Interest in impact investing is rising, particularly among the future generation of entrepreneurs, professionals and investors. The number of MBA students that are interested in pursuing a career within impact investing is higher than what business schools imagine. Schools are starting to explore this interest, developing a range of innovative initiatives and opportunities for students to further engage in this topic.
One such initiative is the Impact Investing Lab at SDA Bocconi School of Management in Italy. I spoke with Veronica Vecchi, the Head of the Impact Investing Lab, Manuela Brusoni, professor at SDA Bocconi, responsible for coordinating all the sustainability initiatives of SDA Bocconi and PRME liaison, and Francesca Casalini, in charge of managing the MIINT competition.
Introduce the Impact Investing Lab and how it came about
The Impact Investing Lab was launched in 2013 by SDA Bocconi School of Management together with Oltre Venture, the first impact investing fund manager in Italy and also one of the first at European level, with the aim to become a reference point at national and international level to support the development of impact investing as a new investment approach, able to attract public and private capital.
Impact investing, according to SDA Bocconi, means new entrepreneurial solutions, with scalable business models, that can create economic and social value through innovation in products, services and processes. In mature economies like Italy and Europe, these enterprises mainly operate in segments traditionally or potentially served by the welfare state system, i.e. healthcare, education housing and employment, serving the society at large and not necessarily its most deprived and poor segments, which remain a core focus of governments, supranational organisations, foundations, charities and social enterprises.
What are the key features of the programme?
The Impact Investing Lab is a platform whose mission is to generate knowledge, share experiences and bridge students, investors, entrepreneurs and policy makers, in order to create a vibrant community active in the impact investing field.
Engaging Students in Impact Investing – SDA Bocconi School of Management
The Lab leverages SDA Bocconi’s strengths and cross-cutting expertise in finance, entrepreneurship and public management and policy to offer:
- Seminar series and events aimed at building awareness and spreading best practice among professionals
- Action research aimed at supporting private clients as well as the public sector to implement impactful strategies. For example we have position papers on public private collaborations for social impact creation and impact investing more generally.I
- Elective courses and online training (MOOC) to bring social innovation and impact investing closer to undergraduate, graduate, MBA and masters’ students
What have been some of the challenges?
But despite the increasing interest, it is still the field of a few. This is particularly true in Italy, where impact investing is a small niche and the boundaries between it and the traditional social sector are blurred. For this reason, it has been quite challenging to launch dedicated executive education programmes as well as to attract sponsorships to scale up the activities of the Lab.
Last year, SDA Bocconi joined the international competition MIINT – MBA Impact Investing and Network Training, organised by the impact investing firm Bridges Ventures. This initiative was a great opportunity not only to bring impact investing closer to MBA students but also to create an vibrant network of like-minded business schools and future professionals active in the impact investing field. At local level, the MIINT was also a pivotal opportunity to promote impact investing by creating meaningful links among our students, the business associations, entrepreneurs and investors.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
As schools of management, we want to train tomorrow’s leaders that strive to generate a positive impact on society and impact investing can actually usher a new approach and mindset towards promoting innovation for the social good. However, to promote impact investing requires a strong institutional commitment, a mid-term time horizon and a coordination among different initiatives at the business school level (training, research, extracurricular, startup competition, …).
What’s next for the initiative?
We are looking to increase the number of international partnerships, leveraging also our link with the European Venture Philanthropy Association, the Academy of Business in Society and the Global impact Investing Network. We’d like to streghthen the link among all our initiatives dedicated to social entrepreneurship and sustainable finance and convey an increasing number of social impact startups to our startup incubator speedMIup. We are also planning to reinforce the weight of impact investing into our curricula, starting from our MBA programmes portfolio