Can Business Do Well and Good?

ON May 6, 2016

As a good cause, pro-business campus rebel at Carleton, I began to wonder if business could ever do well and do good. Being a philosophy major, I decided to follow this question to its logical conclusion. After a year long rigorous analysis, I finished my thesis titled “Business Ethics: A Contradiction In Terms?” in which I concluded that business ethics must be an oxymoron because corporations (who weren’t yet considered people) have a duty to their shareholders to maximize return on their investment. But what if companies considered both increasing profits and generating social change? What if they used one to achieve the other? What if doing so wasn’t just possible, but expected? Disappointed with my findings and armed with more questions than when I started, I embarked on a life long journey to prove that thesis wrong. 

Impact Investing

Until landing a job at Prudential Social Investments, I had no idea that both mission and financial return could be combined in the form of impact investing to create a bigger positive impact than either mission or financial return on their own. Impact investing is an investment approach intended to create both positive financial return and positive social or environmental change. Working with creative investors from the Ford Foundation, Minneapolis Foundation, the City of St. Paul, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, and the Blandin Foundation showed me first hand how financial return and mission could combine through impact investing. These foundations recognize that grant funding alone will never provide the capital necessary to effectively launch large projects such as:

  • Building the first grocery store to go up in Newark since the riots of the 1960’s
  • Preserving affordable housing in Cambridge, Minnesota
  • Launching a new business in downtown St. Paul (Great Waters Brew Pub)
  • Supporting minority owned performing art theaters including our own Penumbra

To start our impact investing conversation, I would like your thoughts on two big questions:

  • Can impact investing accelerate positive change and empower communities of color?
  • How is your foundation engaging in impact investing?

Lastly, I would like to send my heartfelt thanks to the Minnesota Council on Foundations and the Bush Foundation for providing this opportunity to delve deep into my decades long passion for impact investing and help others get involved in this rapidly growing field.

If you have thoughts on these questions or any of the above, tweet @susan_hammel or email [email protected].

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What I'm doing now

Top of my mind these days is investing in line with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion values. Many institutions promised bold moves after George Floyd was murdered. Who is following through and doing this well? Racial justice requires new pathways for capital flows. I’m excited to be part of the McKnight Foundation’s Groundbreak Coalition, aiming to deploy $2b in flexible capital over 10 years to disrupt the status quo. In Minnesota we are a generous state, a charitable state, a hard-working state: we need to try new approaches to create that famous quality of life for all. We are leading a session on Place Based Impact Investing at the Mission Investors Exchange conference in Baltimore. Reach out if you’ll be there so I can include you in the informal MN meet-ups.