Reflections on Winning The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

This post was written by Alyssa Stankiewicz ’19, and co-written by Andrew Mallory ’19

EDITOR’S NOTE: A team of five students from The Sustainable Innovation MBA program recently took first place in the Wharton-sponsored Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, beating a field of finalists from Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Read more here.

When I came to this program in August 2018, I had never even heard the term “impact investing.” I planned to focus my learnings on innovations in social justice and sustainable agriculture. I dreamed of founding a self-sustaining weaving center that provided support and reflection to folks through art therapy. While this is still an eventual dream of mine (stay tuned!), I realized that what really motivated me about this dream was the opportunity to help people.

The mission of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is using business as a force for good in the world, also described as “doing well by doing good.”  Through the mentorship and encouragement I received from Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein, I began to realize that not only does the world of Finance provide this same opportunity, but I possess a natural knack for the work involved. He presented us with two extracurricular opportunities to test and demonstrate our skills and studies. The first project revolved around developing an impact strategy for the UVM Endowment (for more on that, see this article), and the second was a Wharton-sponsored impact investing competition called the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge.

The competition was stacked, to say the least. 26 teams from 19 business schools including Yale, Columbia, Booth (Chicago), and Wharton (Penn) entered the competition, and with this being just the 5th cohort of our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, our team was ecstatic to find out in March that we’d been selected as Finalists. We had spent months taking extra classes with Dr. Schnitzlein in Portfolio Management and Evaluation, researching the companies who achieved “best in class” accolades, and developing our investment philosophy and strategy in our copious free time (“copious” might be an exaggeration). When they announced we won at the live competition in Philadelphia on May 1, we were completely over the moon.

We like to think that we had a competitive advantage because each of our professors integrates sustainability holistically into every single course. We learned about Entrepreneurial Business Design, Systems Thinking, and Cost Models from a sustainability perspective, so we were more fully prepared to incorporate sustainability into every piece of our portfolio.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge provided us with two fictitious investor profiles from which to choose, and our team selected a Family Office who wanted to achieve multi-generational wealth and sustainable impact in line with five themes, which we matched to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our team took a unique and bold approach: we successfully invested the entire portfolio in companies and funds that are going beyond minimizing the bad; instead, each of our investments contributes to developing solutions for the greater good. We highlighted the innovations of Mary Powell at Green Mountain Power and the Reinvestment Fund’s success in the City Mission Project. We developed methods for measuring impact and adapted our findings to the unique characteristics of the various asset classes. Peter Seltzer even coined the SI-MBA Score, which goes beyond traditional ESG scoring systems to incorporate materiality. This is because, as we learned in our Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility course (and which was affirmed in this study written by Khan, Serafeim, & Yoon), companies that focus on the sustainability issues that are most material to their business actually see improved financial performance over the long term.

Where do we go from here?

I personally want to find ways to help accredited and non-accredited investors deploy their finances in ways that are more meaningful to them. I have a passion for efforts to democratize investment opportunities, and I’m working on an idea that incorporates my Linguistics background with my Finance interests to create a more effective system for financial literacy education. I look forward to exploring opportunities in place-based investing and community funding models as avenues to strengthen the resilience of local economies. Find me on LinkedIn!

Photo credit: Chris Kendig

Emily came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program passionate about opening up venture capital investment to women and other underrepresented founders. Through projects studying everything from community capital initiatives to equity crowdfunding policy to this challenge on integrating materiality into ESG scores, she sees increasing opportunities to promote a more sustainable form of capitalism for investors and entrepreneurs. After the program, she is seeking a career in impact investing and hopes her involvement can promote responsible investment opportunities in the industry.

For Andrew, this challenge was a perfect blend of his two professional passions: finance and sustainability. Coming from a traditional finance background, he sees how important it is for impact investing and ESG integration to continue to evolve and grow, and he is encouraged by how many financial institutions are now incorporating ESG into their strategies. After graduation, Andrew is interested in pursuing public and private equity research, specifically analyzing companies who are embedding sustainability initiatives into their core operations to see how impact alpha can mitigate risk and provide long-term growth.

 Peter came to the program as a CPA with ten years of experience. Throughout his career, he has gravitated towards opportunities to support social causes, including serving on the boards of two non-profits and working for three years at The Food Trust, a Philadelphia based non-profit. While here, he discovered a passion for the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and began a certificate program in the fundamentals of sustainable accounting. The group utilized his research in developing the SI-MBA Score, which was a differentiating factor in our presentation. After graduation, he is pursuing opportunities where he can incorporate his SASB knowledge to help investors generate greater impact with their investments.

