As a director at Calvert Foundation, Beth Bafford makes an impact through investing. The company’s mission is to connect individual investors with organizations working around the globe, developing affordable housing, creating jobs, protecting the environment, and working in many other ways for the social good.
Beth received an MBA in social entrepreneurship from Duke University, worked at UBS Financial Services in the private wealth division, and eventually applied her talents to a full-time position at the White House after volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2008. As Beth explains it, her current role is a culmination of these past professional experiences, allowing her to work at the unique intersection of the social, public, and private sectors.
Here, we chat with Beth about her unconventional career path and what it’s like to work in impact investing.
Name: Beth Bafford
Current title/company: Director of Investments at Calvert Social Investment Foundation
Degree: B.A. in public policy, MBA with a concentration in social entrepreneurship, both from Duke University
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My path was not as intentional as it likely should have been. Thinking back on my college career search process always makes me laugh because I basically just said to myself, “I am a lot like my mom, and my mom is a successful financial advisor, so maybe I should try to be a successful financial advisor.”
When faced with any life fork in the road, follow your gut and drown out everything else.
I applied to a few wealth management firms and decided to work for UBS Financial Services as a management trainee in their private wealth division.
You left an impressive career in finance to work for the Obama campaign in 2008. Was it difficult to walk away from that career? Did you have any hesitations or any doubt that it was the right move?
It’s strange, but at the time it didn’t really feel like a choice. I had to do something, anything, to make sure Obama was our next president. I was 23 and had never been politically active or interested, but when Obama spoke about the positive ripple effect of one person’s actions, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.
I began volunteering for Obama’s campaign in New York in January 2008 (I was late to the game because I was living in Zurich on an international rotation that fall), and after my first volunteer event clip-boarding in Union Square, I was hooked. I started taking off work to do GOTV (get out the vote) in primary states and finally decided after the March 4th primary that I would quit my job as a birthday present to myself. I’ll never forget the look on my boss’s face when I told her I was leaving UBS to become a full-time volunteer for Barack Obama.
It was the best decision I have ever made (except deciding to marry my incredible husband, of course). Working on the campaign introduced me to my closest friends, taught me that if you work with enough strength and conviction you can make the impossible happen, and formed the foundation of my philosophy on leadership and service through its simple mantra: Respect, Empower, Include.
If you work with enough strength and conviction you can make the impossible happen.
Once the campaign was over, how did you get the position working at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the Affordable Care Act?
Coming off of the campaign, we were all insanely excited, a little lost, and very tired. The hiring process for a new administration, despite best efforts, is always a bit of a mess, so we gave campaign leadership and the personnel office a general idea of what we wanted to do and then started getting calls from different agencies with open positions across various issue areas. When I got the call from OMB, I had to Google it. I remember asking the interviewer what EOP in her email address stood for and when she replied, “Executive Office of the President,” I quickly realized I should pay more attention (and, as Sheryl Sandberg says, get on the rocket ship).
I started as a confidential assistant to the health policy advisors, so when the president decided to make health reform his first-term priority we got very busy very quickly. It was another amazing experience courtesy of Obama; a crash course in policy making, the legislative process, the politics of governing, communications of complex issues, and adaptive strategy. And best of all, I got to work with and for incredibly smart and passionate people.
Tell us about your decision to go to business school. Was that a hard decision to make? You were in a position that most people would absolutely love to be in—working for the White House. How did you decide that you wanted to change your path and head back to school?
I loved working at the White House, but after being there for nearly two years I realized that, while I was extremely passionate about the mission of our work, I could not ignore the fact that I have a “private sector personality.” My job at UBS was the worst fit for my heart, but it was the best fit for my head and I missed the pace, tangibility, and nimbleness that the private sector provided.
While still at the White House, I started to read about the world that existed at the intersection of all three sectors (social, public, and private) and decided I would go back to school to figure out what I wanted to do within that gray space. I only looked at schools that had programs focused on “non-traditional” (aka business for bleeding hearts) careers and landed back at Duke because of their best-in-class Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE).
