Lena was part of the inaugural cohort of SIA analysts and is currently the Investment Readiness Program (IRP) Coordinator at New Market Funds (NMF). Lena brings years of experience from the non-profit world, the United Nations, and sustainable development to her current role in NMF. Follow Lena’s journey through this map and her interview to learn more about the roles and skills needed for the social finance and sustainability management space.
SIA: How did you enter this space?
Lena Courcol: My interest for this space started early on when I realized that my passions lay at the intersection of my three favorite high school subjects: biology, geography, and chemistry. At the time, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career with an environmental impact. However, I was unsure what that would look like and I leaned heavily towards environmental sciences.
The process of understanding how I wanted to contribute to a positive environmental impact and the role I would take in positioning myself in this space took much longer. I believe that my decision to take an Arts & Science degree during my undergrad really contributed to this understanding. I was exposed to a range of interdisciplinary subjects and became aware of the diverse career paths in which environmental values are at the core. I realized I didn’t have to be a conservation scientist to save the planet!
A major ‘click’ moment that inspired my career occurred during my internship at the United Nations. I met and heard from many influential people, all of whom had brilliant ideas about the change that our world needed. However, I quickly became frustrated at the gap that I continued to see between these ideas and the available funding that would allow these to materialize.
It was in that instance that I came to understand the power in being able to influence where capital is placed and how it can unlock and amplify excellent solutions. That’s when I understood that I wanted to pursue a role in impact investing.
SIA: Did you always want to work in the impact space?
LC: Yes and no. The reason I am answering with both is because of the way I’ve defined impact. I have always known that I wanted to work in sustainability, but I did not know how I would about go about doing so. If I were to stick strictly to my definition of impact, then my answer is that I have not always wanted to work in the impact space.
For a long time, I considered working in consulting to help global corporations develop their sustainable practices, including solutions to product design, sourcing, supply chains, etc. While this does not quite fit my definition of impact, I continue to think there’s a lot of value in trying to change the way large corporations do business because of their global scale and the fact that one small change can have a rippling effect of positive change – or if that’s too optimistic, slightly less negative effect – on our planet and people.
SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?
LC: This is a tricky question because of the ever-evolving nature of the social innovation and social finance space. Novel opportunities arise each year as a result of the rapid growth we’re seeing in this sector. It’s difficult for me to imagine a dream job, as it might not even exist yet!
My current position at New Market Funds is a perfect example of that – just a couple of years ago, the Investment Readiness Program did not exist, and I would not have been able to have predicted that I would now be coordinating these projects. While I may not be able to picture my dream job, I know that I want to continue to work in the impact space in Canada, but the specifics are still unclear to me.
SIA: Could you walk us through a typical workday?
LC: My primary responsibility is project management – my role is to ensure that our team is on track to meet our quarterly objectives, both on time and on budget. As our projects are funded by a federal government grant, I am in charge of liaising with the team at ESDC and producing both financial and activity reports for them. Beyond this primary responsibility, I also support each of the three projects through their different activities, including reviewing and processing grants to our Small Communities partners, conducting research, attending meetings with different stakeholders, procuring website developers, etc. In general, I make sure that the operations of our team run as smoothly as possible so that everyone can work efficiently and effectively
SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
LC: I find that meeting the needs of a diverse team is one of the most challenging aspects about my job. Each individual has their own working style and it’s important to be flexible and adapt so that our work can be carried out seamlessly.
SIA: Are there any misconceptions about the space you’re in?
LC: While impact investing is gaining popularity, it continues to be seen as a riskier investment that does not generate financial returns. We’re working to debunk that myth!
SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
1. Being able to adapt to many different situations and tasks, all while trying to perform them at a high level.
2. Organization – making sure that there are effective systems in place so that our operations are effective
3. Having a strong understanding of the space, its actors, and the policy environment in which they are working.
SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?
LC: I find that having a general ‘yes, I’ll go do it’ positive attitude is really important. I really enjoy working with people that are organized, take initiative, and practice systems-thinking.
SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?
LC: Thinking about my education specifically, I wouldn’t change a thing! My undergraduate degree gave me a system understanding that led to the development of my worldview and the way I think about environmental issues. Building on this foundation, my master’s degree allowed me to develop hard skills in data analysis, investment practices, and the integration of sustainability into business practices. If anything, I would have like to have integrated more hard financial skills earlier into my academic career.
SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?
LC: Ask yourself: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”, then go out and do it! It’s important to challenge yourself, take risks, and feel uncomfortable in certain situations – it’s the only way you learn and grow.
Lena’s interview contains many gems and we feel lucky to learn from and share her story. A few insights that stuck with us are:
We are so grateful for Lena’s contribution to our Career Maps. If you want to learn more about the social finance space, or about the work New Market funds is doing, reach out to Lena on LinkedIn.