Alumni Spotlight: Colleen Ebbitt, 2015 cohort

Alumni Spotlight: Colleen Ebbitt, 2015 cohort 

As a Fellow of the 2015 cohort, Colleen was matched with LGT Venture Philanthropy’s portfolio organization mothers2mothers, based in Cape Town, South Africa. Coming from the banking industry, the LGT Impact Fellowship has drastically changed her career perspectives. In this interview she shares more about her transition into impact investing and some important learnings that took her there.

In the Alumni Spotlight series, we dive deep into past Fellows’ experiences and learnings from their Fellowship, and their career trajectories since then.

Question: Before joining the LGT Impact Fellowship you worked seven years at J.P. Morgan, what was your calling to apply for the Fellowship?

Community service has always been an important part of my life, but I always viewed it as a passion rather than a career. During my time as a banker, I heard about impact investing and it immediately piqued my interest; a crossroad between markets which I found intellectually stimulating and my passion for social impact. I started volunteering at Ashoka as a coach for social entrepreneurs in my free-time, and then looked for an opportunity to pivot my career full-time.

Q: At m2m you were a Fellow in Business Development/Corporate Strategy. Using your experience in finance, you helped m2m to strengthen their financing solutions to create an innovation and expansion fund, as well as a Development Impact Bond for Early Childhood Development in Western Cape. How would you describe your experience?

My Fellowship experience at mothers2mothers was incredibly fulfilling using my skills in finance as a force for social good, ultimately changed my career path. The collaborative energy among like-minded, impact-driven individuals was inspiring and it was exciting to work on innovative impact tools like outcomes based contracts (aka impact bonds) and diversifying funding for the organisation.

Notable moments from my Fellowship experience included the kick-off workshop in the Swiss mountains, where so many of us Fellows with a shared passion bonded before embarking on our journeys across the globe; as well as a transformative work trip to Malawi during my time at m2m. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world; in one village I visited, Chikwawa, people earn their money from growing cotton in an extremely flood- and drought-prone environment. Not being able to grow enough cotton to sell would leave them less money to buy food. As a result, many HIV-positive women were malnourished and had difficulties absorbing their anti-retroviral medication. m2m has an important mission to educate and support women to eradicate mother to child transmission of HIV, so it was incredible to see how m2m collaborated with other NGOs that were delivering important services to the community (from vitamins to sanitation). m2m had a clear mandate and mission but still operated holistically when supporting their communities. That experience of working on solutions in a complex environment was an important lesson for me that I still draw on in my work today. It is enormously challenging to solve one problem when you enter an ocean of problems. Therefore, you must step back and remember that when you can’t do everything, you can still do something. So, start somewhere and think about collaborations.

Q: What were your most important personal and professional learnings?

From a professional standpoint, I learnt that in impact investing in developing countries, the issues you will work on are very complex and may at times feel insurmountable. Therefore, a couple key learnings for working in impact investing: 1) Always clearly identify which problem you are trying to solve, which will create a pathway for you to execute a solution. 2) Innovation is critical for sustainable solutions; always be willing to learn and grow and try new things. On the personal side, I embraced impact work as a lifelong commitment. Eight years later, I continue to be passionate about utilizing my skills for societal betterment.

Q: You took a sabbatical from J.P. Morgan for the Fellowship with the plan to return to your employer. What happened to your plan and what role did the Fellowship play in this shift?

The Fellowship with mothers2mothers in South Africa was a life changing adventure, but it was also scary and risky to leave my career in banking. My mentor at J.P. Morgan suggested to take a sabbatical to mitigate some of the risks. While this did give me a safety net, once I started working on the ground with m2m, I realized that my true calling was in the impact space. Therefore, I left J.P. Morgan after the Fellowship and started working for the UK Government’s Inclusive Economy Unit shaping social impact investment policy – an exciting opportunity which would have never happened without the Fellowship and the specific experience at m2m of designing a Development Impact Bond.

Q: In your opinion what are the most important opportunities and challenges post-Fellowship?

The Fellowship’s network is a significant opportunity to grow your contacts with LGT Venture Philanthropy, portfolio organizations, impact investors, and the program Fellows. However, navigating the growing and competitive impact investment job market requires a lot of initiative. While the Fellowship will open doors for you, you will still have to go out there, find the doors, push them, and walk through them. The impact space is growing and you might be competing with people who have more impact investing experience, however, you will bring other skills to the table from your prior career. The job hunt is hard, but it’s worth it. The moment I completed the LGT Impact Fellowship I knew that I was all in, and I just had to find someone to let me in the door with the skills and experience that I had gained through the Fellowship and my prior career.

Q: You are back at J.P. Morgan today – what made you go back and what fascinates you about your role today?

I returned to J.P. Morgan to work with their corporate philanthropy and foundation because their work aligned with my values and passion. The foundation’s mission to advance equitable economies resonated with my experience in social impact, allowing me to contribute to meaningful causes.

While at the UK Government I helped to design social impact investment funds, working on a range of social issues in the UK from affordable housing to health inequalities. I was interested in doing more international work on gender and racial equity, influenced by my Fellowship at m2m. Joining J.P. Morgan Global Philanthropy, I now deploy capital to support programmes across EMEA to get more girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); help more women and minority led businesses to access financing and support to grow, etc. In my role I also still work in South Africa. I love being able to continue to give back to a country that holds so much meaning for me.

Q: What career advice would you give to candidates considering the Fellowship program?

The career advice I would give is the same that I received from Oliver Karius, CEO of LGT Venture Philanthropy, at the end of my Fellowship, when I had to make a decision whether I wanted to go back to banking after the incredibly transformative 12-month LGT Impact Fellowship. He advised me to figure out what my values are and then make every decision in my life in line with my values. Giving back to my community has always been a strong value of mine and so my decision was clear. If positively impacting communities and planet is a value of yours, then you will get a lot out of the LGT Impact Fellowship and it will broaden your career prospects.

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