Elly Brown

Aligning Money with Values

“[The way we invest our money] determines who we are as human beings with a soul that goes beyond the ego. The status quo is not motivated from this perspective.” At this month’s Columbia Social Enterprise Conference panel on Impact Investors Spreading Social Innovation, Charly and Lisa Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation shared their journey in merging personal values with wealth management (you can read more about the Kleissners here on the preview post).

As the panel kicked off, the Kleissners immediately radiated the boldness and entrepreneurial charisma of Silicon Valley as they discussed the emerging field of impact investing. In addition to managing their foundation which invests primarily towards achieving environmental or social impact, the Kleissners spoke of a full commitment to building the ecosystem of impact investing. To spur demand for impact investing capital, they are incubating potential startups in India (Desra Social Impact) and growing the pipeline of investable social enterprises. On the supply-side, the Kleissners are spearheading initiatives to create a network of like-minded impact investors (Toniic). Lastly, the couple described efforts towards supporting the development of a robust infrastructure for impact investing, with a keen focus towards embracing measurement frameworks (GIIRS and IRIS) and sharing industry best practices.

The Kleissners walked the audience through their journey to impact investing that began a decade ago. Rather than pursue more conventional career paths as executives of IT startups, they opted to follow their personal values of long term sustainability with impact investing. Rejecting traditional investment theories, they set out to discover “new ways of deploying capital that ensured positive impact from seed stage to scale up.”

After launching the KL Felicitas Foundation in 2000, the Kleissners spent the last decade building a track record of strong financial returns for its portfolio organizations. At the same time, recognizing the importance of measuring social returns, they engaged with the Rockefeller Foundation and GIIN to gather data on their investments. The process of collecting impact data allowed the Kleissners to understand organizations on a much deeper level, which has helped the foundation in exploring different forms of impact investments, such as land conservation deals with Beartooth Capital and funding the evaluation of the Massachusetts Social Impact Bond pilot.

Charly envisions a world where impact investing becomes the norm, where in the next 10 to 15 years, all investments will need to demonstrate a positive impact to the environment and to society in order to appreciate in value. Additionally, a standardized measurement platform will drive decisions beyond value judgments, but the Kleissners cautioned the importance of a holistic approach beyond just the numbers. Both Charly and Lisa agreed that to deeply analyze social benefits, assessments of both quantitative and qualitative impacts are critical. Professor Doug Bauer, Executive Director of the Clark Foundation and moderator of the panel supported this point by quoting Einstein, ‘Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.’

The Kleissners outlook on impact investing was truly representative of the passion among leading entrepreneurs and academics at the Social Enterprise Conference: Be conscious with your capital!

impact investing