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5 Key Insights in Impact Investing: Highlights from the 2024 Sorenson Impact Summit
Fireside with Priscilla Sims Brown at the Sorenson Impact Summit.
The 2024 Sorenson Impact Summit began with a powerful fireside chat from Priscilla Sims Brown of Amalgamated Bank that challenged the financial industry's role as a social and environmental steward.

By bringing people together in an environment that encourages exploration, conversation, and partnership, new opportunities and ideas are born. Each gathering helps shape the impact ecosystem, expanding the field by attracting new voices and possibilities.

This expansion of the marketplace for impact solutions is the goal of the annual Sorenson Impact Summit. The event convenes a highly curated group of 250 global impact investors for a three-day retreat. With 25 sessions featuring 50 speakers, the 2024 Summit in Park City, Utah, brought together thought leaders from various sectors and all over the world to work toward one common goal: build a brighter future. Attendees challenged one another with compelling and inspirational conversations, shared ideas, best practices, and lessons learned, and leaned on each other to identify new ways forward.

Katie Macc, COO of the Sorenson Impact Institute, who will serve as acting CEO beginning July 1, said it best in her opening address, “The world, as I see it, has never been in more need of our work. And yet somehow, in our field, I sense it’s also the most hopeful of times.”

The Summit aims to inspire outcomes that move beyond the status quo and extend beyond the event itself. Here, we explore common themes and the most significant takeaways that can influence positive change within the impact investing community and for all people and the planet.

Ashley Bell speaking at Sorenson Impact Summit

In a riveting keynote addressing the wealth gap in the United States, Ashley Bell, CEO of Redemption Holding, spoke of the inextricable ties between racial and economic injustice.

Key Insight #1: Where We Put Our Money Matters

One of the Summit’s most-discussed themes was the responsibility of the financial sector itself to drive equity and change. This began with a powerful fireside chat with Priscilla Sims Brown, the inspirational President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, who challenged the financial industry’s role as a social and environmental steward. Throughout the event, leaders from across the sector highlighted how their industries’ shortcomings contribute to the vast wealth and opportunity gaps across the U.S. and the world — and how they can come together to do better. A related topic of discussion was inequality in homeownership, a powerful tool for driving generational wealth.

 

In Their Words

“People should know and care where they’re banking. You should know that the deposits you’re making matter.” — Priscilla Sims Brown, President and CEO, Amalgamated Bank

“How did we get to a place where we are a capitalist country … but we don’t have any receipts to say we’ve gotten it right? … We know capitalism works. Let’s make it work for everybody.” — Ashley Bell, CEO, Redemption Holding

“We have profound challenges in addressing economic inequality, but the corresponding piece of that, of course, is opportunities.” — Jack Moriarty, Executive Director, Lafayette Square Institute

“There are so many health and education outcomes that come with a stable home, and when you add ownership to that, you create the opportunity for the next generation to thrive.” — David Jette, Co-Founder, CFO/COO, Homium, Inc.

“Wealth is not just about buying nice things. It’s about the future we want for our communities — and that matters.” — Santhosh Ramdoss, President & CEO/CIO, Gary Community Ventures

Panelists speaking at the Sorenson Impact Summit.

In a session dedicated to transforming food systems, panelists explored the role impact investing can play in achieving a regenerative, productive, and sustainable food economy.

Key Insight #2: Embrace Nature and Regenerative Business Models

It’s impossible to think about regeneration without considering nature and our ties to it. Throughout the event, attendees explored and shared examples of how investors can support the health of our planet amid a changing climate, from investing in nature to carbon offsets and ocean technologies. Multiple investors shared their excitement about working with founders presenting innovative ways to tackle climate change. The topic of entrepreneurship and innovation in the face of climate change continued in conversations around transforming our food systems and the role impact investing can play in achieving a regenerative, productive, and sustainable food economy.

 

In Their Words

“Normal business is extractive; green is less bad; sustainable is neutral; restorative is maybe doing positive things to nature. But a regenerative business is one that ultimately aligns to nature — a subtle but important difference.” — Galahad Clark, CEO, Vivobarefoot

“We are not separate from nature. … Nature-based solutions to climate change are our biggest single ally in the climate fight. … Justifying nature’s position as an asset class is essential to bridging the biodiversity funding gap, and our strategy is designed to advance that goal.” — David Sternlicht, Head of Nature Investing, Ethic

“What’s most inspiring for any client fund is that every industry is going to transform how we operate economically. All of that is going toward decarbonization for a variety of reasons. It is so exciting to interact with founders who see that vision. Engaging with them around their interest in transforming bold and conservative industries is part of the excitement.” — Rodrigo Prudencio, Managing Partner, Propeller VC

“It’s promising to see companies realizing the necessity of supporting regenerative agriculture. The risk and cost of innovation are high, but the cost of climate change is even higher. Companies are now investing heavily and seeing great near-term returns — alongside long-range climate gains.” — Katie Macc, acting CEO as of July 1, Sorenson Impact Institute

Debra Schwartz speaking at the Sorenson Impact Summit.

Debra Schwartz of the MacArthur Foundation, which has deployed more than $750M in catalytic capital, spoke to the power of scale in a conversation with Sorenson Impact Foundation’s Lindsay Zizumbo.

