5 min read
Jennifer Pryce, President and CEO, Calvert Impact Capital
Phenix Capital Feb 10, 2022 1:29:00 PM
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR JOURNEY INTO INVESTING FOR IMPACT?
I didn’t officially join the impact investing world until I was about a decade into my career, but in retrospect, my experiences had all been building toward it. My undergraduate degree is in engineering and after college, I did the Peace Corps in Gabon where I taught math, but I came away from that experience with a profound understanding of how important access to capital is – for individuals, communities, nations – in determining their future.
That motivated me to focus my career on finance. I got an MBA from Columbia Business School and worked at large, traditional financial institutions, including Neuberger Berman and Morgan Stanley. I gained a deep understanding of capital markets but felt that my work ultimately wasn’t addressing the type of issues that had inspired me to go into finance after my time in Gabon.
I quit my job and volunteered at The Public theatre in New York, which had a mission to make art accessible to everyone. It was such a pillar of the community but struggled to find funding to stay afloat, which was really frustrating. In doing research for the theatre, I came across a type of financial institution that focused exclusively on serving low-income and under-served communities – Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIS).
This began my journey into the world of community finance and impact investing. I ended up working for Nonprofit Finance Fund, a CDFI, and from there, moved to Calvert Impact Capital. I’ve had a variety of roles at Calvert Impact Capital and have been CEO since 2013.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
I find the pace of change in the industry really motivating. To address the challenges we face around climate change and inequality we need to invest capital differently.
I have found that to do this work well takes more than spreadsheets and models; it takes listening to and working with the community, it takes a lot of grit and determination, and it takes a willingness to challenge the ways things have always been done. The work we do at Calvert Impact Capital is essentially demonstrating what new solutions are possible through investment.
WHAT HAS BEEN A HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
About two years ago, at a conference in Luxembourg, I was on a panel discussing pressing challenges of forest and landscape management around the world and how to bring more capital to finance sustainable outcomes. One of the panellists was a recent university graduate and deeply engaged in this work. She was so bright and passionate and as I listened to her speak, I relaxed.
For me, it was a moment of true optimism that impact investing, investing for not only financial return but for the long-term health of the planet and communities was not just a fad, but that it had longevity. I am excited to witness the next generation of professionals enter the field.
I think it is our job as leaders today to ensure these leaders of tomorrow are given the room to run and support taking bold risks so they can fail, learn, and ultimately succeed. We need to ensure we don’t lose momentum with generational leadership change.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES TOWARDS IMPACT MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDISATION?
For too long the “alphabet soup” of impact management and measurement (IMM) has confused investors and created the impression that IMM was a burdensome and complicated process to undertake. The proliferation of a variety of standards and methods undermines the intent of IMM because it allows investors to choose the most flattering IMM standards for them, rather than creating a more objective benchmark that can be a real differentiator of quality of impact and commitment to impact between investors.
However, the recent consolidation of IMM standards through the Impact Management Platform, as well as the industry coalescing around standards like the Operating Principles for Impact Management (which require third-party verification and disclosure), are changing that.
Our belief today, as when we became a signatory to the Impact Principles, is that, when impact management disclosure becomes standard practice, firms that have and disclose their robust impact management practices will be preferred by investors, who will have more validated and trusted tools at their disposal to evaluate impact investment options.
As the Impact Principles become more widely adopted, investors will be able to discern between firms that manage impact in line with the Impact Principles and those that simply release flashy impact marketing without the substance behind it to back them up—and we have 150 fellow signatories managing US$429 billion who agree.
HOW IS CALVERT IMPACT CAPITAL CONTRIBUTING TO A SUSTAINABLE LONG-TERM RECOVERY FROM THE PANDEMIC?
We’ve continued to do our core lending, which has always been focused on creating sustainable solutions that fight inequality and create opportunity, but post-pandemic we’ve specifically focused heavily on trying to address systemic failures in access to capital for small businesses.
The pandemic exacerbated what those of us in the small business lending space already knew: there is a structural gap in the credit market for our smallest businesses. We've been moving capital to responsible small business lenders since 1996, but we've never seen a more urgent time to invest in the small business sector than right now.
Since the pandemic began, Calvert Impact Capital has not only lent to small businesses around the globe from our own balance sheet, but we’ve structured several small business recovery funds - the New York Forward Loan Fund, the California Rebuilding Fund, the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund, and Washington State's Small Business Flex Fund- that provide flexible, affordable capital and technical assistance to small businesses with a focus on reaching businesses in historically under-banked communities.
Equitable small business lending is key to not only building back from COVID-19, but to creating an inclusive, diverse, and more equitable economy for years to come.
In addition to small business lending, we will be focused on creating more opportunities for investors to finance transformative change through new products with a focus on climate change. There are now trillions of investment dollars seeking impact in service of genuine solutions.
At Calvert Impact Capital, we’ve been creating high-impact solutions in challenging markets for years. We know how to design financial products that are accessible to investors and impactful for communities. Most importantly we know that we have to think bigger, move faster, and work together to create systemic change and make our markets work for more people, more often.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CALL TO ACTION FOR THE IMPACT INVESTMENT COMMUNITY?
In my letter to investors that we include in our annual Impact Report I wrote about the importance of expanding our focus as an industry beyond the quantity of investment dollars raised to the quality of investments made. There is now an astonishing amount of money seeking impact – roughly $35 trillion globally according to the latest Global Sustainable Investment Alliance survey.
We’ve been so focused on getting a greater quantity of dollars interested in impact as an industry, but we’re arguably there now. We need to focus on ensuring that those investment dollars are put to work in service of creating genuine impact.
Quality investments are made with a holistic approach to impact, meaning that concepts like impact risk (will this investment achieve the impact that it intends to create?) and market impact (does this investment help strengthen the market overall?) are integrated into the analysis and decision-making process. Quality investments manage impact through the life of the investment – from origination to exit, ensuring that impact is a driving concern, not an afterthought.
Standards like the Operating Principles for Impact Management are bringing much-needed rigour and transparency to impact management and measurement (IMM), enabling the industry to get greater clarity on where our efforts are succeeding and where they are falling short.