High Water Women’s 2017 Investing For Impact Symposium

By Laura Malo –  Sustainability Reports Data Analyst, G&A Institute

On November 30th the High Water Women organization’s 5th Annual Investing for Impact Symposium in New York City drew a record crowd; I was pleased to attend as a G&A Institute representative (G&A was a sponsor of the event).

Background:  In 2005, High Water Women organization was founded by a group of senior women involved in the funding world and working for investing communities.

The concept was to advance ideas and principles that encouraged women employed in or planning to be part of the financial services sector.

Over the years since, HWW members have working at the mission and have achieving very encouraging results throughout different components of the capital markets.

Today, there are more than 3,500 members working in the financial services sector as well as in allied firms and organizations (such as non-profits and in public sector agencies).  This provides the organization with a large volunteer network collaborating to achieve justice and equity for women across both the investing and business communities.

The 2017 Symposium

At the symposium, a really complete and quite interesting agenda assembled by HWW brought together outstanding experts participating in panels and workshop sessions; I thought the speakers were highly qualified and outstanding thought leaders in their fields.

The day began with Valerie Rockefeller, board member of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund being interviewed by Debra Schwartz, Managing Director of Impact Investments, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Ms. Rockefeller presented powerful arguments about the role of females in investing activities.

This was followed by two plenary sessions, focused on “Taking Action: Removing Obstacles to Change,” and, “Fighting for a Better World: Women in Impact Investing.” These sessions brought into focus the crucial question:  Why should it be necessary to democratize the access to the impact investment field.

Investor/board member  Valerie Rockefeller and interviewer Debra Schwartz at HWW NYC Symposium 2017

Another session was focused on “Taking action — the key challenges that companies need to focus on:

  • Transparency
  • Risk reward
  • Insufficient diversity
  • Investing washing

…and how companies need to evolve to face the new challenges, such as adopting and using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in strategy and tactics.

Taking Action session: “Removing Obstacles to Change” with Susan Hammel, President, Cogent Consulting as session moderator.

For a breakout session I chose “Environmental and Climate,” where the discussion was focused on the environmental opportunity and climate risk into investment portfolios. The conversation  among participants was about the role of the corporation; the need for more specific standards and metrics for women;  the importance of creating non-biased investment portfolios; the specific of ESG approaches for analysis; and, the consequences of having the portfolio companies which don’t advocate for the environment protection.

Also discussed: the challenge of developing business models which contemplate climate change risk as one of the important considerations for company managements.

There were four afternoon breakout sessions and plenary sessions.

One featured Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who was interviewed by Imogen Rose Smith, Investment Fellow, University of California. We also had two very informative panel sessions:: “Impact Investing in the New Age of Social Activism”; and, “Go Big or Go Home”, which was about the bold ideas driving impact investing today.

Fireside Chat with Governor Deval Patrick being interviewed by Imogen Rose-Smith

High Water Women is an organization for activists and thought leaders; they advocate for greater impact philanthropy.  The symposium attracts individuals, organizations and companies already involved in, or, seeking to explore the field of values-based investing.  This creates an ideal atmosphere for the networking all through the day. (Be sure to attend next year!)

The HWW grand ambitions made even more sense to me after attending the panel presented by Sara Brand, General Partner, True Wealth Ventures.

She shared critical data which makes for more understanding of the necessity in encouraging more women’s participation in financial issues in a more productive way — from the household unit to the board rooms in companies.

The data demonstrated that:

  • Women make 85% of the consumer purchasing decisions;
  • and 85% of healthcare decisions
  • We learned that companies with a female founder work 63% better than companies with an all-male founding board.

However, the current environment in the workplaces leaves women in second place in the business world.

  • Today, only a 1% of partners at firms making investment decisions are women;
  • and less than a 3% of the CEOs in USA are women.

These quantitative data sets are enough proof from the fact that markets should be assessed from a different perspective in which women play a more significant role.

Ms. Brand also talked about the problem and exposed solutions to fix it based on the endorsement of:

  • Women Entrepreneurs
  • Women General Partners
  • Women Limited Partners

Spotlight: Women Investors are the solution to the World’s problem, Sara Brand

The line up of brand name sponsors for the HWW event included: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, BlackRock, Deutsche Asset Management, KKR, Treehouse Investments, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Investments, Columbia Threadneedle, Community Investment Management, Dalberg Global Development Advisors, Impax Asset Management, Microvest, oekom research, Tara Health Foundation, and Tideline.

For me as a first-time attendee, it was really inspiring to listen to achievers who are working at important foundations, investment firms and other organizations to develop more interest in impact investment programs – and to push companies forward for greater, faster change.

I heard about creating new business models leveraging the ESG approach to address challenges and opportunities and to support of diversity and gender empowerment that were breaking new ground..

Thanks to the current rise in the CSR strategies performance and the well-established networking of connectors, sustainers and factors, HWW provides women with the education needed and support required to overcome the societal obstacles — and to be able to strengthen the leadership of women in driving the emerging field of Impact Investment.

This brought to mind for me the words of the Mexican folk painter, Frida Kahio:  “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

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