My Journey to Impact Investing

By Connor Schoen

“How did you even get into this stuff so early? Most people don’t find impact investing until late in their careers,” asked Jeff Seidl of Flatworld Partners. His own journey to impact investing will be discussed next week, but his question got me into deeply thinking about how I got here and what impact investing means to me.

To anyone who knows me well, it’s no secret that I love to talk impact. I’ve worked in the non-profit sector for about six or seven years now, and I can’t imagine life without service involved.

But I’ve also always loved thinking about large governmental and corporate institutions that shape how the world operates on a macro level. I used to feel like these two things were in conflict. Internally, like many people, I was fighting with myself over whether changing lives or making money was more important to me. It’s the classic Harvard prototype: wants to go to Wall Street, “change the system,” and then donate all his money and make the world a better place.

Eventually, that narrative grew old to me. I didn’t want to have to separate those two parts of myself anymore; I didn’t want to delay creating impact for the sake of money. It felt like my identity was being pulled apart, like I had to lose one half of me to salvage the remains of the other.

Impact investing was an extremely important discovery for me in that it provided me with a remedy to this internal problem. In early 2017 at a social impact conference in NYC, Scott Taitel of the NYU Wagner School of Business introduced to the subject in a long conversation about how to create sustainability in change-making. I had started the Service Learning Initiative to empower students in grades K-8 by teaching them how to lead their own service projects, but I was incredibly frustrated with the exhausting and all-consuming task of creating sustainability in this project before heading to college.

To alleviate these frustrations, Scott told me about “the best kept secret on Wall Street:” the ability to confront social and environmental issues while driving market-rate returns. I then went and worked for Matt Camp, another guest of the conference, on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Team at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and learned how a non-profit’s direct involvement in augmenting the profitability and growth of inner city businesses could radically transform these communities.

Ultimately, these lessons stayed with me at Harvard, and I found a lot more security in my identity and what I wanted with my life. I joined the Harvard College Impact Investing Group to get more involved in this fascinating subject, and I also worked to start my own for-profit social enterprise, Breaktime. In these endeavors, I witnessed and demonstrated how essential conflating business and a impact-oriented mindset is to create true, long-term change.

I guess, at the core, I’m perpetually drawn to that beautiful, transformative intersection between philanthropy and business. From social entrepreneurship to impact investing, I believe that you can change lives and make money while doing it. The idea that this is not possible is a self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuated by those who are still helplessly trapped by the delusion that their impulse to create impact must be suffocated to make a buck. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that.