Elena Loutskina / Darden

The recognition by the Mead Endowment is a high honor that I am very proud to receive. A number of my colleagues at Darden are members of the Mead Honored Faculty and I am very proud to maintain this tradition for the institution. I have been at Darden since 2006 and attribute this success to my colleagues and friends who richly shared their experiences and perspectives on student-centered learning. I have learned that to be a successful teacher one needs to open up to learning from the students. The project I would like to propose as the Mead Endowment honoree is inspired by my students and grew out of the joy I get learning from them.

As a finance professor I find it most challenging to infuse soul into the material I am teaching. Finance is always perceived by students as a numbers game that has no space for humanity. Indeed we teach students to make decisions with cold rationality and only based on the formal data at hand. It is also we, the professors, who drive the class through topics we find important. In the 2014/15 academic year, I would like to go beyond these norms. I will lead a finance class that will have an eye on the society and will be chiefly be student-run. The majority of the learning experiences will be designed and implemented by the students in the course. Each student will take on responsibilities for developing materials for the class. Students will hold each other accountable throughout the year. I will provide the students with guidance, but most importantly I will learn from them about business problems I am deeply interested but lack deep knowledge in.

My new Special Topics Seminar will be devoted to Impact Investing: the fastest growing segments of the private equity market. Impact investing is the practice of investing in companies that seek to generate both profits and meaningful social change. It is a proactive screening approach, as opposed to negative screening which focuses primarily on avoiding investments. Impact investors actively seek to place capital in businesses and funds that can harness the positive power of enterprise. This course will unite financial expertise with an understanding of social problems, change management strategies, and impact evaluation. In this class, students will learn how to measure the success of a companies using multiple metrics, rather than merely concentrating on financial returns. Thinking deeper about the welfare of a society will foster a greater appreciation of, and deeper responsibility for, the business actions students take. It will show the human side of finance, explore the possibilities to do good while still having an eye on social benefits.

The class spawned out of student initiative and interest. It will be a journey for me and a small group of students. It will be a risky venture where it is up to all of us whether this venture succeeds or fails. We will need to work together as a team to bring it to fruition. It is not only an opportunity for all of us to learn about. Through a combination of in-class, online and experiential learning, students will learn not only what qualifies as an impact investment, but also gain exposure to the fundamentals of the investment process. The overarching theme of the class materials and discussions will be to understand the unique opportunities and challenges investors face in the “impact investment” landscape.
The class will be an incubator where students can prepare for the Impact Investing Competition held annually at Wharton under the umbrella of “MBA Impact Investing Network & Training” (MIINT) initiative. The experiential part of the seminar will require students to find a for-profit impact investing candidate and develop a pitch to potential investors.

After a discussion with a group of students who spearheaded this class, I would like to propose to use the Mead Endowment money to cover the following expenses associated with the class. First, I would like to budget $1,800 to cover the travel expenses for the best team that can represent UVA and Darden at the MIINT Competition that will take place in March 2015 in Philadelphia, PA. Secondly, I would like to reserve $1,200 to provide some food for occasional late classes or team meetings. The class will span three quarters of Darden curriculum and follow an ad hoc schedule. The small size of the class (no more than 20 students) and very busy day schedules of Darden students would probably require late class meetings (e.g., 6 p.m.). Ability to offer some food for these almost dinner-like meetings would allow keeping the energy of the conversation, warm up the environment, and build a stronger bond between the class colleagues.