Maura, coming from the client services and business development side of the investment industry, saw the demand for responsible investment solutions from young investors and European clients. She hopes to use the skills developed during her SI-MBA experience and her involvement in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge to re-enter the field and meet the needs and wants of the industry demand. Planting roots in Vermont, she looks forward to growing the responsible investing industry presence in the state.

We had great support from all of our classmates, but special acknowledgement (in no particular order) goes out to Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Ryan Forman, Elissa Eggers, Caitlyn Kenney, Esteban Echeverría Fernández, Alexa Steiner, Emily Foster, Jeffrey Lue, Matt Iacobucci, and Keil Corey. In the spirit of The Sustainable Innovation MBA, this was truly a collaborative effort, and I believe that’s what ultimately gave us the competitive advantage. I’m personally looking forward to seeing where we go from here, and I wish good luck to next year’s cohort!

For other publications on this challenge and our approach, please see the initial post in the SI-MBA Review, as well as articles in CNBC, UVM, Poets & Quants, Forbes, and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.

Breaking News: Sustainable Innovation MBA Team Wins Wharton’s Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

A team of Sustainable Innovation MBA students has emerged from an elite group of finalists as the winners of the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, sponsored by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. The team was comprised of Class of 2019 students Alyssa Stankiewicz, Pete Seltzer, Emily Klein, Maura Kalil, and Andrew Mallory. Their faculty advisor and coach was Prof. Chuck Schnitzlein.

More: Read CNBC’s coverage of the Challenge, featuring our team

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge involved creating and analyzing a portfolio that met risk, return and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) impact investing objectives. The team presented their work in Philadelphia on May 1 and 2.

The other finalists in the competition included Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Our group was named one of the “Final Five” back in late-March from an strong field of 25 teams that included entrants from the University of Chicago, Cornell, Georgetown, NYU, Wharton, MIT, and Northwestern.

This is a significant accomplishment, and an important milestone in the history of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

Beginning third from left, Emily Klein, Alyssa Stankewicz, Andrew Mallory, Maura Kalil, and Peter Setzer.

Value for All!

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

A few weeks ago, during our Driving Sustainable Change course, my classmates and I were fortunate enough to chat with Andy Ruben, co-founder and CEO of Yerdle. Yerdle is a “circular economy powerhouse” driving change in the recommerce market by partnering with brands in a way that benefits consumers, companies, and the planet. For someone who came into this program looking to gain new skill sets and tools that would support me in my quest to change the fashion and retail industry for the better, it was exciting to have the opportunity to hear first-hand how Yerdle is disrupting the retail landscape.

Currently, the fashion industry produces upwards of 100 billion pieces of clothing per year despite there being just under 8 million people on the planet. On average, we consume 400x more clothing than we did 20 years ago. Clearly, we have a consumption problem. However, we also have a lack of use problem. As Andy highlighted in our conversation, a large portion of perfectly wearable clothing in the world today sits unused in people’s drawers and closets. That doesn’t even take into account the 10.5 million tons of clothes tossed into landfills each year in the United States alone when people decide it is finally time to purge. So how do we address the growing mountains of clothing taking over the planet? Extending the life of our clothing by keeping pieces in circulation longer is definitely a key piece to this puzzle.

Now, keeping clothing in use by passing it along is by no means a novel idea. Passing along hand-me-downs and buying from and selling to thrift stores are examples of ways people have long been extending the life of their clothing.  However, if we are truly to stop the current systems of production, consumption, and disposal that currently define the retail landscape and result in wasted resources, then we need to innovate and expand on our current re-sale systems.

Yerdle is doing just that. By partnering with brands to help them take control of their resale market and extract value from it in the form of profits and customer acquisition, Yerdle ensures that all stakeholders (including the brands) benefit. A key theme woven throughout our coursework in this program is the importance of expanding the pie. In other words, for a solution to be truly sustainable and innovative, it cannot simply redistribute the value created to different groupings of stakeholders. Rather, it needs to expand the pie to increase the value captured by all.

Understandably, finding a solution that truly expands the pie is easier said than done which is why listening to Andy was such a valuable experience. Ultimately, by making retail companies part of their solution and beneficiaries of it, Yerdle has created a solution that other brands would want to be part of because the expanded value created extends to them. This makes integrating recommence into their businesses seem like the smarter, more profitable option.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conversation is that as my cohort and I move out into the world and start trying to tackle these big issues, we need to remember the importance of crafting solutions that reduce friction and do not force people to make trade-offs. The fact is, we are all passionate about different things and not everyone is going to care about or be willing and able to sacrifice something for the sake of sustainability. Nor should they necessarily be expected to. Thus, building a solution that requires stakeholders (businesses or consumers) to make a sacrifice of something they value in order embrace the greener option, is simply not a realistic and scalable alternative. Instead, businesses, particularly those in retail, need to embrace and develop strategies that make things easier and better for all. Yerdle is one example of a company doing just that.

