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Why I left private equity to focus on impact investing

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life, Confucius once said.

For ethical investor Will Richardson, cooped up in a job where the spark had long gone, learning this lesson was seven years in the making.

These days, Richardson heads up the venture capital division at Impact Investment Group, which aims to shift business’ and investors’ traditional ideas about what investments can be.

Within the Group, he leads the Giant Leap Fund, which he describes as “Australia’s first 100 per cent impact venture capital”.

“What does that mean? It means that we’re looking to invest into businesses that are scalable and through their scale they are creating demonstrable and measurable positive social and environmental impact,” he told Yahoo Finance.

The venture capital fund is a humble drop in the growing ocean that is the Australian impact investment industry, which has now hit $8 billion.

Where impact investing is often confused for ethical investing, impact investing goes further. Rather than just applying a negative or positive screen, impact investments seek out projects and firms that are intentionally creating a better world. At the Giant Leap Fund, Richardson is leading this charge.

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A small handful of companies that enjoy the backing of the Fund include Sendle, a carbon neutral parcel delivery start-up; YourGrocer, an online grocery shopping service that sources your bread, meat and veggies from local independent shops in Melbourne and Sydney; GlamCorner, an online clothing rental service that aims to reduce landfill.

“What we’re trying to demonstrate is that you can make money and do good at the same time.”

It’s a pretty diverse range of start-ups, but it’s grouped together by one thing.

“We look for businesses that fuse profit and purpose, and we’re looking to back those scalable businesses to drive scalable change in the world.”

Richardson’s own job – which involves seeking out these companies with purpose – isn’t so much just a ‘job’ as it is a purpose of his own. Back in 2011, he began to fall out of love with what he’d always thought was his dream job as an investment manager at a private equity firm.

“I found it harder and harder to wake up in the morning,” he said.

“That was the job I always aspired to have, but after a number of years I felt like it just wasn’t fulfilling. I wasn’t deriving the meaning that I was looking for in my life.”

A bit of soul-searching ensued which led him to a conference, where he heard a speaker pose a question to the audience that unseated him: what makes you come alive?

“The question literally knocked me off my chair. I realised that what I was working on in private equity made me feel the opposite.”

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“I searched around the world to find groups that inspired me and came across Small Giants, who were launching the Impact Invest Group and I was very lucky.

“The timing was perfect and they offered me the opportunity to be their first employee.”

From there, the Giant Leap Fund was born.

His role as the Fund’s managing partner, which he’s now held for more than 2 years, sees him at the forefront of small businesses. He’s the link between investors and emerging start-ups, both of which are trying to do some good in the world.

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“What really excites me is that I feel like we’re just at the beginning of a movement towards positive change that will be beneficial for the people and the planet.”

Not only that, but his story is a neat twist on the familiar I-turned-my-back-on-corporate storylines. In Richardson’s case, he didn’t need to start from scratch – instead, the professional skills he’d already spent several years honing were quite literally put to use for the greater good.

“What we’re trying to demonstrate is that you can make money and do good at the same time,” Richardson said of the Fund.

He might as well be talking about himself.

“Spending time with people that energise you, working on things that are meaningful – how can you not feel alive?”

It’s a contemporary take on an ancient Chinese proverb.

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