Kim Wright-Violich Puts Real World Investment Decisions in the Hands of Students

kim_wright_violichKim Wright-Violich: Putting Real World Investment Decisions in the Hands of Students

Tonight’s homework: pick a nonprofit to receive a $100,000 impact investment.

That’s the assignment for students in Real World Impact Investing, a class designed and taught by the former CEO and President of Schwab Charitable, Kim Wright-Violich. Wright-Violich exposes students to the impact investing continuum – from philanthropy to for-profit investing. The course culminates in teams pitching a $100,000 investment.

Wright-Violich secured the capital for students to invest from Echidna, LLC. Founded by Google’s first employee, Echidna supports girls’ education in the developing world through donor-advised funds. Wright-Violich and Echidna started the class to tap students’ talents and to educate future leaders in impact investing. After the final investment decision is made, Echidna will distribute the funds and monitor the investment.

From 2000 to 2011, Wright-Violich served as CEO/President of Schwab Charitable, which offers donor-advised fund and charitable trust services. She grew the organization from a start-up to one of the ten largest charities in the country, attracting over $5 billion in charitable assets. There, Wright-Violich introduced numerous innovative programs to facilitate charitable asset management, including the first-ever microfinance guarantee program using donor-advised fund assets.

Leading Schwab Charitable taught Wright-Violich the power of a blended for-profit/non-profit approach to scaling social impact activity; in her words, “If you can harness the commercial markets and the motives that drive markets toward social improvement, it is much more powerful than charitable giving alone.”

“Of course,” Wright-Violich adds, “some important mission-driven activities do not lend themselves to earning revenue or traditional capital investment, but when such an opportunity is discovered, change can occur at an unprecedented rate.”

To that end, she has drawn on her experience to assemble a curriculum packed with readings and guest lectures by luminaries in the social impact field.

Among the guest speakers she featured were Dr. Madhav Chavan, the founder and CEO of award-winning education nongovernmental organization Pratham;co-founder of Room to Read Erin Ganju, and nonprofit consultancy FSG’s founder, Mark Kramer.

“Kim and the class don’t need to work really hard to… simulate something that happens in the real world,” said one of her students, former Leapfrog Fellow and MBA student Tom Pryor. “It is the real world.”

Unique among business school classes for providing students the experience of making a direct investment in an organization, Real World Impact Investing is one of three experiential learning courses offered by the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.


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