While working in asset management for more than a decade, Patricia Hein saw firsthand how environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations have increasingly been dominating many investment decisions in recent years.
Sustainable finance, which involves investing in initiatives that are making the world a better place, has particularly played a key role in the investor revolution given the power that capital has to calibrate the pressing social and environmental issues of our time.
Now as a new assistant professor of Sustainability at Ivey, Hein is highlighting in the classroom some of the concrete ways that sustainable finance is making a difference. Hein teaches the Corporations and Society Sustainable Finance course, which explores sustainable finance from the perspective of key players, such as asset owners, consultants and advisors, portfolio managers and family office managers, fund managers, regulators, non-governmental organization, and scholars.
Aiming to challenge students to critically assess different sustainable finance investment approaches as well as to identify impact washing, Hein has brought in a variety of guest speakers to class who approach sustainable finance from different angles. Recent guest speakers have included Marc Weissgerber, an advisor on sustainable investments for global startups and investment funds; Falko Paetzold, Assistant Professor in Social Finance, EBS University; and Pierre N. Rolin, founder and CEO of Ankh Impact Ventures. Hein said her goal is to build bridges between the worlds of academia and finance to address the pressing challenges of our time, such as inequality and climate change, while also introducing students to the many different paths they can follow to have a positive impact in finance.
“I hope that the diverse perspectives of the guest speakers will broaden the students’ perspectives and inspire them, as the next generation of change-makers, to make a positive difference,” she said.
Building a sustainable future
For example, during a recent visit from Pierre N. Rolin, the students learned how Ankh Impact Ventures’ philanthropic-capitalist business model can generate positive returns while also helping to address inequality in society. The firm invests solely in women-led businesses, with an emphasis on women founders from minority groups. Rolin discussed how he transitioned from a traditional corporate career in real estate investment into impact investing after launching two private foundations to help underprivileged children. During his time with the foundations, he met talented women entrepreneurs and decided to found Ankh Impact Ventures to both empower these women while also hoping to eventually change society.
“Investing in women-led businesses allows us to leverage the proven strengths of female founders while also fighting the gender investment gap. The goal is to unlock impactful ventures to build a more sustainable future,” Rolin told the students. “This is a powerful time in investing right now when you’ll see a lot of realignment of capital. If you get it right, you can change the world.”
Driving social impact careers
It was an inspirational message for Oliver Zhou, an HBA ’23 candidate in the course. Zhou said he enjoyed the course, particularly the guest speakers, because it reflected on the real-time considerations, innovations, and trade-offs that exist in the world today.
“We heard from leading guest speakers in the sustainable finance space, such as Pierre N. Rolin. His insights on his transition from a more traditional finance background to a purpose-driven desire to create a long-term social impact reflected the growing movement of green capital as well as social impact careers,” said Zhou. “Ultimately, the course taught us not only about the power of capital in influencing critical global issues, but also about the importance of growth and leadership in the space to ensure a sustainable and prosperous world.”
Jory Finkelstein, another student in the course, said he hopes to go into real estate investing and has now realized how important yet difficult it is to measure social outcomes.
“I realize now that making society, especially business, more sustainable is a constant uphill battle because it is difficult to prove that this result is occurring,” he said. “The course has taught me to try and think of some sustainability metrics that are easy to measure and comparable across the industry so that current standings can be determined and real progress can be mapped.”
Making complex problems less daunting
For fellow student Madelaine Shoemaker, hearing from Falko Paetzold was a highlight of the course. Shoemaker said Paetzold’s presentation taught her about the barriers to sustainable investing and the importance of assessing your true intent in entering the field.
“My main takeaway was that sustainable investing and sustainable finance may be daunting at first, but there are people and information out there that can make it easily accessible,” she said. “The course has taken down some of the barriers I had and I’ve learned how to invest responsibly.”
HBA student Brett Gugel also took the course and said it has taught him to consider all relevant stakeholders when approaching complex challenges.
“We didn’t go through hypothetical situations where we were detached from the issue. Many of the cases hit close to home and it became evident that the decisions we were debating would impact real people, families, and communities. This was reinforced when Patricia Hein invited guest speakers who gave firsthand insights on the real-life impact that the field of sustainability has on key stakeholders,” he said. "It was an engaging, stimulating course that fundamentally shaped the way I view the world.”