Like so many immigrants, Leanna Wilson's parents came to America following the "American Dream."
Her father owned a small bakery in his homeland of Jamaica, but when the family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, their dream of a successful business didn't pan out exactly as they had hoped.
Leah Smith, Wilson's cousin, also has small-business roots, although her parents chose to stay in Jamaica. And despite being gutsy entrepreneurs, they never managed to thrive financially either.
But this didn't stop Wilson and Smith from growing and deciding to follow in their parents' entrepreneurial footsteps and become business partners.
Wilson and Smith. Photo courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation/Welcometoterranova.
"I don’t know when it is that we decided to start a business," Wilson says. "I think we always knew. Maybe it’s just in the blood."
They started a small company called GroupOut — a dining concierge service that helps groups navigate party and event planning in the often spatially constricted New York City.
Their joint backgrounds in corporate event planning, finance, and design helped Wilson and Smith's business take off, and soon enough, they were turning a profit.
Photo via GroupOut, used with permission.
Suddenly, they were presented with a problem they'd never imagined — what should they do with the excess money? Enter impact investing.
Simply put, impact investing allows investors to focus their capital on causes or organizations that create social change while still seeing a return on their investment, just like they would with any other investment. For socially conscious individuals like Wilson and Smith, it's a win-win.
"We always wanted GroupOut to have a social impact," Wilson explains. "We’ve struggled with finding the right way to do it."
Wilson and Smith are not alone in their desire to put their money toward a better world.
According to a survey by the United States Treasury, millennials are choosing to invest in organizations and projects that prioritize the greater good more than any generation before them. Not only are they simply more driven by activism, many are still struggling with things like student debt and shrinking job pools, so they're less trusting of traditional investment practices.
Young women making art at the YWCA Chicago. Photo courtesy of the YMCA/Rockefeller Foundation.
It's likely the reason why they're interested in having their investment dollars focus on causes that align with nonprofits like the YWCA and NAACP, whose mission is to empower women and eliminate racism.
That's where Impact Shares came in for Wilson and Smith.
Impact Shares is a nonprofit financial advisor that helps people invest in companies that are aligned with the social causes they care about because they partner with nonprofits — such as the YWCA and NAACP — to create a financial portfolio of socially responsible companies. This provides an incentive for companies included in that portfolio to continue to be an engine for progress and it creates a roadmap for others to do the same
It also directly benefits nonprofits, like the YWCA and NAACP, financially too. When investing, there is management fee that usually goes to Wall Street, but with Impact Shares, that fee goes back to the nonprofits as a charitable contribution.
Photo courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation/Welcometoterranova.
This makes Impact Shares a win-win-win for all parties concerned.
"Impact Shares is putting forth a new model for the next generation of finance," Adam Connaker, Senior Program Associate in Innovative Finance and Impact Investing at The Rockefeller Foundation, writes in an email. "One where investors can partner with leading nonprofits to give them a voice on corporate citizenship."
"Other Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ETFs (Exchange Trade Funds) have made small charitable contributions, but this one goes to the next level by engaging the non-profits deeply and giving them the entire net management fee as a donation to support the incredible work they do on behalf of vulnerable populations," he continues.
Members of the YWCA Chicago. Photo courtesy of the YMCA/Rockefeller Foundation.
The YWCA ETF launched on August 27th and NAACP's was formally listed on July 18th for any other investors who might be interested in making an impact on women's empowerment.
If this is the future of investing, the world is in for some major improvements in social good organizations big and small.
For more on Wilson and Smith's story, check out the video below:
For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot – or will not.