With a background that spans banking, development and investment roles, Margot Kane has found that perfect, senior leadership role that combines her career history into one position. As vice president of strategy at the Calvert Foundation – which enables people to invest for social good – Margot focuses on corporate strategy and fundraising. These efforts include the Women Investing in Women Initiative (WIN-WIN), which connects investors with women in developing countries seeking clean energy technologies.
Margot wants you to understand that how your investment assets are invested is just as important – if not more important – as how you donate your time or money. “Investment assets fuel the broader capital markets, and they are many, many times larger than philanthropic assets,” she says. “Institutions that manage these assets will respond to client demand to play their role to make the world a better place. So, consider your retirement portfolio and savings and investment accounts part of your entire activism and profile as a conscious consumer.”
Read on to hear what Margot thinks is the most interesting aspect of her job, why knowing a second language has boosted her work and her insight on the commonalities between entrepreneurs stateside and in developing countries. You can also listen to more of Margot’s career advice, and learn more about impact investing, on episode three of I Want Her Job: The Podcast.
What was your first job out of college?
My first desk job was as a technical communications associate at an NGO that works on reproductive health and rights globally. I got this job after submitting my resume to about 40 NGOs. They hired me because I had completed an internship where I taught sex workers in the Dominican Republic, and as a result, they thought I would have a good sense of their fieldwork. However, the first task they gave me was to clean up and organize their overcrowded, dusty library racks. I came to work in jeans for two weeks while I tackled that. And, let me note, I was very proud of the result!
How did your previous roles in development, investment and banking help prepare you for this position?
They helped me understand how different business models work in the broader markets and where and how they have impact on people. For example, an NGO like the American Red Cross may provide you with lifesaving health services tomorrow; a well-functioning stock market should protect your retirement savings for 30 years; a transparent and non-predatory banking system should provide you with affordable home financing.
Understanding where organizations play in their markets and the related business models that work, or don’t work, within those markets, and how they impact people for good or ill, is really helpful background. When you are working to create a new market that blends elements of several worlds – from public sector and development work to capital markets – experience in these areas is key.
How do you organize your day, and what are your primary areas of focus?
These days, the first hour is usually taken up by trying to feed, clothe and transport my obstreperous toddler. After that, I have highly variable days – one week almost never looks like the next. My primary areas of focus span our corporate strategy and fundraising; for example, our new investor outreach campaigns focused on American cities or Latinos; and I am trying to create more space and time for broader industry thought leadership and awareness. That last part requires structured quiet time and reading, which I struggle to make room for.
What is your favorite aspect of the work you do? How does this make you feel?
My favorite part of our work is the people we partner and invest with, as well as the work they do and the why behind it. Whether its building first-time homes for recent immigrants to the U.S., structuring coffee cooperatives in Honduras, building charter schools in Denver or financing equipment for health care providers in Kenya, everyone has a fascinating story and a passion for the impact of their work. It feels great to help them achieve their goals and learn about their unique markets.
What types of challenges keep your mind running at night?
I think about whether the business models we are working to build in impact investing can actually adapt and survive in the long run, including ours, at a meaningful scale where we tip the scales of capitalism more toward social justice in a tangible way.
The capital markets are not particularly friendly or accessible to small, niche players, especially those with an explicit social mission. We don’t really fit into philanthropic models, either; and government tends to be both over-excited and completely confused by what we do and how we do it. To be successful we need to not only run a self-sustaining business but we have to change minds and behavior around where, why and how we invest our assets as a society. That is the toughest part.
How often do you travel for your job? Are you someone who prefers to work on the plane, or do you like to take the time to disconnect and relax?
I travel at least once a month. I like to write on the plane, because no one can reach me then! On very long flights I’ll watch movies, and I think airplane movies are probably the only ones I’ve seen in a few years, because I can never stay up long enough to watch them at home!
Do you speak multiple languages? How does this impact the work you do?
I speak Spanish. This often comes in handy because we invest internationally as well. This particularly was useful recently as we just launched a Latino-facing investment campaign, Raíces, which aims to engage Latinos in the practice of impact investing through our platform.
What commonalities and differences do you see in budding entrepreneurs in other countries?
Entrepreneurs maintain a risk-taking attitude, paired with acute market sensitivity, and a consuming passion for their business concept, whether proven or not. Successful entrepreneurs are able to operate with incomplete data, frequent external shocks (like power outages or coups) and high levels of ambiguity, especially in emerging markets.
For what I focus on, there is no proven path to success in the markets where I work. There are no certainties we will be around to have an authentic conversation about impact investing for social good in 5, 10, 20 years. We are constantly taking down and rebuilding operating models and investment approaches, and we are always challenging the status quo. Things like regulatory risks are major and unpredictable external shocks. So, a high tolerance for change, ambiguity, risk and the confidence that you can find a better way forward tend to be the common entrepreneurial threads in this milieu.
Do you feel that you have a good work/life balance or do you have more of a work/life integration? Why?
I have a pretty decent work/life balance most of the time, and this is largely thanks to the role model set by our CEO and other senior leaders. I have learned that companies can pay endless lip service to work/life balance, but if your boss likes to send you lots of e-mails over the weekend, you will find yourself working over the weekend too, so the only way to enable it is to model it yourself. When it gets out of whack it’s usually my own fault because I said ‘yes’ to too many things.
What is a career accomplishment you’re proud of?
Launching our women’s empowerment portfolio and campaign, WIN-WIN, in 2012. It was so successful we had to create a new portfolio when we reached our $20 million goal in the first 18 months of the pilot. The second portfolio is a more focused, better version of the first, building on lessons we learned the first time around. It’s creating amazing lessons and impact by focusing on the intersection between gender and clean energy and fuel in developing economies. Despite no marketing budget, we still get investors coming in to support this work in big numbers; it’s a concept that moves people and money, and that gives me hope.
What do you want our readers to know about the work you do?
Finance is not as scary as it may seem. Even if numbers aren’t your thing, try and learn basic finance as a lifelong tool to help protect your own quality of life. Whenever you want to buy a car or a home, or take loans for school, or set aside savings for your kids’ schools, you need to understand how financial products work and what the risks are.
Finally, what advice do you have for our readers who want your job?
Get as much exposure to as many different business models as you can! Broaden and cultivate your network beyond your generation, your town, your industry and your social circle. Learn about emerging technologies that drive emerging businesses and sectors in how capital markets work – e.g. fintech, crowdfunding models. Seek out people you love to work with and take on projects that seem beyond your ability. When you find a business/organization/idea you love, be ready to be useful in whatever is needed, whether or not it’s in your job description.