Photo by Artificial Photography on Unsplash

We’ve Reached the Summit!

A closer look at the Appreciative Inquiry Summit hosted by the Class of 2019

This post was written by Tor Dworshak, Maura Kalil, Billy Rivellini, and Alexa Steiner of the Class of 2019

Tuesday, April 16th saw the culmination of significant learning and hard work in our Driving Sustainable Change class with Professor Ante Glavas. The Class of 2019 hosted an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit on the topic of creating high quality post-Sustainable Innovation MBA experiences for alumni of the program. Participants included the current cohort, numerous alumni, and faculty.

Planned and executed by our cohort, the summit was a lesson in leadership, facilitation, event management, and the AI model. AI is a stakeholder engagement model to facilitate strengths based understanding of change management opportunities that exist in an organization. Each of the learning teams were given one of ten tasks to execute that day, and if we may say so ourselves, our classmates crushed it! As we will become alumni of the program in the coming months, the topic of the day was extremely relevant and important to all of us.

The day began with an explanation of the “chaordic” space we were all about to occupy. What is “chaordic”? It is the combination of chaos and order; a space that allows for creativity and experimentation within the boundaries of some structure. With an emphasis on strengths and opportunity, the AI summit was organized into four phases, each of which consisted of different thought-provoking questions, innovative challenges, and creative activities. The Discovery phase of AI is about appreciating and focuses on the best of what is. The Dream phase is about envisioning, with an emphasis on results and impact. The Design phase is about co-creation and co-construction. Finally, the Destiny phase is about sustaining, and how to empower, learn and improvise. Each team played their part, fulfilled their role, and contributed to the overall positive experience that day. We received incredible feedback about the positive and productive nature of the conversations. The day also gave the current cohort and alumni a chance to really work together, getting especially creative with the prototyping of ideas in the afternoon’s Design phase.

“It was really cool to see how the students took what Ante had taught them and within a few short weeks, were running an appreciative inquiry summit themselves”, said Erik Monsen, professor in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “They demonstrated how clear their learning had been because they were able to teach the rest of us and guide us through the AI process that day.”

“I was delighted by the creativity and the power to generate ideas demonstrated by everybody in the room during all of the phases,” said Joe Fusco, Director of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “The format of the summit and the AI process really highlighted the potential in the program’s existing strengths.”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA network is truly special. With a focus on cohesion and collaboration, there isn’t much room for competition, though there was definitely some friendly competition during the summit’s Design phase. There was so much creativity and warmth in the Keller room that day and we, the Class of 2019, are grateful to Ante for giving us the opportunity to put our learnings into practice and lead this summit. With only a few weeks of classes left, the Class of 2019 has also reached the summit of our year in the program. So with that, we want to thank everyone who participated this year and wish the best of luck to the class of 2020 in their future summit planning!

The Mission, and The Team

This post was written by Cameron McMahon ’19.Cameron served 4 years active duty in the US Marine Corps infantry, deploying twice.

There is a lot of discussion about mission-driven businesses and millennials being attracted to working for them.  Along with this come conversations about how to build up your people and create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. This has been causing me to reflect on my time in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and how we built and managed teams.  Shared hardship tended to be the element which rapidly allowed the willingness to form for us to perform well together.  As I am working on starting my farm business and considering best practices for finding and hiring people to help build the business, I am trying to think deeply about the type of culture I want to create. 

In the USMC the mission was always provided to us and there was a clear rank structure and roles within that which existed for eliminating uniqueness. There were jobs to be performed and the expectation was that you performed your role and anything else simply wasn’t an option. Extremely high rates of burnout are the norm for junior ranks with this treatment.  However, we accomplished the mission and pushed our limits far beyond what we had previously thought possible. We as a human community are facing grave threats in the next several decades that will decide whether or not we are able to continue living on this planet. It is difficult to find the language in a civilian setting to pull the best lessons from the USMC. How to translate the brutal methods and speech for rapidly binding teams together who are willing to work through pain, exhaustion, and fear to run through calf- deep mud filled with mines toward the multiple machine guns firing at you and your friends to a business setting?

I don’t pretend to have any firm answers to these questions. In the process of trying to figure it out though, some things have been clarifying. Motivation is encouraged when people are able to feel a sense of ownership over the process as well as the results.  Having a sense that you are part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal that serves humanity in useful ways helps to make the day to day tasks required for job performance gain deeper meaning and purpose. Hope works better than fear for motivating people to perform at a consistently high level over time. 