You seem to be really clear on your career goals and what you absolutely love. Have you always known what you’ve wanted to do?
Not at all, although strangely, when my mom used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “a stockbroker for the homeless.” She laughed then, and wondered how my clients would have much in the way of investable assets, but now she realizes that 6-year-old Beth was surprisingly prescient.
You now work in “impact investing.” Can you explain a little more about what that is and what you do?
Impact investing is the practice of making investments with the intention to generate both social and financial returns. The idea is that we can use the power of the capital markets, a much larger resource than governments or philanthropy, to address some of the world’s most intractable social and environmental challenges.
I work at Calvert Social Investment Foundation (it is not a foundation, which is confusing) where we raise capital from individual and institutional investors that we deploy in community and economic development around the world. We invest in everything from health clinics serving low-income communities in sub-Saharan Africa to small businesses operating in distressed areas of Baltimore. My job is to find high-quality, financially sound, and deep-impact organizations to invest in and then I analyze their ability to take on, use, and repay the investment while generating their desired social impact.
I found what I left the White House searching for—a job that interacts with the public, private, and social sectors on a daily basis, cultivates my mind, and captures my heart.
Impact investing seems like such a perfect industry for you. How did you first learn about it?
I learned about impact investing while I was in business school and volunteering for a social business incubator in Durham. They were getting requests for financing from their member companies, so I did a project to see what it would take to raise a fund. My first step was to look across the country at other similar models, so I interviewed one of CASE’s professors, Cathy Clark, to see what models she found compelling and relevant. I quickly realized that Cathy was a wealth of information (and a lovely person) so we continued to conspire until we launched the CASE Initiative on Impact Investing (CASEi3) early in my second year.
What are your future career plans?
I try my best not to plan too much for the future because: a.) It never works and b.) I am incredibly happy, challenged, and fulfilled in my current role. I found what I left the White House searching for—a job that interacts with the public, private, and social sectors on a daily basis, cultivates my mind, and captures my heart.
What advice would you give to someone who didn’t love their first job out of college and is looking to do something totally different (like you did with joining the Obama campaign)?
Pay attention to what grabs your attention (what you love reading about, watching, spending endless hours talking to friends about), and see if there is a way to make that your job. If not, use your job to enable you to do more of it. And just as importantly, find colleagues who are smart, caring, and kind. Life is too short to spend your time with mean people.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Take advantage of your endless energy and fit as many life-changing experiences into your 20s as possible. Explore new jobs, places, people, and interests while you can stay up past 9:30 p.m.!
Beth Bafford is The Everygirl…
The best advice you’ve ever received?
When faced with any life fork in the road, follow your gut and drown out everything else. Remove the word “should” from your vocabulary.
If you could have lunch with any woman who would it be and why?
I should say someone worldly and inspirational like Aung San Suu Kyi, Samantha Power, or Christine Lagarde (all of whom I love), but I just said not to obey the “should.”
If I could have lunch with anyone, any day, it would be my mom. She is and always has been my ultimate source of inspiration, strength, and love. We can talk for hours about the widest range of topics imaginable (including how cute my nieces and nephew are which, really, is the only thing we want to talk about) and laugh through it all.
I get up early (because, as I mentioned, I can’t stay up past 9:30 p.m.), make a cup of coffee, and take 20-30 minutes to enjoy it while waking up. I’ll typically do the New York Times mini-crossword and listen to my meditation app in those blissful early morning moments. After that, I’ll either workout or catch up on emails before heading off to work.
Perfect day off?
Exploring D.C. with my husband. We are often so busy we miss out on some of the best pieces of the rich city around us, so we love jumping on our bikes and heading to new neighborhoods, restaurants, museums, or monuments. I’d cap off the day with dinner with my girlfriends. They are all the coolest, smartest, most incredible people I know, and I’m pretty sure at least one of them will be president some day.
I wish I knew how to…
…Explain what is happening in the 2016 election. It was entertaining for a while, but now that it has sunk in, it makes me sad that there is so much anger in our country seeking a vessel.