Driving Change: Highlights from 100 Women in Finance’s Inaugural Impact Investing Symposium

Oct 19, 2023

New York, NY – 19 October 2023 – 100 Women in Finance (100WF), a global finance organization, held its inaugural Impact Investing Symposium (IIS) on October 10. Previously produced by High Water Women since 2013, this sold-out event brought together nearly 250 thought leaders and industry peers to discuss sustainable investment values and expand their knowledge of the latest developments in the sector. In addition, some tickets were extended to college and university students from the Tristate area.

The concept of impact has been rapidly gaining popularity in recent years. It involves investing in companies or other organizations that seek to create a positive impact on society or the environment while generating financial returns. The symposium aimed to bring together a diverse group of participants that included CIOs, CEOs, investment managers, portfolio managers, and impact investors. The day included at least eight panel discussions, about eighteen roundtables, and continuous networking.

Emcee Daniel Pianko, host of the Impact Capital Managers Podcast Better Money, Better World, welcomed attendees and introduced 100WF New York ESG Peer Advisory Group Co-Chair Courtney Birnbaum (Corbin Capital Partners) who opened the symposium with a keynote address.

The day kicked off with an armchair discussion with Monica Medina, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and moderator Afsaneh Beschloss, founder and CEO of RockCreek. Medina provided a comprehensive overview of the WCS’s organizational structure, global outreach, and ambitious mission to safeguard nature. Its ultimate goal is to achieve 30×30—protecting 30 percent of the Earth’s land and oceans by 2030. Beschloss explored topics including the economic case for nature and climate change, the value of nature and associated consumer costs for these indispensable natural resources (infrastructure), and women’s roles in this movement. Medina challenged all those in the room to find the financial tool that would allow us to value nature, put it on the balance sheet, and account for it. She also acknowledged the significant roles that women will play in driving the conservation movement.

During the second armchair discussion, Senior Managing Director and Chief Sustainability Officer at Haveli Investments, Dr. Lucas Joppa, provided valuable insights into the challenges of implementing a zero-emissions policy. Drawing from his experience at Microsoft and his current role in the private sector, at Haveli, Joppa addressed various aspects of the journey toward carbon neutrality. One key topic Joppa explored was the carbon fee and its impact on business operations. He delved into the advantages and disadvantages of that approach, shedding light on its effectiveness in driving sustainable practices. Joppa also stressed the significance of wholehearted commitment from top-level management and employees at all levels. He emphasized the need for setting measurable targets and maintaining transparency to track and communicate progress toward achieving those targets.

As the discussion drew to a close, the US Financial Editor at the Financial Times, Brooke Masters, asked Joppa to share cautionary tales and potential pitfalls that organizations should be mindful of while embarking on the journey toward zero emissions.

The first panel discussion, led by moderator Michelle Noyes, head of Americas at the Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA), pondered investing through a gender lens. Noyes expertly facilitated a conversation with Debra Schwartz, managing director of impact investments at the MacArthur Foundation and Founding Partner and CEO of Horizon Capital, Lenna Koszarny. Schwartz outlined the MacArthur Foundation’s goals and underscored its work around equity, inclusion, and sustainability with gender considerations being an integral part of the foundation’s agenda. Koszarny talked about gender lens investing and the powerful momentum it gained from the 2X Challenge, a global initiative launched in 2019 by the G7 to mobilize capital and support investments that advance gender equality. She explained that the criteria set out by the 2X Challenge is something that her fund, based in Ukraine, was inherently doing, but today Horizon Capital is recognized as one of two funds in the world that has achieved that standard.

Both Schwartz and Koszarny shared specific examples of how their funds have had both direct and inherent impacts on societies and communities globally. Additionally, they accentuated the importance of impact measurement and management; if we don’t measure it, nothing will change. The conversation left the audience with a profound sense of inspiration for the power of catalytic capital and gender lens investing.

Following that panel discussion, Annette Nazareth, Chair of the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market, and Emily Chien, fellow (Sustainability and Climate) at Harvard University, delved into the topic of accelerating a just transition to 1.5 degrees by mobilizing climate finance through high-integrity voluntary carbon markets. Nazareth outlined what needs to be done to achieve the 1.5-degree target set in the Paris Agreement and how leveraging the carbon market can be critical. The initiative aims to attract both public and private sources of climate finance to support projects focused on reducing emissions and implementing nature-based solutions. By maximizing the potential of voluntary carbon markets to drive investment, this initiative strives to expedite the global transition toward a low-carbon economy.

