Mritunjay (MJ) Sinha on starting a career in impact investing
Growing up in India, Mritunjay (MJ) Sinha was exposed to disparity and inequality. He was troubled that where you were born or what social class you were from, could drastically affect the quality of your life. This feeling of injustice inspired MJ to quit his consulting job and help build a microfinance and social enterprise practice in rural India. After moving to Canada to do an MBA at Schulich, MJ channeled his passion and skills towards social impact investing. Now, MJ is an independent impact investment consultant helping clients invest in a way that generates financial and social returns.
Can you describe your job in a nutshell and what a typical day is like?
As an independent Impact Investments Consultant, I help, advise and support asset owners (foundations, High Net Individuals etc.) and asset managers (credit unions etc.) on their impact investments journey. I help them “invest” in a manner that generates financial return, along with social and or environmental returns.
A typical day can involve working on any of the following: building deal pipeline – talking to funds, entrepreneurs, and startups; structuring new capital raise pipeline – helping clients communicate about their impact investments and leveraging it to raise new capital; and at the backend: research, due diligence, impact measurement and reporting, drafting policies and strategies, working on decks and excels, and several meetings and phone calls! ☺
When did you know you wanted to work in social impact?
I was born and brought up in India, and while I came from reasonable privilege, I was exposed to the drastic and growing disparity that exists in India and globally.
The fact that one’s place of birth and/or social status determined the level of access to capital, opportunities, healthcare etc. and that some lives were valued more than others was something that truly disturbed me.
I wanted to do something about it and decided to quit a consulting career to help build a microfinance and social enterprise practice in rural India.
How did your previous work and life experience prepare you for your current job?
I have operated a non-profit in rural India and supported the CXO of a large corporation. I continue to support early stage Venture Capital portfolios and lead impact investments for foundations. I want to leverage capitalism as a vehicle for social change.
My experiences and background have given me exposure to and understanding of corporate boardrooms, frontline non-profits, and a lot in between. I am able to speak few languages – corporate, non-profit, investments, technology etc. This combination of cross sector skills and experiences gives me a multi-dimensional perspective, helps me leverage learning from one sector in another, and allows me to understand and work with a wide range of stakeholders. This has been truly valuable.
What’s one positive thing that a former employer/mentor taught you that you continue to appreciate?
I have learnt a lot from Hamoon Ekhtiari of Audacious Futures, whom I reported to while at TELUS. Three (not one) key takeaways:
- Fall in love with the problem, not your solution!
- Build at the intersection of Yes/And (this is especially true in impact investing where we are trying to create the intersection of purpose and profit)
- People come first, always!
What can you identify as the greatest opportunity in social impact right now?
I think there is a growing interest in social impact investing. Both institutional and individual investors are looking for investments opportunities that can help them “do good” while also generating financial returns. This increasing interest means greater capital flow, however, there aren’t as many products, especially in Canada.
I think there is an opportunity to build investable products – both non-profits and charities being able to take repayable instruments such as loans and investment-ready for-profit social-purpose businesses. There is a further lack of retail impact investing products, the likes of CoPower and SolarShare being among the few available products.
What advice do you have for people looking for social impact jobs?
- Think about your end customer – understand what problems they have and how can you solve those problems
- Think what functional value can you add – investments, marketing, communication, finance etc.
- Think long-term – it takes 20 years to be an overnight success!
- Build relations not networks
- Get used to failure and rejection!
- When going through difficult times, remember: “It might be a bad day, it isn’t a bad life!” – MJ
- Have fun!
- Pay it forward!
What’s your work/life philosophy?
- Take bold bets / “Have courage, Ignore conventional wisdom” – Vinod Khosla
- Try and fail but don’t fail to try!
- Be persistent: never ever give up!