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Meet Jennifer Kenning of Align Impact in Santa Monica

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Kenning.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
After a very traditional career in finance throughout my 20’s, I had an ah-ha moment at age 28 when I realized that no amount of money, fame, titles or awards was going to do it for me. I also had the great fortune of having two clients challenge me on the merits of impact investing and why we weren’t pursuing it. After 18 months of diligent research, I found my calling and realized that I had a unique opportunity to bridge abundance and scarcity. After going to Africa in 2013, I realized this was how we were going to invest in the future.

In order to solve the world’s biggest problems, both socially and environmentally, we must move real investment capital towards this endeavor. Unfortunately, philanthropic capital is simply not enough to get us there. Therefore, some thought I was crazy, but I knew in my heart of hearts that Align needed to exist. The ecosystem needed a firm working with both advisors and their clients, to break down barriers of all sorts and work in a collaborative manner to address these challenges.

Further, I realized all involved must be serious about leaving their mark on the world and using their capital to be a force for good. In my opinion, we can eradicate poverty in this lifetime, but it requires a blended capital structure with all parties working together.

Has it been a smooth road?
Definitely not smooth. Is it ever when you are building a firm, helping to build an ecosystem, and changing the way capital is invested? I have learned so much over the past 4 years, more than I learned in the last decade which I previously thought was a lot!

My 3 biggest takeaways are as follows:
1. No matter how good your idea is, the market has to be ready.
2. You have to pick the right partners who are going to go in the trenches with you.
3. Take some time off before jumping off the edge. I wish I had given myself some space to think, create, read, question, explore and just breathe before setting off on another 10 to 20-year path which would have proved to be even harder than my first career path.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Align Impact LLC story. Tell us more about the business.
Align Impact was founded in 2014 to better serve mission-driven investors and their advisors by building a team of specialists dedicated to impact investing. Since its founding, Align has served as a valuable resource to individuals, family offices, foundations, service providers and investment advisory firms seeking to move capital towards mission-alignment. Our clients rely on us to guide them in the strategy-building phase and to implement custom solutions that deliver on their aspiration to have a greater positive impact on the world and meet their financial goals.

Align’s core service offering is to work with asset owners and investment decision-makers, in partnership with their lead advisors and CIO offices, to chart their individual paths towards a greater allocation to impact investments across asset classes. We have worked with clients focused on animal welfare, education, environment, financial inclusion, gender equality, healthcare, place-based investing, poverty alleviation, and social entrepreneurship.

We are known for our collaborative spirit, which is crucial to get everyone in the room on the same page and work in the same direction – be it clients, advisors or other stakeholders. In the spirit of being collaborative as well as building the space in a thoughtful manner, our research work is overseen by an independent Investment Committee composed of thought-leaders and industry-experts in impact investing and traditional finance.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years?  Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
Our focus is on the goalpost – and what is most important for our industry and the world is how major problems facing the world will have evolved in the next 5-10 years. While we hope for the best, we ought to prepare for the worst, and impact investing will continue to be a critical tool that can influence what our world looks like for future generations.

Impact investing is already well on its path to become a mainstream term in the financial industry – to the point that investors will be considering the social and environmental consequences of every investment decision. Almost all mainstream financial firms have started incorporating these considerations into their product line up and firm-level thinking, and these solutions would have grown more mature in 5-10 years.

That said, we would need to continue to stay diligent and preserve the intentionality of this movement as it gains more followers. We expect that the role of specialists like Align will only gain in importance when there is a larger marketplace of ideas to make the world a better place and investors will have more choices to pick the ones that are best for the world and their financial goals.

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