Chesterfield Chat Recap- Social Impact Investing

 

Tamarah Prevost

 

Back in May, the Digital Moose Lounge hosted a stimulating Chesterfield Chat--a regular event bringing Canadians and the Bay Area community together to discuss various topics of interest. Chesterfield Chats always include a panel of esteemed speakers with some expertise on the chosen topic.

“Social Impact Investing” was the topic of May’s Chesterfield Chat, which was more than appropriate, given the Digital Moose Lounge’s social impact focus.

 But as we learned from the talented speakers at this event, “Social Impact,” or Environmental, Social, and Governance (“ESG”) investing is hard to easily define. There is great division among people, and even in the investment community, for how ESG investments are evaluated and measured.

Through in-depth insights from the panel, audience members learned what motivates many investors to focus their wealth towards causes they care deeply about. Rather than investing in index funds or other quasi-anonymized sources, in a world fraught with inequality, there is a significant trend among the investor community to funnel their money toward tackling social and environmental challenges.

With massive increases in technology improving access to information about global issues, investorsare more well-informed about these issues than ever before.

But ESG investing as an idea poses a wide variety of questions. Alfredo Silva, a partner at Morrison and Foerster law firm and an expert in the ESG sector, began the panel discussion by explaining how socially-minded investing can mean very different things for different people. How “social impact” causes are identified is highly subjective and often political. For example, in an issue like abortion, one individual may believe that investing in pro-life funds is for the greater good, while another believes investing in pro-choice funds.

Folks who work with investors to identify their chosen funds, such as speaker Heather Pelant, are constantly working their investor clients through these questions.

Ms. Pelant, Managing Director at Baker Street Advisors in San Francisco, explained the process she often must go through with client investors, who often need to ask introspective questions about what is truly important to them, to understand where to focus their investments. She also touched on the apparent lack of diversity in the investment community, and she herself has pioneered several projects around women’s leadership and economic advancement, in places like Tokyo, Honolulu, and San Francisco; and the newly launched Project Worth. Ms. Pelant also touched on the initiatives being launched by investors and corporations alike to combat the long-standing lack of diversity in the investment space, especially considering investors’ heightened awareness to it.

Indeed, Isaac Khurgel, an ESG Investment Strategist for Wells Fargo Asset Management, is a thought leader and director for social impact investing there. Isaac explained the efforts that investment giants like Wells Fargo are taking to both prioritize diversity amidst their ranks, and be at the forefront of ESG investing, due to a massive demand for focused resources in that area.

Regardless of which cause speaks to you, one thing is clear: social impact investing isn’t going anywhere. And given the breadth of discussion audience members were treated to during the Chesterfield Chat, DML is eager to host another one on the same topic soon.

DML’s sponsors, British Columbia Trade and Invest and the Canadian Consulate, allowed DML to offer this event for free to DML members and the community. Also special thanks to Morrison & Foerster law firm for providing a wonderful space in Palo Alto to host the event.

Tamarah Prevost is a Board Member of the Digital Moose Lounge