Key Insight #3: Create Pathways for Scale and Increase Diversity and Inclusion

To address the scope of the challenges facing humanity, investors must allocate funding to both catalyze new solutions and scale successful models. In some cases, developing effective ways to drive positive impact can be a lengthy process, taking decades to complete. That investment of time and resources is well spent when it yields methods that can be adapted and scaled. Of course, creating pathways to scale solutions isn’t possible without a dedicated and diverse workforce of impact practitioners. Summit attendees discussed ways to grow, support, and empower a diverse next generation of investment professionals. Together, they shared and explored examples of programs that successfully increase access to new professionals of all backgrounds and partnerships designed to change the face and results of capital allocation to be more inclusive.

 

In Their Words

“We can’t effect the change we want by ourselves. We do it in a way we hope creates a pathway for others.” — Priscilla Sims Brown, President & CEO, Amalgamated Bank

“It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of scale, but scale comes in many forms. No one deal, no one institution, not all of us in this room together can solve truly hard problems alone. We want to make progress, and we want the organizations and funds we support to be big enough to be visible and meaningful, economically viable, and to have a seat at the table — to have influence. But we have to be real. Scale doesn’t happen all at once. Collaboration is key and always takes time. Building institutions and fields that can innovate, implement, and make systemic change at scale can take decades. And that can be frustrating to think about because the problems we face are increasingly urgent.” — Debra Schwartz, Managing Director, Impact Investments, MacArthur Foundation

“We are building a pipeline not just for students but for raw, diverse talent in the job market.” — Dr. Oladayo Oyeleye, Assistant Professor in the College of Business at Bowie State University

“Through this program, our students will be exposed to a whole new world. Exposure changes everything. This experiential learning opportunity will keep students engaged and enable their career advancement.” — Alejandro González, Executive Director, The Idea Center at Miami Dade College

Venture capital founders panel at the Sorenson Impact Summit.

Applying their passion and expertise to thematic investing, three early-stage venture capital founders shared how they bridge equity gaps and transform the communities they invest in.

Key Insight #4: Connect with Those Closest to the Issues

The importance of community engagement was a common theme throughout the Summit. Attendees shared their experiences in an array of community work spanning topics such as bridging equity gaps and transforming communities; investing in inclusive, accessible technology designed by and for the 1.5 billion people worldwide with disabilities; and investing in and supporting entrepreneurs using new technologies and business models to build financial resilience for low- to moderate-income Americans. All focused on the critical nature of working within affected communities to identify solutions, being open-minded and receptive to advice and guidance from those closest to the issues. This kind of collaboration is at the heart of innovative investment approaches such as outcomes-based financing (OBF) and thematic investing. Attendees also discussed tactics they use to establish open and equitable collaborations, such as relationship agreements that define roles and shared goals.

 

In Their Words

“Think about ways your work can be impactful and expand the universe of people you work with. Be open to hearing new ideas on how to execute.” — Sean Prendergast, CFO, Major League Soccer

“One of the advantages of OBF is that it includes authentic community engagement – the project and communities drive the finance, not the other way around.” — Janis Dubno, Managing Director, Sorenson Impact Institute

“The core of our work is the community and ensuring their priorities are at the forefront. We ask, ‘What does success look like for you?’” — Jeffrey Cyr, Founder and Managing Partner, Raven Indigenous Outcomes Funds

“What we are doing is a new category in the capital markets to drive equity into the hands of people with disabilities who have been underserved and overlooked for too long by big tech.” — Regina Kline, Founder and Managing Partner, Enable Ventures

“The idea is that financial services don’t end with inclusion. They end with something more than that, which is what financial services are meant to do: make your life better and ultimately build results. That’s what we invest in.” — Vikas Raj, Managing Partner, ResilienceVC

Jim Sorenson speaks with others on a panel at the Sorenson Impact Summit.

In a discussion on the emerging role of impact investors in democracy building, Jim Sorenson spoke of the need for collaboration across bipartisan lines to amplify impact.

Key Insight #5: Partnering with Unexpected Allies

Attendees discussed the need to form innovative and unexpected partnerships for outcomes in areas ranging from democracy building to ecology. Through unexpected collaborations, impact investing can drive systems change across separate yet interconnected areas. Rather than “staying in their lane,” impact investors need to be active in the world, listening to and engaging with those closest to problems and their solutions in order to identify new and creative opportunities to drive change. This includes, perhaps most importantly, listening to those with differing opinions or ideologies.

 

In Their Words

“Part of the problem we face today in our country and political environment is that we’re so polarized. Bipartisanship is essential for this work in impact investing and using policy to achieve our aims. … We all need to be anxiously engaged in a civic responsibility perspective to improve our world and community. We can use capitalism to regenerate and create a systems change to include those left behind.” — Jim Sorenson, Founder, Sorenson Impact

“Cross-sectoral partnerships are really important, and policy plays a key role. It is underutilized by the impact investing sector. It is fast-moving, and it requires technical expertise, continual bipartisan relationship building, and patience — sometimes for decades.” — Fran Seegull, President, U.S. Impact Investing Alliance

“We need to disturb the system, to involve unapparent members from unexpected sources to arrive at a new, generative third state that might create more fluid and productive exchanges to move forward on environmental and social impact.” — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, Senior Fellow, Sorenson Impact Institute

 

Want to hear more insights from global thought leaders in our community? Explore our new resource, What’s Next in Impact? Impact practitioners share their unique perspectives on how the world of impact is changing, predictions on what’s to come, and suggestions on how we can work together to achieve a sustainable, resilient, and thriving future. Get access here.

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