Bobby Turner, principal and CEO of Turner Impact Capital and 1984 Wharton graduate, spoke in a fireside chat to a group of Wharton students on Tuesday. 

Credit: Carson Kahoe

Profit and social impact aren’t always seen as forces that go hand in hand, but 1984 Wharton graduate Bobby Turner, principal and CEO of Turner Impact Capital, has been a pioneer in social impact investing.

On Tuesday evening, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the School of Social Policy & Practice hosted a fireside chat with Turner, responding to popular student demand for a more intimate conversation with the alumnus.

The previous day, Turner had led a discussion with hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bill Ackman as part of the Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series, which has previously brought big-name speakers, such as Ashton Kutcher and Eva Longoria, to campus. The packed event allowed students to hear from the CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management and learn ways to incorporate social impact into their lives and work.

Now in a smaller group setting, Penn students had the chance to hear directly from the man who endowed the Speaker Series in 2010. Committed to inspiring the Penn community with leaders who are “doing well and doing good,” Turner shared his insight and passion for impact investing with undergraduates and Wharton MBA students alike.

Some students may associate Wharton with learning how to generate wealth, but Turner argues that profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive.

“Social impact investing is about generating good, fair returns for investors while producing a meaningful impact on the communities we invest in. There is an interdependency between profit and purpose,” Turner said.

Moderated by Professor Katherine Klein, the vice dean for the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, the discussion touched upon Turner’s diverse endeavors and revealed how Turner used market forces to transform how schooling, affordable housing and other societal issues are addressed in the nation.

“There are 1.2 million children on waitlists for charter schools. Regardless of market indices, the demand for charter school seats is not going to change,” Turner said. “We are just building impactful infrastructure where there is an existing mismatch between the supply and demand.”

Turner has teamed up with professional tennis player Andre Agassi to build charter schools in high-need areas and has worked with former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson to enrich urban communities by providing increased law enforcement, education resources and healthcare access. This in turn decreases the turnover rate in apartment leases, reducing the operating costs of investing in an apartment complex.

Turned argued that profit-based approaches to creating meaningful change can sometimes be more effective than pure philanthropy.

“I had donated to causes I cared deeply about, but that was just putting band-aids on the issue and funding a legacy of dependency,” he said.

The event reflects Wharton’s increased focus on social impact in investing and finance. The Wharton Social Impact Initiative, established in 2010, seeks to create “business strategies for a better world.”

Turner recognizes the general trend that more and more people today are committed to socially conscious capitalism.

“When I was young, we viewed the corner office as destiny, but millennials’ values have shifted,” Turner said. In twenty years, he said that his generation will be out of power — it will be the millennials in positions of leadership and affecting positive change in the world.

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