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.

Advice for the Class of 2020: Live Nearby

This post was written by Adam Figuieredo ’19. See a wonderful offer at the bottom of the article

A lot of people will be talking about time management. You know how the game is played. Be efficient and don’t overlook the low-hanging fruit. Your commute is the best place to start. I recommend searching for a place near the business school ASAP.

Photo by Gianluca Baron on Unsplash

My 5-minute walk is not something I think about often at this point in the program. I have to remind myself of my deliberate/proactive approach, as well as my good fortune, or else I’d take it for granted. I’m confident the value-add in convenience is worth any additional cost.

I can relax as I prepare for morning classes and get ready for the day, knowing I can “turn-up”… eat, shower, dress, go… at a rapid fire pace. It’s also easier to meet with your team(s) before morning classes in preparation for presentations.

If I’m having trouble studying, I can quickly escape the funk with a brisk walk to school. It’s probably not surprising that the ability to focus on academic problems is easier in academic environments. This is especially true for the occasional late-night grind. There’s something mystical about burning the midnight oil in Kalkin 110.

You could even diversify your income through charging your classmates for parking pass privileges (or just rack up the IOU-coffees). Yet the best perk may simply be the ability go home for lunch, make a homemade meal, and rest for a few minutes. Finally, I extend an invitation… I plan on moving out of my apartment by the end of the summer. For those interested in living on Fletcher Place, please reach out and I’ll be happy to provide more information. I’ve spoken with my landlord about this potential arrangement and he’s all for it. This is a wonderful program and I’d love to help anybody in the next generation transition to life on campus. I feel like I’m achieving my goal of becoming a more sophisticated entrepreneur. Now it’s your turn to pursue whatever it is you’re pursuing.

Renewed — and Renewable — Hope

This post was written by Noelle Nyirenda ’19

Row upon row of solar panels reflect the Zambian sky while they silently and cleanly produce enough electricity to power over fifty thousand homes. Walking the solar plant that covers almost 50 hectares in the special economic zone outside the capital city, I am exhausted but filled with hope. Renewable energy is no longer a niche technology that “serious” business people don’t even consider but the preferred source of electrical energy for most countries.

I am at the Bangweulu Solar plant where I have been contracted as the commissioning engineer to ensure that the project can be handed over to the client and be ready to be brought online at an inauguration ceremony that will be attended by the president, US ambassador and other dignitaries.

This is grueling work, and the timeline is stressful, I only had four hours of sleep after flying in from Vermont before I had to be onsite for a planning meeting and hit the ground running. However, I know that this project marks a significant time for me and the company I am working worth. This project is about more than handing over yet another installation successfully to our client, it’s about capacity building and developing skills to make Zambia’s energy infrastructure more sustainable. The Bangweulu project was made possible by a financing structure that brought development partners and private business together.

This belief in the idea that value can be created at the confluence of social development and business enterprise is what brought me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM.

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.

The Future of Sustainability is Female

This post was written by Emily Klein ’19

EDITOR’S NOTE: The MBA Women for Change, a student-founded and managed group, is about to conclude its first year of existence, and scored a number of significant accomplishments in 2018-2019 aimed at bringing the issue of gender equality in the workplace to the forefront.

As a woman in my mid-twenties, I am constantly thinking about my future—crafting my next move, creating my career path, and navigating the opportunity costs of personal and professional decisions. My decision to attend business school solidified my personal statement of purpose: I am capable, confident, and powerful, and I will bring about meaningful change in the world. For me, business school was intimidating and, to be honest, sometimes I felt like an imposter; however, if there is one thing I’ll take away from the SIMBA program, it is  the idea that challenges bring about great opportunities.

We started the MBA Women for Change group to actively promote women in business leadership roles. Female leaders are and will be key drivers of sustainability efforts around the world; we see great opportunity in recognizing and capitalizing on the unique perspectives of women as we pursue sustainability and innovation in business.

MBA Women for Change has three goals in mind for our short year together: spurring deeper conversations around women in leadership and sustainability roles; organizing professional development opportunities; and building networks of support within the university and in the Vermont business community. In our first semester, we have accomplished quite a lot in pursuit of these goals:

Conversations around women in business: Serving as a support group and forum for women in the current cohort, Women for Change has encouraged discussions on topics ranging from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” to communication and confrontation. The group has also facilitated cohort-wide conversations around gender, identity, and leadership.

Professional development: Women for Change has hosted several professional development workshops, including a session on power and leadership in conjunction with the UVM Women’s Center, lunch with guest speaker Lori Smith on organizational wellbeing, and an interactive situations workshop with our own Alexa Steiner.

