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From Hardship to Leadership: A Social Impact Journey
Yi Wei, ’21, reflects on how the Civic Scholars Program helped her pivot to a role in impact investing.
- November 02, 2022
- Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation
I am so honored to be joining you here tonight to celebrate the vibrant social impact ecosystem at Chicago Booth.
I am particularly grateful because my presence tonight would have been highly improbable given my family’s story. As a first-generation immigrant, I grew up in Chinatown in Chicago with my grandparents, living below the poverty line. We never had medical insurance, so if any of us got sick, it was the local nonprofit health clinic that provided care. To make money, my grandfather played his violin as a street musician on Michigan Avenue in the summers, and in the subways and airports in the winters. I would join him when I turned 6, and rain or shine, we would go every day after school. My grandmother worked as a nanny for families around the city—members of the local church helped make referrals.
The vast majority of my schooling was made possible by the generosity of scholarships. These experiences imbued in me a sense of great responsibility—to whom much is given, much is required.
After college, I spent the first chapter of my career working in international development, developing markets for clean drinking water and sanitation. We were trying to figure out how to leverage market forces and business tools to provide traditionally public goods that, for a host of reasons, the public sectors of many countries were not able to provide.
I learned a lot on the job, but after getting to a point where I was leading a global team of 300 and managing a $35 million portfolio, I decided I probably shouldn’t be flying by the seat of my pants. We were transitioning from grant-funded programs to integrating risk capital from investors, but I was negotiating term sheets without fully understanding how to price or structure capital. I knew I needed to level up my skills. I knew an MBA would be a good fit, but given my personal background and professional aspirations to stay in the social impact space, I wasn’t in a position to take on the financial risk a world-class MBA would typically require. The Chicago Booth Civic Scholars Program changed that calculus entirely.
Becoming a Boothie is, without a doubt, one of the most important inflection points in my career. Having been on the investee side of impact investing, I wanted to use my Booth experience to explore the investor side. Booth’s preeminent professors provided a multidisciplinary platform to do so.
Scott Meadow’s Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity class gave me the reps of modeling investments and negotiating term sheets. Rob Gertner and Priya Parrish’s impact investing class helped me contextualize my work and personal theory of change within the noisy and rapidly evolving landscape. Michael Gibbs’s Corporate Governance class gave me the opportunity to hear directly from Tandean Rustandy, namesake of the Rustandy Center and a sanitation hero in his own right, about how he aligns his personal values as a CEO and investor.
Beyond the Classroom
Booth’s transformative qualities extend far beyond the classroom. The Steven Tarrson Impact Investment Fund, one of the largest student-managed impact investment funds in the country, gave me the opportunity to design from the ground up what a fund could look like and make the fund’s first investment. You quickly realize the limits of theoretical models and financial projections when you are responsible for stewarding and investing real money.
It was at a Rustandy Center Board Fellows coaching event that I met Trinita Logue, the founder of my last employer. After I told Trinita about my background and aspirations to pivot into impact investing, she connected me with IFF, which became my launchpad into community development and impact investing.
And now I’m at Momentus Capital, where I serve as the senior director of capital deployment initiatives. I’m helping to launch a $250 million growth-stage equity fund dedicated to helping community-centric businesses access capital.
Toward a More Inclusive World
It is not lost on me that my journey from being a case study to becoming one who studies the case studies was not inevitable. It takes active conspiring on the parts of many who care to imagine a more inclusive, more sustainable, more prosperous world to make my story and other stories like mine possible. For all of this, I am so grateful for the role that the Civic Scholars Program, the Edwardson Social Entrepreneurship Program, the Tarrson Impact Investment Fund, and the Rustandy Center played in my time at Booth.
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