Facing the myriad challenges from threats such as climate change cannot be done effectively if people don’t feel as if a better future is possible and their actions matter in creating it. Just as there is no place for cowardice on the battlefield and those who are unable to push through their natural hesitation to endanger themselves are removed from roles where they will get others killed; it is necessary to identify those in an organization who are not bought into the mission and cull them from the team. To create a culture of willing high performance there should be rewards for the victories and the failures in order to encourage everyone to stretch themselves and not fear failure. Great ideas won’t come out if people are afraid of the consequences of failing.  An organization, culture or person who is unwilling to change is more of a problem than a solution.  As Darwin said, “The species best able to adapt is the most likely to survive.” and as we say in the Corps, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.”

Net Impact: Wear-it-Wise Fashion, but Make it Sustainable

This post was written by Alyssa Schuetz ’19

I may only be 23 years old, but I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to change the fashion industry for the better. My bachelor’s degree is in Design & Merchandising which translates loosely into the business-side of the fashion industry. After working in product development in sports apparel, I saw the shortcomings of retail and knew that I couldn’t enter the industry knowing that I would be part of the problem. I am determined to be part of the solution and create a positive impact on the industry.

When I joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I knew my direction was always going to be about fashion.

I just wasn’t sure which form that would take until I came across the non-profit organization Net Impact. Turns out, they have a specific program dedicated to promoting sustainable fashion called Wear it Wise. I immediately reached out to the program because I knew I had to be involved.

As a grad student, I knew this would be a huge opportunity for me to share what I am passionate about on a larger platform. This program is sponsored by Levi’s, Colombia Sportswear Company, and Eileen Fischer. Knowing that these brands are innovators and already making a difference in the sustainability space, I knew that this platform would provide me with more skills and tools to further a cause that I was already passionate about.

After being accepted into the Wear It Wise program, I started crafting my social media campaign to give people an inside look as to how they can shop more sustainably. My goal throughout this campaign has been to empower the consumer. In my experience, the fashion industry is at a crossroads where the industry is aware of sustainability and knows that it will eventually have to become greener, but it’s still lacking that final push to implement change. I believe that we as consumers carry immense power to vote with our dollar with every purchase we make. We have the power to be this push that retailers need in order to convert to more sustainable practices.

I’m excited with the power we have to wear our values and make our impact in the retail industry. Please follow along my journey on social media as I continue to share my passion with all of you and inspire you to make your own impact!

Sustainability 3.0

This post was written by Meryl Schneider ’19. The Sustainable Innovation MBA features various Innovators-in-Residence over the academic year.

According to Innovator-in-Residence Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, organizations go through phases when implementing sustainable practices which he called “Sustainability 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.” Beginning his career at Intel as an Environmental, Health and Safety External Affairs Manager, Stangis’s initial role transformed into Director of Corporate Sustainability where he spearheaded corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies in response to growing societal concerns of Intel’s environmental, social and economic impact. From there, Stangis’s growing passion for business and sustainability landed him a job at Campbell’s, where he has developed and led the firm’s widely known CSR, ESG and sustainability strategies.

Stangis explained the three evolutions of sustainability, beginning with phase one, where most companies find themselves today. In this initial phase, companies focus on reducing costs through eco-efficiencies, risk reduction, and strive to do less harm via environmental stewardship. In phase two, sustainable corporate strategy is respected but can be siloed from the strategy team. Organizations adopt triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) considerations when evaluating their performance to create greater business value. Phase three sounded like the “ah hah” moment where firms make strategic sustainable business decisions that are imbedded in business strategy and anticipate sustainability challenges instead of reacting to them. Businesses strive to challenge their model in 3.0 with objectives to solve complex social, economic and environmental problems as a product of the business itself.

How does Sustainability 3.0 impact Campbell’s and the food industry? For Stangis and Campbell’s, he is undoubtedly striving to be a Sustainability 3.0 company as a major player in the food industry. Stangis argued that ethical and environmental considerations no longer “just” feed into the Campbell’s strategy but are becoming the company’s strategy. As he put it, the potential challenges the food industry is facing are daunting. Climate change is affecting global food systems while the world population is growing at an accelerated rate. Stangis painted the picture for the future of food and how Campbell’s will ultimately predict, adapt, and strategize their business model into evolving into a 3.0 firm. He explained that by utilizing technology, finding long-term resiliency in regenerative agriculture, and by aligning business objectives with the United Nations Sustainable development goals, a company like Campbells will continue to evolve and innovate as the competition for resources intensifies. Stangis embraces the unknown and ultimately understands that disruptive forces are looming. It is how companies choose to react and grow sustainably from the disruption that will count.