Outreach: Coordinating with the Alumni MBA Women’s Group and women on the SIMBA Advisory Board, Women for Change is working to create a more tight-knit SIMBA community of female leaders. Group members have also attended community networking events with Vermont Womenpreneurs, Vermont Women’s Fund, and the New England Women’s Investor Network, and have connected with local businesses such as Generator, a makerspace in Burlington.

In pursuit of these goals, we have sparked deeper discussions, forged stronger connections, and created a more supportive and inclusive learning space. Our hope is these conversations, interactions, and networks empower women to take the lead toward a more sustainable future. By growing the pipeline of female leaders in the sustainability space, UVM and others are effecting long-term change. As many before me have said: this is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.

They say to be the change you wish to see in the world. The MBA Women for Change group envisions a more sustainable and equitable future; our cumulative individual efforts power a driving force within our program and beyond to achieve this vision. For the twelve months we have together in the SIMBA program, we work to change the conversation around female MBA students and leaders.

Come August 2019, we will have a powerful network of women behind us as we move into corporations and create our own companies. From finance and marketing to supply chain and social responsibility, we are the leaders we wish to see in the world. I am proud to study alongside tenacious women and supportive men – together, the 41 of us are a force to be reckoned with.

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

How to Decrease the Single-Use Plastics in Your Life

This post was written by Shea Mahoney ’19

With so much focus throughout The Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum on the complex, pressing sustainability challenges across the globe it can start to feel claustrophobic and overwhelming to think about how to address these issues from as individual in terms of personal consumer behaviors. One place I have been trying to minimize my own ecological impact is by reducing my consumption of single-use and disposable consumer plastics products wherever I can. These attempts have made it clearer than ever how hard it is to break up with plastic, it is so ubiquitous in most of the products we all use on a daily basis. Fortunately this is an issue gaining traction, highlighted by Burlington’s recent vote on Town Hall Meeting Day to ban single-use-plastic bags, and with higher scrutiny towards how prevalent these products are in our lives there is a broadening new market for more sustainable substitutes to help tamper plastic use.

By looking at the plastic products I use most frequently I have been able to identify some good alternative products to replace those, allowing me to reduce my reliance on them. One source of plastic waste that might not immediately jump to front of mind is plastic toothbrushes, but with their daily use they tend to be replaced fairly regularly and over one’s lifetime toothbrushes can account for a significant amount of plastic waste. Many companies have sought to offer a more sustainable option, with biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes being a common alternative. Bamboo is a very low agriculturally intensive crop, requiring relatively little land surface area for cultivation and no fertilizer use. However, not all bamboo is created equal and with the rising popularity of the crop for myriad uses it can take a bit of digging to verify whether or not a bamboo toothbrush (or any product made with the eco-fiber) is actually sustainably grown or rather being greenwashed as a more eco-friendly option.

Another area of single-use plastics that can be reduced through investing in more eco-friendly substitutes is produce bags. While it has become pretty common practice for many to bring reusable grocery bags to the store, many of us still rely on plastic produce bags for packaging our perishable fruits and vegetables. However, there are many alternative, reusable mesh bags that can be easily used to replace the flimsy plastic ones so ubiquitous in grocery stores. These also make for a relatively simple addition to any already ingrained reusable bag habits. While the need for more substantive, paradigmatic shift in the way we as a society views the use and disposal of plastics remains a daunting and pressing concern, there are many ways at the individual level to curb your consumption and make small but meaningful changes. Investing your dollar votes in sustainable products that provide longer term solutions instead of reaching for single use plastics when convenient is one way we can all contribute to the larger, collective groundswell of change.

Sources:

https://goodonyou.eco/bamboo-fabric-sustainable/ https://www.wcax.com/content/news/Move-to-ban-single-use-plastic-bags-gaining-momentum-5 06765721.html

Photo by Patricia Valério on Unsplash

Women for Change: A Lesson in Determination and Perseverance

This post was written by Lauren Masters, Emily Klein, Meryl Schneider, Caitlyn Kenney, Maggie Robinson, and Alyssa Schuetz of the Class of 2019

What started as an idea in September turned into the first formal public event hosted by The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program’s Women for Change group. Seven months ago, Lauren Masters, a current student of the SI-MBA program said, “I think Holly Dowling would be a great speaker to catalyze and legitimize our group within UVM’s Grossman School of Business and the greater Burlington community.”

With this goal in mind, a group of six women combined their skills, experiences, and minimal free time to jumpstart a new endeavor. The event planning committee included current MBA students Emily Klein, Lauren Masters, Caitlyn Kenney, Alyssa Schuetz, Meryl Schneider, and Maggie Robinson. Little did they know the amount of grit, determination, and perseverance that would be needed to legitimize the Women for Change’s first event held for the Greater Burlington community.

