A Meeting of Minds to Help the Poor

The timing of the Investing for the Poor Conference might have seemed less than optimal. After all, just six months before the June 2014 event, Pope Francis had delivered a strong public message that news media largely described as “anti-capitalism.” 

Yet here sat more than 100 global business and faith leaders—including private equity investors—who traveled to the Vatican to discuss the very hot-button issue the pope had singled out: the large and growing income gap between the world’s rich and poor. 

The coalition of business, finance, academia, humanitarian causes and faith-based communities represented by the attendees underscored the central focus of the conference, which was to learn about an emerging paradigm called impact investing. 

Impact investing is investing to generate social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. As simple as it may sound, many believe it holds out new hope for affecting intractable social problems such as poverty, violence and disease on a global scale.

The conference, held June 16-17, was jointly convened by Mendoza College of Business, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Catholic Relief Services. Roger Huang, the Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College of Business, provided opening remarks.

The first day included a private audience with the pope, who blessed and expressed his appreciation for the symposium. 

“It is important that ethics once again play its due part in the world of finance and that markets serve the interests of peoples and the common good of humanity,” Pope Francis said in an address to conference participants. “It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.”

Huang said the goals and concepts of impact investing align with Mendoza’s mission to Ask More of Business™. “Historically, financial investment and helping the poor have been considered two separate functions: You make money through financial investing, and help the poor by giving away money,” he said. 

“Impact investing merges the two in a very powerful way, so that an investor’s value system and business knowledge align toward a shared goal of creating wealth while also achieving social and environmental objectives. This is a transformational approach to affecting world poverty, and one that fits perfectly with Mendoza’s mission,” Huang added.