Nazareth also highlighted the lack of standardization and transparency within the current carbon market. She discussed the work being done through the Integrity Council to address those issues and accelerate the development of high-integrity voluntary carbon markets. That effort involves establishing core private principles and implementing an assessment framework. Overall, the conversation provided valuable insights into the crucial work being undertaken by the Integrity Council and the potential for capital markets to make a positive impact on global communities.

The final panel discussion (just before lunch) was moderated by Courtney Birnbaum. She explored active ownership as a view of divestment and the impact it can have on returns. Birnbaum was joined by panel speakers Paula Luff, director of ESG Research and Engagement at DSC Meridian Capital, and Chavon Sutton, senior investment director of Sustainable & Impact Investing Research at Cambridge Associates.

Luff and Sutton explored the concept of value creation in relation to sustainability issues. They highlighted how these issues can act as levers that can either have a negative impact on value or create new opportunities for businesses. Sustainability is not solely about risk management; it is also about identifying and capitalizing on potential opportunities. Engagement was identified as a key element in this process, serving as a means of gathering information and evaluating the impact. Additionally, the importance of effective measurement methods to track progress and outcomes was an overarching theme throughout the day. Such transparency leads to accountability and benchmarking, which can be used as incentives to drive change among peers.

Roundtables, hosted by various sponsors, commenced after a networking luncheon and provided attendees with the opportunity to engage in discussions with their peers on various topics related to impact investing. The talks covered a wide range of topics that included the role of private equity in impact investing, impact investing in emerging markets, and impact investing in the renewable energy sector. Participants shared insights and experiences and discussed best practices and challenges in those areas. Esteemed hosts included Impact Chair at Apollo Global Management Lisa Green Hall, Senior Advisor at Two Sigma Impact Blair Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of Equileap Diana van Maasdijk, Director of Diverse Manager Equity at Crewcial Partners Angela Outlaw-Matheny, Managing Director of Capital Raising at NatureVest Melissa Weigel, Executive Director of Global Sustainability Finance at Morgan Stanley Myriam Ahmed, Portfolio Manager at Ninety One Matthew Christ, and Senior Advisor to the Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer at NYS Teachers’ Retirement System Han Yik.

Table Talks

The closing panel discussion, “An Inside Look at Allocators’ Approach to Sustainable Investing,” was moderated by Bhakti Mirchandani, managing director, Responsible Investing, Trinity Church Wall Street. Panel speakers included Senior Social Investments Analyst at The Annie E. Casey Foundation Essma Bengabsai, Partner at Capricorn and Sustainable Investors Fund Michaela Edwards, and Senior Advisor to the Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer at NYS Teachers’ Retirement System Han Yik.

Mirchandani dug into how different types of allocators do their work and how the type of allocator they are influences their work and how they approach particular social and environmental issues. The panelists concluded with what success has looked like for them and some of the challenges they have faced.

Closing remarks were shared by 100WF Interim CEO Nicole Wiley and 100WF IIS committee volunteer Anna Snider, head of Investment Selection, Chief Investment Office, Global Wealth and Investment Management at Bank of America and former High Water Women board chair.

Pictured left to right: Drianne Benner, Sarah Finley, and Kristin Mott

We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the volunteers, sponsors, and partners who made our inaugural Impact Investing Symposium a resounding success. Your support and collaboration have been instrumental in bringing together this incredible gathering.

The symposium featured a dual purpose. First, it highlighted the increasing significance of environmental, social, and governance factors when making investment choices. Second, the prevailing themes that emerged from these discussions resonate strongly with our mission and Vision 30/40, which seeks to attain gender parity and diversity in the finance industry by 2040 through our programming, peer networks, and visibility initiatives. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the connections and ideas generated at this event.

For more information on the Impact Investing Symposium, including the lineup of speakers and detailed agenda, please click here. If you are interested in learning more about our Peer Advisory Groups (e.g., ESG PAG), please click here or contact us.

To view photos of the event please click here

Pictured left to right: Nicole Wiley, Barbara Novick, Emily Chien, Courtney Birnbaum, Paula Luff, Sari Mayer, and Kim Leslie Shafer