Having the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest minds in business is one of the top motivators for many applicants considering an MBA degree at an elite business school. The professors and lecturers you’ll encounter have worked in the trenches, and bring an incredible wealth of real-world experiences into the classroom setting.
In our new limited series of professor interviews on the SBC blog, readers will get to know a bit more about these brilliant academics, what fields most excite them, the trends they foresee, what they enjoy most about teaching at their respective universities, and how it all comes together with their students.
Today, let’s get to know Professor Meeta Kothare, who teaches Financial Innovation for Social Impact and Impact Investing at the University of Texas Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Policy.
Kothare is also leading the new Social Innovation Initiative at UT McCombs School of Business.
She is the founder and president of Neeva Solutions, a management consulting firm assisting organizations dedicated to social impact.
What triggered your interest in your subject matter?
After teaching corporate finance and investment banking classes for several years, I switched gears and worked in the social sector for a decade, first with a philanthropic organization and then as a consultant to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.
My passion for social impact combined with my love of finance drove my attention to the nascent field of impact investing. I started teaching again, but this time it was impact investing and social entrepreneurship instead of traditional finance.
What’s changed since you entered the field?
Discussions of the role of business in society have changed considerably since I first started in finance. Sustainable and impact investing are making their way into the mainstream. Scholars and practitioners have begun to question whether the brand of capitalism that was practiced in the past fifty years is sufficient to deal with 21st century challenges such as extreme social inequity and climate change.
Companies are paying greater attention to the effects of social and environmental issues on their profitability. On the demand side, younger generations of investors are more engaged in these issues and consequently, asset managers are increasingly investing according to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) principles.
Any surprising or unique applications of your field of study?
Because so much of social innovation, whether it is impact investing or social entrepreneurship or corporate sustainability, requires collaboration among private, public, and nonprofit sectors, studying these areas is giving our students a range of skills and the ability to think about a problem from different perspectives outside the silo of business education.
I’ve had students tell me that even when they’ve interviewed for conventional corporate or consulting jobs, they’ve found themselves depending on the reasoning they’ve developed during our class discussions.
I’m not surprised when I hear that because in my classes and our programs, students learn how to make change happen, develop empathy for consumers, and co-create solutions with diverse communities, skills that you can apply to any work you are doing.
What do you like about the school you are teaching at?
The McCombs school embodies the culture of Austin – a unique camaraderie among students, a social consciousness that is part of the city, and a willingness to work together toward our mutual goals. I also have tremendous support to experiment and figure out what works in the new Social Innovation Initiative that I lead.
What can you do in the classroom to best prepare students for the real world?
There are two parts to that process: The first and obvious one is to give students a rigorous course that helps them develop a certain level of expertise in the subject. The other part is harder.
How do we prepare students for a real world that is ever-changing and more diverse than anything they can experience in the classroom? How do we teach them how to react when faced with tough professional and personal choices, successes and failures? I try different things.
I look for outside speakers who are experts in the subject matter, but who can also speak to these ambiguities and how they handled them. I weave in these topics in class discussions, cases and projects as much as I can. I try to create an environment in the classroom that puts the onus of learning on the student, respects diverse voices, challenges students to look beyond the easy answers and develop confidence in their ability to make change happen and bring others along on that journey.
What are you most excited about that’s happening in your field?
Technology is upending every field, not least of which is finance, but what excites me the most is the tremendous growth in ESG investing in the past couple of years has been exciting.
This January, we witnessed a defining moment on Wall Street when Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management firm, wrote a letter to CEOs saying that Blackrock expects companies to make a positive contribution to society in addition to producing financial returns.
In the letter, he also states that companies must benefit all stakeholders, not just shareholders. How this translates to action for Blackrock or the companies in which it invests remains to be seen, but the winds are definitely shifting away from the kind of capitalism that we’ve seen for several decades now.
Can you speak to interesting trends in your field?
All around the world, companies are beginning to pay attention to their social and environmental impacts. Several factors are driving these changes. Surveys show that over 75% of millennials are integrating social and environmental consequences into their consumption, employment, and investment decisions.
Around $40 trillion of wealth will transfer to this generation over the next three decades and we are already seeing some of the shift toward more sustainable investing. A quarter of managed assets around the world are invested with ESG (environmental, social, and governance) considerations, and this number is growing.
We are also seeing a growth in investments directly into social purpose businesses, commonly referred to as impact investing as more philanthropists and conscious investors find that a financial return, at or below market, allows them to extend their support of social enterprises.
Around 36 states now allow companies to incorporate as Benefit Corporations which means that their social and environmental missions are baked into their charter, making it easier to protect their missions legally.
What are you most excited about in your classroom?
Because of the content, my classes naturally tap into the desire of this generation to find purposeful lives and careers. I love their fierce idealism and even after teaching for so many years, fresh ideas from new students and new generations never ceases to enlighten me.
Any business predictions for 2068?
I’m optimistic about humankind’s capacity to innovate and adapt, so I’m going to bet that a new sustainable, regenerative form of capitalism will emerge that that will restore and replenish more than we extract from our society and planet.
Thank you so much Professor Kothare for sharing your insights and experiences with our readers! You can read more about her work in South by Social: Austin is the capital of impact entrepreneurship, too and Women lead second wave of giving sparked by Impact Austin experiences.