Throughout this process, students learned valuable lessons on how to navigate the world of fundraising, legitimize a club on campus, and overcome challenges that arose in unexpected places. As time passed and checklists seemed to grow, the planning proved to be difficult as students juggled their full-time schedules. There were even moments when they questioned whether, or not they would be able to pull-off the event.  Ultimately, the cumulative shared values of the planning committee proved to be enough as the group banned together until the very end.

On March 21st, over 50 young professionals, business leaders, and SI-MBA students alike were able to see this event come to fruition. Henry Vogt, a SI-MBA student said, “I found the Holly Dowling event to be fun, exciting and inspiring. Not only was it a great networking opportunity, but it was also exciting and thought-provoking. When Holly presented it felt like she was speaking directly to members of the audience. She offered perspective and inspiration on how to be successful, depicted personal stories of how she persevered through adversity, and gave tips on how to live a more fulfilling life. Additionally, it was very impressive that this event was organized by a passionate group of women MBA students, who put in a massive amount of work to successfully fundraise and organize an excellent event.”

As the adrenaline wore off, this small group of women looked at this event as one of the many highs of their overall SI-MBA experience.  Grad student Lauren Masters adds, “We knew we were all working towards a bigger picture of empowering female leaders not only within our cohort but also the greater Burlington community area and beyond. We hope that some of the key insights gained from this event will stick with attendees throughout their careers.”

For more information on the specifics of this event, please check out the following article: Leaning In

MBA Women for Change Hosts Holly Dowling

This post was written by John Turner, Marketing & Media Relations Specialist at the Grossman School of Business.

In a recent study of women in the workplace by McKinsey & Company, the consulting group reported that while for the last four years, companies have reported that they are highly committed to gender diversity, that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level, and only about one in five senior leaders is a woman.

With that as the backdrop, the role and empowerment of women in the workplace was addressed by globally renowned leadership speaker Holly Dowling recently at a special event in Burlington.

Hosted by the MBA Women for Change, a student group of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the Grossman School of Business, and Westport Hospitality, guest speaker and change management and leadership expert Holly Dowling led a spirited conversation about women in leadership at the Courtyard Marriott in Burlington.

The event was the brainchild of the MBA Women for Change, a group started in the fall of 2018 to promote and advocate for gender issues in the workplace within The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The idea for the event gelled when a personal connection to Holly Dowling surfaced, and the group saw the opportunity to host an event that not only started a conversation around these issues, but was an appropriate way to widen the discussion out into the community, strengthen relationships with other organizations such as the Vermont Women’s Fund, as well as raise the profile and awareness of the program itself.

“Holly was a perfect speaker for us, having an aligned focus and goals of getting women into leadership as a conversation and she gave us this gift with her time and energy to be able to come here,” said organizing committee member Emily Klein ’19.

Meryl Schneider ’19, another committee member said,“it was great to be able to invite other women from all over the community, friends and family, and men, to this event to take part in something like this.”

The event also provided a platform to build bridges, extending the network and encouraging collaboration. Alyssa Schuetz ’19 noted, “it was great being able to establish relationships with other community groups like the Vermont Women’s Fund, the Burton’s women’s group as well as with our donors, to further connect and establish lines of communication.”

She continued, “We deliberately invited men and asked Holly to tailor the conversation so that it was inclusive to all genders, so everyone could get the benefit. Because we know that it’s not just the women who have to make a change, men are a huge part in this. We wanted to make it as open and accessible to as many people as possible.”

Emily continued, “I liked Holly’s message that companies are letting go of diversity and inclusion and are now only talking about inclusion. Because how far are we going to get if there’s all these separate interest groups with all these separate conversations? Acknowledging diversity and creating pockets within an organization is not fully solving the issue.”

Meg Smith, Director of the Vermont Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides support for women’s economic self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and an event sponsor said, “this event that brings people together to have a conversation is important as everyone gains strength from one another. The realization that by collaborating, the sum is greater than the parts. There is an ongoing need for women in the workforce, and to create an inclusive, friendly workplace. My organization is focused on positive change for women, but it cannot happen in a vacuum, you cannot do it alone.”

With the success of this initial event, the group hope to continue their work including hosting guest speakers from the Women’s Center and an International Women’s Forum dinner with PhD students and the dean from UVM’s Rubenstein School. The group also realize that with The Sustainable Innovation MBA program being just one year, it’s a challenge to maintain momentum from cohort to cohort.

They plan to stay involved after graduation and provide assistance wherever possible, as some from previous cohorts have done, and hope that future cohorts will continue to build out the work of the group, and keep advocating and pushing for gender issues and equality.