What was your first job?
Like most youth, I was taken with novelty. I had a few gigs in high school (years 9-12 here), from selling popcorn at a local arena to playing gigs as part of a string quartet. In university, I worked at a law firm services company, coached tennis, and was even an extra on the TV show Friday Night Lights.
After Uni, I waited tables to kickstart a year making a living playing poker, and then got started professionally at the Texas Legislative Council as a clerk.
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
Ironically, I transferred out of the University of Texas at Austin business school to earn a degree in English Literature, so it definitely wasn’t undergrad.
I believe it was Fran Seegull of the US Impact Investing Alliance who posited the question once at a talk I hosted at Harvard, “How close do you want to be to the impact?” At the time, I thought I most enjoyed staying in public policy, working to enact change at scale.
After moving to Australia and during the pandemic, I took time away from working to be a full-time parent, but I managed to get in front of Danny Almagor of Impact Investing Group. We had a great, supportive conversation and he got me further contemplating where I wanted to sit in the impact investing world. In talking to a range of people across the responsible investment and impact investing landscape here, I came around again to my fundamental appreciation for process improvement, novelty (there it is again!) in learning and effecting the broadest, deepest impact. That could’ve been going into government, but I found a perfect balance of the pace of conducting business deals with the thoughtful, rigorous consideration of mission here at Save the Children’s Impact Investment Fund.
When did you first discover the concept of Impact Investing?
I’m a big nerd, and from a young age the concept of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels made a big impression on me. For the unfamiliar, Seldon’s character essentially creates behavioural economics on steroids to “predict” the future. Of course, intrinsic in that idea is the fact that you need a good model of human behaviour and perfect information in the economic sense. Not having even an inkling of that, 10-year-old me set about putting dirt-filled soda bottles in our old high-volume toilet tanks, pushing for recycling, and reading on cold fusion and piezoelectric generators. So I suppose I’ve long been interested in impact on a personal level.
Getting into the field happened through my role as part the Initiative for Responsible Investment (IRI) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where I managed the Impact Investing for the Next Generation Program in conjunction with the University of Zurich’s Center for Sustainable Finance and Private Wealth, who are now partnering with MIT. That’s always a tonne to say or write! David Wood, the IRI director, jokes that he started so long ago under Steve Lydenberg, of Domini Impact Investments and The Investment Integration Project, that he was grandfathered into the field, and I feel lucky to have snuck in the door on his coattails.
What’s one exciting development you and your team have in the pipeline?
I’m currently looking into a target in Kenya that has an exciting impact potential. The lead investor is also someone we highly respect and has a strong history of finding good investments with deep impact.
The impact thesis I’m working with is twofold:
1. The preparedness of children for schooling at the bottom of the pyramid in the developing world would benefit from access to more widely accessible, good-quality education media,
2. that having a trusted communication outlet can increase the efficacy of NGO communications and thus programs in the host country.
If you accept these premises, and they would seem uncontroversial, then the opportunity for impact at scale in these geographies is well known. There are over 20 million children under 15 years old in Kenya, with around 200 million speakers of Kiswahili in East Africa; furthermore, with 450 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s due to be the continent with the largest population of children in the world by 2050.
Having local, representational content that is accessible to East Africans is also a more difficult to measure impact that I resonate deeply with as an Asian-American seeing a surge of representation and awareness around anti-Asian violence in the US.
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What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
As tempting as it is to flog Save the Children’s deals, there’s a lot even here in Australia, like the backing and launch of Verve Super’s women-led super fund.
I wonder if one of the most impactful deals may not specifically be an impact investment: VentureCrowd’s Series A, of which $3.9M was raised themselves on their platform! I’m a big believer in the democratisation and communalisation of finance. While I think there would need to be more education and clarity around impact ventures in the platform, given the tremendous interest here and the potential to drive positive impact from the general public, it’s a tantalizing vector.
Name one high impact company (globally) that investors should keep their eye on?
One company that’s not in Save the Children’s remit is MyRobin. It’s a platform matching blue-collar and low skill workers to jobs in Indonesia; if you believe that efficient mapping, validation, and connecting of labour to jobs has outsized benefits to the most excluded population segments and has a positive effect for these worker’s earning potential, then the combination of this increase in efficiency and scale of the issue in Indonesia (and potentially other SE Asian markets) is enormous. It’s received a lot of attention and investments from Accion Venture Labs, SOSV, Investible, and Antler, so it’s one I’m watching.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years time?
Everyone says they hope that all investment is impact investing or that all investing is seen as impact investing. I do too, and there’s that line: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
Finance has long operated under the ruse that it is objective and solely based on the business fundamentals, when it has always been impactful in ways both positive and negative and fundamentally just as dogmatic. Try and tell me that the bidding war in 2018 between Disney and Comcast for 21st Century Fox was based purely on the numbers. Did new information on the fundamentals of Fox’s business underpin Comcast’s $65 billion offer topping Disney’s US$ 52 billion original deal, or subsequently Disney’s $71.3 billion counteroffer eight days later? Comparables, decision trees, discount rates… they’re all guesses. Why is that fundamentally sound, but assessing an asset’s contribution to modern slavery not?
I digress, but the extension of this idea that all investing should all be seen as impactful is this shift we’re publicly seeing about how businesses operate should be seen as inherently impactful. People are demanding that the brands they engage with, the companies they buy from, and the products they use at the very least do no harm.
We’ve seen the seismic shift in intention, and the vision I have for 5 years’ time will be ensuring that there’s accessible clarity in the information market about what it is our investments and companies are actually doing.