Impact Investing for a New Age

By Anna Pettee, 2016 GU Impacts Student

June 20, 2016

Last Tuesday after 5pm, I sat on a park bench in DuPont Circle and watched as the city got out of work. I watched couples walk their dogs and listened to people honking their horns, exasperated for the hundredth time with rush hour traffic. I watched young professionals looking like they had somewhere they needed to be, and I watched everyone ignore everyone else. I thought about the journey I have made to get here. From being a timid, self-conscious freshman, to a sophomoric sophomore, to a confident but humbled junior, to a completely bewildered rising college senior. I thought about the classes I have taken, the clubs I have joined and dropped, and the friends I have made along the way.

What has taught me the most? While I learned important concepts and read interesting things in class, a lot of what I studied is buried too deep to clearly recall, lost in my mind like a dream I can almost remember, but the names are gone and faces blurred. But still crystal clear are the big ideas that are reinforced every day through living. Ideas about what it means to be honest, passionate, and a good friend. Ideas about the environment that wraps around us, about the homeless man I bought a muffin for, and about the thousands of people I pass on my way to and from work who have lives and thoughts probably so similar, but uniquely different from mine. I would not say that school has provided me with these perspectives, but I would say that the experience of being at college, and living and working in D.C., certainly has.

After three weeks of my first 9-to-5 job in a professional office, I have made some realizations about myself, and my generation. I realize that I want to be doing work that has a tangible impact on something I care about. That I’m willing to sit and stare at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, as long as what I’m doing aligns with my values, interests, and hopes for the future. That what I miss most is interacting with others. And that someday I would like to have a job where working with people is part of the description. I’ve also realized that my generation is impatient; we don’t like to stand still. Overstimulation has become the new status quo, and leisure means laziness, while busy means success. I realize that I have spent most of my emerging adulthood subscribing to these misled assumptions, and that I want to reform my priorities. I have been conditioned to value certain lifestyles and careers over others, even though when I take a step back I often realize that what I’m told to want is not what I actually want.

I realize that the world is changing, along with how we view it. Two generations ago, my grandmother never went to college. She graduated high school and immediately got a job in Connecticut at Sikorsky, a company that builds helicopters. That was the only job she had for her entire life. Her story is simple — nostalgic in its linear trajectory. Today, nothing is linear. My generation zig-zags through life, spending an average of three years at one job before finding something that’s more exciting or offers better compensation. Instead of romanticizing the simple, we valorize the complex, the whims and fancies that tell us to take a leap of faith on a new job, a new city, or a new relationship. We could never be satisfied with the life my grandmother led, because we live in a world fundamentally different than the one that existed two generations ago. Our horizons have been widened, our dreams expanded, and our expectations inflated. We have been raised to want more, and feel disappointed when more is never enough.

So what does all this have to do with social impact? Social impact is a result of the world changing, of people like me no longer wanting a job just for the paycheck and vacation days. While it’s still about the money, it is no longer just about the money. We seek work that gives us financial security along with that warm fuzzy feeling you get from doing something good for others. We want to make money, make a difference, and have fun doing it.

The advent of impact investing represents what millennials want for their future. Not only because it is a sustainable and financially viable way to solve some of the world’s most pressing social problems, but also because it provides an answer to the current dilemmas of our time. Dilemmas such as feeling guilty for taking that job on Wall Street but promising to follow your dreams once your loans are paid off, or walking by a person experiencing homelessness and wishing you could help without emptying your own cash-strapped wallet. Impact investing provides a path through these social conundrums. It proves that you can live well and help others live better, too.

Compared to my grandmother’s life, my generation and I appear schizophrenic. Changing college majors like outfits and picking jobs like frozen yogurt toppings. We want every day to be filled with adventure, passion, and eccentricity and are not afraid to look elsewhere if our current situation isn’t providing adequate stimulation. The challenge is not to let our insatiable desire to consume new experiences eclipse the importance of simplicity, stability, and consistency. But whether we like it or not, we live in a culture and era of overwhelming hyperawareness. The vast complexities of the world around us have become undeniable and impossible to ignore. It is changing the way we work, play, love, and live. And I am both terrified and excited to be a part of it.

The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author(s) of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.

Originally published at on June 20, 2016.

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