Bridget is a manager at SVX, part of the Centre for Impact Investing at MaRs Discovery District. She works with purpose-driven businesses and funds seeking to raise debt or equity capital and with investors seeking to activate more effective impact investments. Prior to joining MaRs, Bridget worked in investment banking and spent time volunteering in Central America. Read more about Bridget below.
SIA: Tell us a bit about your journey. What are you doing now and how did you enter this space?
Bridget Zhang: I studied economics and accounting at McGill University, and the first internship I had was at PWC in Corporate Social Responsibility. After graduation, I moved on to become an equity research associate at Paradigm Capital. I worked there for two years, and then decided to leave. I took a short sabbatical – I’d almost consider it my social innovation “tour of duty.” I spent half a year in Central America volunteering first at a health clinic, and then working in accounting for a solar farm. I left investment banking and travelled like this because I knew that it wasn’t a path I wanted to continue down; my heart wasn’t in it. It was very institutional, and while I learned a lot of good technical skills, I was looking for something more. After my trip to Central America I returned home and starting working at MaRs, where I am now.
SIA: What is your definition of impact?
BZ: I think it boils down to Mission and Purpose. You have to know the acute problem, and why the solution you propose is the right fit in terms of product and business model. Once you know that, articulation of the magnitude of impact is incredibly important. Can it be quantified? Measured throughout its life? Can that progress be tracked? If you can answer these questions and answer them well, you’re on the way to creating real impact.
SIA: Did you always want to work in the impact space?
BZ: I actually wasn’t even aware that the space existed for at least half of my university career! In the early 2010’s this was not widely talked about; for example, climate change wasn’t as accepted as a major issue at the time, though it was certainly growing. Working in corporate social responsibility was a window into that type of path, but didn’t exactly entice me to travel down it. The book “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz was my first introduction to the concept of moving to the middle of profit and purpose, but by the time I read it I was too much in motion to change my path. I didn’t feel comfortable pivoting at that time and there wasn’t much opportunity.
I would advise anyone who’s not directly in the space but wants to build purpose into their role with a few general guidelines. It can be very effective to start pushing a positive agenda within the firm. This could be an internal group that discusses sustainability, or something similar to that. Internal change needs to happen before externally observable change can happen. And if you are looking to directly transition into a new role in social impact, get your feet wet first! Off the clock time counts too, and I’d recommend taking initiatives like this before quitting your job to change (though that’s exactly what I did).
SIA: What are some of the issues that you care about that you’re able to contribute to with your work?
BZ:Access and opportunity for immigrants and refugees in Canada is an important cause for me, and one I’ve been able to work on through some microlending projects through MaRs. Climate innovation is incredibly important work, and this is another issue that many businesses are tackling in different ways – we work with various entities on that. In terms of gender equity, I haven’t had any discrete projects, but I think about this in terms of systems innovation; trying to advance the cause no matter where that is.
Health innovation and international development work are two areas I haven’t focused as much on yet that I would like to work with in the future. At MaRs we do much more locally focused work; the international and health innovation spaces are two areas I’ve had some limited prior exposure to, and would like to develop further in the future.
SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?
BZ: My main long term goal is, eventually, to manage an impact fund. I’ve been able to work on various projects related to fund design and management through my current position, and it’s something that I love to do and have a passion for. I recognize that launching a fund is not exactly a “late 20’s” thing to do – I definitely want to gain more experience prior to this! But that’s my main long term goal.
SIA: Could you walk us through a typical workday?
BZ: That’s a tough question because I don’t have a typical workday! At any given time, I’m generally managing 5 or 6 projects. I work with investees on things like design, fundraising, and advisory. We also provide management guidance for social purpose organizations, and work with partners for systems change work. With investors, I do a lot of investor relations work; education, providing frameworks, all aimed toward mobilizing more capital into impact and building a pipeline of impact investors.
On the work-life balance side of things, I didn’t have much in my previous job in investment banking. My current team culture values that a lot more, and that helps to protect the balance in a better way. The COVID-19 situation has certainly changed that, and I have different strategies now to maintain balance and be as effective at work. It’s difficult with a broader crisis happening; new populations are being marginalized, ad we are trying to design new approaches to address that.
SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
BZ: At the risk of using too many buzzwords in one sentence: projects involving constant stakeholder alignment to reach milestones. Sometimes these can last over a very long time. Tactically, this means keeping everyone in the loop and providing value to them, ensuring they have a relevant part in all decision making frameworks. Keeping everyone moving in the same direction can be like trying to put together a huge, complicated meal – there are so many ingredients, and so much coordination require
SIA: Are there any misconceptions about the space you’re in?
BZ: I’ve often heard it expressed that impact investing as a whole requires a concessionary return. The flaw in this thinking is that it sees impact investing as an asset class, when it is an ecosystem. We design bespoke financial products for clients that can take many forms; some make concessions on return expectations, and some don’t. It’s not a rule!
SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
BZ: Financial modelling and research report generation are quite important. Consulting style skillsets help too; creating effective presentations, comfort delivering them to management level clients, and general business acumen. Additionally, it helps to know what sorts of concepts and advice are most useful at different stages of a business’s life; this can be a nuanced difference that is incredibly helpful to understand well.
SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?
BZ: A life long learning attitude, humility combined with ambition, and the ability to not take things too seriously!
SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?
BZ: Absolutely. I would have taken a lot more risks in school and broadened my interests and horizons more. When I was in school I mostly evaluated opportunities based on what it brought to my resume, and how it might affect my employability. Looking back, I wish I had done more exploring and I would encourage any current students to do the same!
SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?
BZ: Your relationships and your network are your wealth. They open doors, bring new perspectives into your life, and will probably be how you get your next job or meet a cofounder. That’s been my lived experience. It’s easy to be tightly would and see networking as a chore, the way I did when I was earlier in my career. But maintaining the focus on relationship building makes things much more genuine, and it’s so worth doing effectively.
We feel lucky to learn from Bridget’s experience and share her story with you all. A few insights that stuck with us are:
We are so grateful to Bridget for sharing her experiences with us. If you want to learn more about impact investing or the work done at SVX, connect with Bridget on LinkedIn.