general.

Kelly: Get the trickle-down effect to all the businesses. So let's talk about impact entrepreneurs for a second. If someone is an impact entrepreneur, what advice do you have for them on approaching investors?

Fran: Sure, again, and it relates to the deal flow question earlier. My recommendation to impact entrepreneurs is to do research on the Angel or venture capital firm that they're interested in, review the investment criteria, review the investment portfolio on the website. You'd be surprised that how the kinds of deals that folks present to us and present to others, they really just don't fit. So make sure that there's a strong fit. Do your research.

If you can secure an introduction by a trusted source so that your business and you are contextualized. And my other little tidbit that has worked really well for me when I've been raising capital as an entrepreneur is consider asking for an informational interview of 15 minutes before you start raising capital. So what I would do is sit down with venture capitalists in my domain area and say, can I just come and see you for 10, minutes, 15 minutes. It's really hard to say no to that and make it clear that you're not raising money at this time and then you get some really, aside from getting an interpersonal relationship, you get great feedback from them that can help you with your strategy. And then when it comes time when you're right sized for that venture capitalists in the future, they'll remember you. And it's just the way to kind of create a relationship that's worked very well for me in the past.

Kelly: Such great advice. Are there any I would say resources that you think are particularly good or helpful for impact entrepreneurs?

Fran: Sure. So for your audience members that want to learn more about impact investing and/or learn more about impact invest stores in terms of raising capital, definitely check out my firm's website impactassets.org. We run something called the ImpactAssets 50, which is a publicly available database of leading impact investing firms that are searchable so you can get a feel for the landscape of impact investing fund managers. Another great resource is called thegiin.org, T-H-E-G-I-I-N.org, that's the website for The Global Impact Investing Network and that's a great clearinghouse of research and case studies and other resources.

And then for news on impact investing, I would check out www.impactalpha.com. There are also impact accelerators that you might want to check out. One is called Village Capital. Another is called Unreasonable Institute, which is such a wonderful name. And then there are fellowships for impact entrepreneurs from Echoing Green and Ashoka, so just some ideas on ramps to get your folks, your listeners going.

Kelly: That's great, thank you so much. So, our part of the program, which we call Pay it Forward, we're going to devote 60 seconds here to making our listeners smarter, not that you haven't done that already, but this is some fast and furious questions and your fast and furious answers. So here we go, with our pair at Ford, what are your primary sources of information?

Fran: I heart the New York Times. I’ve lived in California for a long time and I've always been a paper subscriber and a digital subscriber for New York Times. Absolutely, N.P.R. and I love the Planet Money podcast as well as the impact investing resources I mentioned earlier.

Kelly: Awesome. What book are you reading?

Fran: A book that I keep on my bed stand is “Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference” by Jed Emerson and Antony Bugg-Levine. For those folks that want a primer on impact investing and the whole landscape that is a book available by Amazon, it's an e-book too, that I really recommend.

Kelly: Do you have any rituals or habits you swear by?

Fran: I do so. I love the Wonder Woman power pose that, power poses that HBS Professor Amy Cuddy has pioneered. So I do Wonder Woman power poses in a bathroom stall before large speaking engagements and I encourage your listeners, if you're pitching your company or you're speaking before a group. It really works. So try it in a bathroom stall near you.

Kelly: Did you see someone doing the poses in a bathroom stall, it may just be Fran. Who are three entrepreneurs or leaders that you follow or admire?

Fran: Sure, these are Impact Investing name so three extraordinary women. One is named Maya Chorengel, another is a colleague named Julia Sze, S-Z-E, and lastly, is a woman in Kathy Clark.

Kelly: Very cool, thank you. What is the best advice you've ever received?

Fran: I guess the best advice, I don't know that anyone has given it to me, but it's something that I've developed for myself over time and that is don't wait around for life to happen to you. You need to make it happen for yourself.

Kelly: Is there any particular myths that you would like to dispel for our listeners?

Fran: I hope I already dispelled it, but the myth that there's a trade off between financial and impact returns. It just isn't true and I think that I addressed earlier a bit.

Kelly: I think we blow up that myth. What words of advice would you give to listeners about taking risks and closing the confidence gap?

Fran: So, for the entrepreneurs out there, I suggest that you thoughtfully craft your fast pitch, your remarks, your story, whatever it is, and then practice, practice, practice. I practice before I public speak quite a lot and I feel like the more I practice, the more then, when I speak, when I pitch, I can be in the moment and really engage with the audience.

Kelly: You've given us some great names today and in some entrepreneurs but name one female entrepreneur that’s below the radar screen that we should know about?

Fran: Yes, Keely Stevenson is the CEO and co-founder of something called Weal Life, W-E-A-L Life. It’s a digital health company that uses mobile technology to make it easier for people to care for each other during times of health crisis, aging or chronic illness. And I think with the demographic shift that we're seeing, and some of the social and environmental changes we're seeing, I see that there's a real need for technologies like this to really bring us together, person to person.

Kelly: And finally what does Think Broad mean to you?

Fran: To me you Think Broad means to think expansively about the world, about yourself, to see the interconnections between and among people countries and sectors, determine what interconnections are most meaningful for you and for the world and then go out and make an impact.

Kelly: Amazing. Thank you so much, Fran.

Fran: Thank you so much.

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