“Hunter is disruptive…”

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

“Hunter is disruptive” is the phrase we first saw as we walked into our second guest lecturer of the semester.

Earlier this Fall we had the pleasure of hosting guest speaker Hunter Lovins. Suffice it to say, she knocked our socks off. I had heard Hunter’s name before, but wasn’t very familiar with her work or legacy. It became apparent right away that we were in for a unique and inspiring experience.

Hunter’s body of work in sustainability and climate justice is prolific: from starting numerous influential non-profits, creating successful sustainable MBA programs from scratch, authoring best selling books, founding impact investing firms, and consulting with some of the largest corporations in the world including Unilever and Walmart, Hunter’s influence is extensive. This is augmented by her down-to-earth, Colorado ranch-style demeanor. She tells it like it is, passionately, in an inspirational way. She’s the type of person that understands that solving world problems is best facilitated over a whiskey, face-to-face. Hunter also owns a beautiful ranch in Colorado, where she easily could spend all of her time but instead chooses to be on the move, committed to her mission.

I asked Hunter how she envisions American capitalism evolving and whether she believes it has the capacity to solve the massive challenges facing our planet under current frameworks. She answered by giving a prediction from economist Tony Sebens: “Within 10 years, economics will dictate that the world will be 100 percent renewable. For this to happen, the world’s economy will be disrupted. This will be the ‘Mother of all disruptions.’ In other words, to save the climate we have to crash the global economy.”

If this is, in fact, the case, then the next decade will be tumultuous to say the least. This led our class session to focus on the question of what’s next and how do we collectively begin to prepare for this disruption. While this notion and idea can admittedly be not very uplifting, it was encouraging to hear suggestions from many of my classmates on how we may leverage our global economy and invest in Base of the Pyramid projects to find solutions and begin to strategize on how we may “soften the landing” from major global disruption.

Overall, having Hunter present to us was inspiring and eye-opening. While there are massive challenges ahead, having individuals like Hunter who are disruptive, driven, and committed to finding solutions to these challenges provides hope for the future.

In The News: Our Class in Entrepreneurial Business Models

“Across the Fence,” a long-running news program on WCAX here in Vermont, recently profiled The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The focus was on Professor Erik Monsen’s “Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model” course, the highlight of which is a business trade show featuring the students’ ideas for new, disruptive business models.

How Business Can Support Refugees

This post was written by Ryan Forman ’19

All around the world, refugees are being demonized for various political reasons. There is overwhelming academic and professional research into how much value refugees are to society. Therefore, civil society cannot help them adjust to their new country alone, but business plays a role in supporting them as well. There are multiple ways in which business can help the current refugee situation, but this article is going to focus on two key methods.

The first way that business can help refugees is by investing in refugee-owned/founded businesses. Research shows that refugees are more likely to hire fellow refugees. Because of this investment, businesses can support more than just one refugee; they can help many others get hired as well. One example of an impact investment organization that specializes in investing in refugee-founded businesses is the Refugee Investment Network (RIN). The RIN works to help move private capital to investment in financing of companies that benefit both refugees and their host communities.

An additional way that business can help refugees is by advocating for them in the workforce. Advocating for refugees could be businesses partnering with both governmental and non-governmental organizations that will help individuals get the skills that they need to be more competitive in their local job market. Ernst & Young (EY) in Germany have gone above and beyond in how to support refugees. EY Germany states, “Through EY Cares, the team got funding for a language-learning app, developed by an employee of EY Germany. The team has also supported Kiron, a social start-up providing higher education to refugees, and it has launched a pilot internship program for 10 refugees across EY Germany.” There aren’t many examples of this in the United States, but there is a similar situation here in Burlington at Rhino Foods. Advocating for refugees could be looking at leveraging their past skills to hire them for similar roles in a business that they did in their former country. According to Rhino Foods, “The cultural diversity at Rhino exposes us to each other’s favorite foods, traditions, and life experiences.” Currently, refugees make up 37% of Rhino Food’s workforce.

In our Entrepreneurship class, my group has proposed creating an incubator that would help address both of these methods to help refugees. We think that an incubator, that supports both investment in refugee-owned businesses and partnerships to help refugees get the skills they need to become competitive in their local markets, is a needed organization. I would certainly like to see more organizations place such an emphasis on, as RIN has described, “the greatest social challenge of our time.” Refugees are a boon to the local economy, and it is time for business to empower them.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash