On this episode of Office Hours, Ford Foundation’s Director of Mission Investments Roy Swan talks about his journey into philanthropic investing.
The Ford Foundation is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing social justice initiatives across the globe. Swan leads the Mission Investments team where he manages approximately 1.3 billion in capital and is dedicated to addressing inequality through impact investing.
“Our focus is concisely put: inclusive capitalism,” Swan explained. “We have other areas like civic engagement and government, disability inclusion, future workers, technology and society…basically, our core business is giving away money.”
But impact investing wasn’t always top of mind for Swan. Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Swan spent a decade at Morgan Stanley where he served in various roles before becoming responsible for the Community Reinvestment Act. It was in that role that he found joy in providing capital to underserved communities.
Swan thinks that what differentiates foundations and the philanthropic world from the private sector is that the former looks at “the nexus of capital and society.”
“Most companies could probably make an argument one way or another that they [advance human welfare], but the work of the foundation tends to be focused on the common good,” he said. “So you have a broader view of multi stakeholder-ism than I think corporations have.”
However, in the future, he hopes foundations will get better at navigating the use of their funds to further their mission.
“What I would like to see foundations do better is take a harder look at their endowment capital and think about whether there might be ways to use more of their resources,” Swan said. “Not just the grant making, but the actual intentional use of its endowment to bring about positive social impact and positive financial return.”
Working in philanthropic investing is not without its critiques. Swan is aware of what naysayers say about ESG as a whole.
“My question is how do we embrace all the concerns?” he said. “And a part of that is we have to get more government involvement in the narrative to bring about equitable, appropriate, just transition away from our current fossil fuel standards, to whatever is going to help us sustain our planet. In the long run, part of the reason why governments are willing to subsidize and make these investments that some people call spending is because they know the returns are going to be enormous. ”
dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.