Go to any social impact conference, and you will probably hear, “Soon, there will be no ‘impact’ investing. It will simply be investing.”
Indeed, with a rising group of Millennial investors rushing the field, the idea that impact investing might soon dominate investors’ way of thinking is increasingly conceivable. A study released this year found that “more than half of Millennial investors (52%) see the social responsibility of their investments as [ …] important selection criteria, compared with less than 30% of WWII-era investors and 42% of Gen X investors.” This proclivity for social good paired with the storied $30 billion intergenerational wealth transfer that is predicted to go to Millennials over the next 30 years could be a recipe for major growth in the impact investing arena.
But aside from the much-discussed social consciousness of Millennials, perhaps another dynamic is also at play: the desire for instant gratification, a characteristic widely thought to be strong among Millennials. After all, why wait to make a positive impact on the world when you could do it now?
The younger generation may see billionaires such as Bill Gates and the storied Rockefellers as inspirational business people, but they may question the old guard style of first spending precious time trying to make billions of dollars and then endeavoring to better the lives of others. The concept of impact investing, or pursuing both a financial return at the same time as a positive social impact, allows young people to strive toward both simultaneously.
Brandon Montenegro, an MBA student (and Millennial) at the University of Utah who holds a fellowship at the Sorenson Impact Center, explained why a shift from traditional investing to impact investing struck a chord with him: “I’ve had my views challenged on what it means to be an investor. The traditional view is that, on the one hand, you make investments to make money, and on the other hand, once you’re rich, you donate and you do charity. But this traditional worldview doesn’t actually make sense,” he said. “Because what you’re doing to make money, a lot of times, is causing the problems that you’re later donating to solve.”
Some of the addressable problems might include air pollution, limited access to clean water, hunger, mental health, lack of education, and homelessness, to name a few. Still, solving these intractable problems with return-seeking investment dollars requires rethinking conventional capitalism and continuing to shift the mindset of traditional investors toward impact.