Investment Bankers Gone Good: Making Money and Saving the World

ON November 16, 2016

Imagine my surprise when a hedge fund manager invited me to a retreat of the “Gratitude Railroad” rather than the typical finance conference centered on topics such as derivatives: aka highly complex products no one understands. With a conference name that intriguing, I had to find out more.

It turns out the Gratitude Railroad is a community of action oriented investors seeking to do good and do well (right up my alley as those of you reading along this year know).   Two extremely successful guys, Howard Fischer and Eric Jacobsen, started the Gratitude Railroad after meeting in the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative.

I guess this is what happens when Wall Street executives and tech entrepreneurs go to Harvard, which makes me a proud HKS alumnus (yah, I slipped that in, such an obnoxious Haavaad thing, I know).

Having been in impact investing for 20 years, well before the term was coined, I’m delighted to see hedge fund and private equity fund managers, venture capitalists, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, and successful entrepreneurs devoting their amazing talent to this work.  

They contribute their understanding of risk/return, financial acumen, and business savvy to solving the world’s most pressing problems such as climate change, social justice, and sustainability.

Since we met at Big Path’s Impact Capitalism Summit on Nantucket, I figured the retreat might be held someplace nice. Sure enough, they held the event in Deer Valley, Utah. We started our days with yoga and ended with hikes; now that’s my kind of non-conference conference. In between the exercise we heard from innovators and investors on subject such as:

  • Scaling impact investing: great to hear John Goldstein, the McKnight Foundation’s esteemed advisor
  • Gender lens investing: did you know there are only 6 funds in the US investing in or by women led companies? Check out Austin based True Wealth Ventures.
  • Ethical fashion: shout out to Target for buying sustainable fashion from Evrnu
  • Social entrepreneurs: as always, the best part of any impact conference: check out Kuli Kuli, started by a Peace Corp alum with bars available at MSP Whole Food locations)
  • 100% clubToniic investors going all in for impact investing

Besides spreading the world through convenings, the Gratitude Railroad is launching tracks (get it? Choo choo!) to do impact investing. Their first track, the Builders Fund, is a fund investing in purpose driven companies.  Most recently the Gratitude Railroad launched a Farmland track. I think it’s time to start laying the rails—perhaps for a medical device track—in Minnesota. What do you think?

These investment bankers gone good realize that we need to get more capital committed to impact investing.  Being investment folks, once they get a good idea, they act on it. My main take away from the retreat was we need more funds; we need to invest in the funds that exist and—in general—talk faster and do more (oh, maybe they talk fast because many are from New Yawk).

In a hike down the mountain I think I convinced Howard to visit us here in the Twin Cities and have dinner with our investment bankers gone—or going—good. Interested in learning more about where the smart money is investing? Join us!

Tweet me your thoughts @susan_hammel.

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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.