A Change of Cause: An Impact Investing MBA Story

This week, we share an MBA story about impact investing. Monica Ochoa Rodriguez  entered the NUS MBA programme with a background in finance and an interest in social entrepreneurship, and no clear idea of how she would combine her expertise and passions. She shares how her studies paved the way for a self-sourced internship in impact investing, and gave her a whole new appreciation for this emerging field.

Social Business MBA

After working for some time as a fixed income trader and wealth management relationship manager, Monica found herself increasingly fascinated by alternative assets. When she came to NUS, taking courses in this field was a natural choice. “Goal number one for my MBA,” she says, “was to find out what I really enjoy, what makes me really happy.”

New Courses

It was in a private equity elective that Monica discovered impact investing, a new field that has changed her understanding of the future of social businesses. At NUS, Monica took a private equity elective taught by Lam Swee Sum, an NUS Associate Professor and Director of the Asian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP). She found out more about impact investments, investments made into organisations and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. She also took a course taught by the former President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, former Dean at Stanford Law School and visiting professor Paul Brest on measuring and improving the impact of social enterprises.

Monica also attended the Singapore Women’s Congress, where she heard Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) founder Durreen Shahnaz speak.

Inspired by her speech, Monica approached IIX and had the opportunity to do her summer internship there, where she contributed with her financial background towards the planning of the event “Social Enterprise Showcases at the Impact Forum 2013” and the preparations for the Impact Exchange that is set to operate from Mauritius.

New Causes

Civet Philippines

A civet cat in the Philippines, Source: Wikimedia commons

Monica has always been passionate about animal rights, and one of the highlights of her IIX internship was a trip to the Philippines, where coffee producer Bote Central educates local farmers about free-range farming of premium civet coffee. “This must be the best-tasting coffee in the world,” says Monica, who hails from leading world coffee producer Colombia, “because the animals are healthy, happy and free and Bote Central’s team puts so much effort into selecting the best beans”. She cites the need for technical as well as financial support for social enterprises, which led to the foundation of IIX’s sister organisation: advocacy, research, and capacity-building non-profit Shujog.

The past year has definitely been a journey of discovery for Monica. “Right now, I’m deciding whether to go back to Colombia or stay; but I want to pursue a career in impact investing,” she shares, glad to have finally found the perfect opportunity to unite her capabilities and passions.

The Busy Highway, or the Unpaved Road?

Does she have any advice for others considering entry into this field? “Someone once told me, ‘You can go on a nice, big highway, but then you’re going to have a lot of cars going as fast as you, or you can go on an unpaved road–but you’re the only one,‘ ” shares Monica. “This field is different and  pretty new, there are lots of things to do and many opportunities, but it’s not going to be easy.” Still, “10-15 years from now, leaders will want to make a difference through scalable and sustainable initiatives, so impact investing will grow.” Ultimately, if you want an opportunity to pioneer something new in a collaborative atmosphere, in a community that works together, “this is a great space with opportunities for almost every kind of skill set.”

Singapore is also the right place to be, according to Monica, with steady regulation and government support, growing numbers of people committing to philanthropy, and plenty of projects a quick flight away. In her words, she’s had a golden opportunity to gain an inside look at impact investment: “Is this real? Does it work? And how do I find myself in that?”

Thinking about a similar path? Looking for a cause, or a calling? Check out the work of the Asian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship & Philantrophy here, and find out more about related courses at the NUS MBA curriculum and electives here.

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