News at Smith

Lunch & Learn Session Explores Impact Investing

Apr 26, 2018
Experiential / Reality-based Learning


Students with Rob Stevens of Accion Venture Lab

On March 27, 2018, the Center for Social Value Creation hosted a Lunch & Learn for students interested in impact investing. The event featured Rob Stevens, a Portfolio & Investment Associate with Accion Venture Lab. Stevens discussed the impact investing space, the changing global consumer market, and the various points of entry into the field. While the definition of impact investing remains nuanced among industry professionals, generally speaking, impact investments are those made to companies, organizations, and funds with the intent to generate social and environmental impact, alongside financial return. This exciting and rapidly growing industry is powered by investors all over the world. Accion Venture Lab, part of Accion International, is an investment initiative that drives financial inclusion globally. More specifically, Accion Venture Lab invests capital in innovative financial technology (or ‘fintech’) start-ups that increase access to, improve the quality of, or reduce the cost of financial services for the underserved at scale. Stevens supports the team's portfolio engagement and deal activity globally.

Since early-stage startups traditionally lack access to capital and assistance, Accion Venture Lab provides flexible financial and non-financial support to address the needs of the start-ups in its portfolio. But, why is Accion Venture Lab focused on financial inclusion?

“Two billion adults are without access to formal/semi-formal financial services, globally”, offers Stevens, “which represents a massive need that fintech can address. The billions of people globally making less than $3,000 a year represent a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity -- if you can find something that serves them well. There’s a strong case for startups being able to serve these customers, and a similarly strong case for investment capital that allows them to do so.”

Accion Venture Lab is particularly interested in technology and business model innovation as well as new approaches that help underserved people benefit from the world’s formal economy. They believe the global technology landscape is evolving, and because of that, new innovations in the financial services sector are both possible and promising.

While discussing Accion’s work, Stevens mentioned two Venture Lab portfolio companies: Apollo, a company based in Kenya that provides loans for purchasing agriculture inputs; and Pula, which works across East Africa, that provides farmers with insurance against droughts. These two companies are examples of models aiming to provide farmers with financial services that will be sustainable in the long term.

“Attending the Accion Venture Lab Lunch-and-Learn was an incredible opportunity to learn about a firm on the cutting edge of fintech and financial inclusion. Events like this allow Smith students to broaden their professional perspectives and expand their understanding of social impacts through business," Nazat Dowla, MBA/MPP, 2020, said.

About the Center for Social Value Creation
The Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC) believes business can and should be a driving force for economic, social and environmental prosperity. CSVC works to achieve this vision by engaging, educating and empowering Smith students to employ principles for better business that serve not just the bottom line, but also the world. CSVC offers special events and co-curricular programming that help Smith students gain exposure to the trends and skills necessary to be business leaders of the 21st century.

About Accion Venture Lab
Accion Venture Lab is the world’s leading seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved. Venture Lab invests capital in, and provides support to, innovative fintech startups that increase access to, improve the quality of, or reduce the cost of financial services for the underserved at scale. Since launching in 2012, Venture Lab has deployed over US$10 million across more than 30 startups that work in over 20 countries worldwide. Venture Lab is a part of Accion, a global nonprofit committed to creating a financially inclusive world, with a pioneering legacy in microfinance and fintech impact investing. Accion catalyzes financial service providers to deliver high-quality, affordable solutions at scale for the three billion people who are left out of – or poorly served by – the financial sector. For more than 50 years, Accion has helped tens of millions of people through its work with more than 90 partners in 40 countries.

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.