Carving a Path in Impact investing

Team of Fletcher students wins The Wharton School’s 2023 Turner Impact Portfolio Challenge
The winning team smiles with Bobby Turner, the prize's namesake

Winning Wharton’s Turner Impact Portfolio Challenge (TIPC) is a fitting finale for a group of five Fletcher School students who are graduating this year. After enduring several rounds of competition over the course of a year, MIB students Kathy Hu F23, Shruti Rao F23, Riya Mehta F23, Sotiris Papadopoulos F23, and MALD student Nino Sakvarelidze F23 recently secured the top spot at the portfolio construction competition that drew participants from over 35 leading business schools from across the world. According to the team, their triumph over some of the most reputable business schools in the country held a special meaning as it allowed them to showcase the interdisciplinary expertise they gained through their two-year program at Fletcher.

For Hu, Mehta, Rao, and Sakvarelidze, this is the third competition in which they participated as a team, and securing a place among the top three finalists is familiar territory for them. However, TIPC’s approach of challenging students to provide a comprehensive solution in building an impact-driven portfolio held particular significance. They noted that their success in competing against the top business schools across the country serves as a testament to the comprehensive training they received at Fletcher, which equipped them with finance skills as well as deep expertise in the emerging fields of ESG and impact investing.

The competition challenged students to create an investment portfolio for a hypothetical college endowment with an asset under management of one billion dollars. Competing teams had to strategize in building a portfolio with the aim of generating alpha, or market-beating returns, and providing a stable source of perpetual capital. The team’s primary responsibility was the preservation and growth of capital to buttress the school's mission of training multi-disciplinary leaders while transitioning its investment portfolio to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

According to Hu, the competition posed a significant challenge as they were required to devise a creative solution that encompassed various asset classes. "It wasn't just about individual stocks, but also funds, public markets, fixed income, infrastructure, and private markets,” she said. “There isn't a universal strategy that tells you the best way to tackle it all. So, it took a lot of time to develop an overarching framework.”

Rao added that the competition's primary objective was to maximize financial returns while also managing several constraints such as the risk profile, volatility, and diversification. To accomplish this, the team analyzed different educational endowments in the U.S. and developed a strategy that focused on alternative private market investments capable of generating high returns while also having a direct social and environmental impact. According to her, winning the challenge reaffirms her choice to study at Fletcher. The MIB program, unlike conventional business schools, provided them not only with an opportunity to learn the hard skills of finance and business but also insights into the impact investment arena and the workings of both public and private markets. This comprehensive approach to business education gave them an advantage over other participants, she added. For Mehta, this competition provided her with the opportunity to gain real-world experience in mobilizing capital at scale to create impact and returns.

Both Hu and Sakvarelidze attributed their success in the competition to the support they received from their professors at Fletcher and the strong alumni network. "We cannot overemphasize the amount of support we received from our professors,” said Sakvarelidze. “They were incredibly engaged and supportive, at times beyond our expectations throughout all the competitions we participated in.”

The team credited courses such as Professor Patrick Schena's Global Investment Management and Global Private Equity as well as Professor Quyen Tran’s Impact Investing course for providing the foundational knowledge and insights necessary to develop a comprehensive solution that enabled them to advance in the competition.

“The team’s success is a great accomplishment for the Fletcher entire community,” said Schena, who mentored the group alongside Tran. “First because it clearly illustrates the importance of inter-disciplinary problem solving, but as importantly, it demonstrates the capacity of Fletcher students to compete at the highest levels with students from top business programs globally.”

The team also highlighted that the competition provided them with access to a group of experts and professionals who are exemplars in the field of impact investing. However, what stood out the most was the strong bond that the team members formed over the course of the competition. Sakvarelidze and Mehta see that this bond could result in developing something meaningful in the future.

"The competition has brought us together on a very personal level,” they said. “We are confident that in the future we will be able to collaborate on other projects. We have already established strong ties with one another that will last long.”

For each one of them, winning the competition held a different meaning. Rao said that challenge offered an opportunity to consolidate all the learnings, experiences, and networks she has built over the last two years. Competing against traditional business schools boosted the team’s confidence.

On the other hand, for Hu, securing the top spot in the competition meant gaining credibility and exposure for their work. She believes that this achievement will help establish their names in the field of sustainability and finance, which could prove beneficial in the job market.

A group smiles in front of a Fletcher banner in the front of a classroom.

Read more about Fletcher’s MIB degree program.