Brigham Young University finance student Aaron Cragun was hoping to find an opportunity to both refine the analytical, strategic and presentation skills needed to succeed in his career and utilize his abilities and resources to make a positive change in society. When he discovered an internship opportunity at the James Lee Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center (SGII Center), Cragun realized that he could do both.

Impact investing is the active placement of capital into businesses and funds that generate social and environmental benefit while simultaneously generating financial returns.

Rather than separating the financial and philanthropic worlds, impact investing merges the best practices from traditional asset management, private equity and venture capital investing, business development, international economic development and environmental innovation to support enterprises that maximize both financial returns and social good.

The SGII Center is one of the world’s first student-run impact investing firms. The center began through a partnership between Brigham Young University’s Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance and the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business. Entrepreneur, business leader and societal innovator James Sorenson and global impact investor Geoff Woolley established the center with the aim of creating opportunities for college students to experience an immersion in the impact investing space.

The mission and purposes of the SGII Center are to accelerate and advance the understanding and application of principles of free enterprise to create scalable and sustainable global societal change.

Student associates at the SGII Center conduct projects and research for leading impact investment funds, entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and program-related investment foundations. The services are provided for free or at a low cost in order to form long-term relationships throughout the impact investing world. Upon raising a fund, the SGII Center can leverage the partnerships to co-invest along with top social investment funds. Investment research includes both fact gathering and an analysis of the information. Each project is customized based on the needs and time constraints of the client.

The analysis performed by the student associates is extensive in both breadth and depth. Among the fields of their research are a market sizing analysis, a company positioning analysis and an impact analysis in which students evaluate potential investments based on social metrics, environmental metrics, social return on investment, societal concerns and attitudes and a livelihood analysis.

Organizations work with the SGII Center to identify new markets, go-to-market strategies and increase competitive advantages through projects that analyze market and industry trends and major players. The SGII Center team has the ability to provide organizations with a comprehensive analysis of almost any sector in the impact investing industry because of its comprehensive background working in various regions and industries.

The SGII Center has worked with a variety of companies, including early stage waste and composting companies in the United States, small business lenders in India and mobile money companies in Africa. The SGII Center seeks to build long-term relationships with leading companies from many industries and provides investment analyses in order to develop deal flow and attract promising, high-quality enterprises.

What do students gain from their involvement at the SGII Center? From day one, students play a critical role in the investment analysis.

They build an extensive network and interact daily with industry experts, investors and social entrepreneurs throughout the world. Through the extensive training and experience that the SGII Center offers, students develop the skills they will need to pursue a wide range of careers.

Of his experience as a student associate, Cragun says, “At SGII I have learned both impact related and professional skills. I have learned the importance of identifying companies that provide real quantifiable impact. This couples with the fact that I learned about qualitative efforts that provide sustainable societal change. Furthermore, I have developed the ability to analyze business models, markets and industries in both emerging and developed markets.”

John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development.

Sydney Croft, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.

Learn more about the James Lee Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center: Act Now