Q&A with “Realities of Impact Investing” Speaker Tim Pennell


Tim Pennell is a Director at Third Sector Capital, and we are excited to have him as a guest speaker  for our 11/9 event, “Getting Real About Impact Investing: Stories from the Field.” We had a chance to catch up with him beforehand to get a sneak preview of some of the things he’ll be speaking to on the 9th.

The 11/9 event will feature TED-style talks on impact investing! Boston-area experts, including Tim, will be sharing compelling stories about failures as well as successes in the space, speaking frankly about the challenges as well as the rewards.

Register for the event on November 9th here, tickets are selling quickly!

What inspired you to pursue a career with positive social or environmental impact, and how did you get to your current position?

I have always felt a commitment to improving communities. My career started in the arts fundraising for a symphony orchestra. After several years seeing the financial and organizational challenges that arts nonprofits face and their increasing irrelevance in many communities, I decided to get my MBA so that I could bring a stronger business acumen to the social sector. While at Boston University’s School of Management, I interned for the summer with a new organization: Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc. I had never heard of Pay for Success of Social Impact Bonds and Third Sector had 3 employees – but I was immediately hooked on this new model that focuses on measurably improving the lives of people in need by driving government resources towards better, more effective programs. I continued working for Third Sector part-time during my 2nd year at BU and then joined full-time after graduating.

What’s the most interesting or challenging aspect of your job, and what is the most rewarding?

I often think that the most challenging parts of my work are also the most rewarding. Pay for Success is a new field that is constantly growing and developing – it looks very different today than it did when I first started working with Third Sector three and half years ago. Third Sector is also a growing firm – when I joined there were 3 people and now we have close to 40 folks on the team split between offices in Boston and San Francisco. Trying to build a field and a firm at the same time is fraught with uncertainty – no templates/guides for how to do the work – so we have to approach it with an abundance of curiosity and a humble attitude.

I also find it rewarding to get to work with so many different types of partners: government, nonprofit service providers, funders, evaluators. Third Sector coordinates the work of all of these very different groups. It is a privilege to work with so many smart and talented people striving to make their communities places where everyone has an opportunity to thrive.

Can you give us a sneak peek of one of the successes or failures you’re planning to speak about on November 9th?

We often say that each of our projects “dies a hundred deaths,” meaning that there are dozens of times when you think there is no path forward. We encounter “failures” all of the time. What is remarkable is that our project partners – and Third Sector itself – won’t take these deaths as the final answer. Creative troubleshooting, perseverance, and some faith all allow you to be able to navigate tough waters and often emerge on a much better forward. It’s hard seeing the success in a failure – but it is essential if you want to challenge the status quo and tackle some of our nation’s seemingly intractable social issues.

What is a trend in impact investing that you think will impact your career in the years to come?

One major trend is that there is a need not only of finance and quantitative skills but also for strong project management and interpersonal communication abilities. You have to be able to speak multiple languages and bring together disparate parties into a shared direction.

If you hadn’t ended up working in the impact investing field, where do you think you would have ended up instead?

An orchestra conductor!

Register for the event on 11/9 here, tickets are selling quickly!

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