Welcome to the Working Week
A Bryn Mawr graduate offers her take on how current students need to best prepare for success.
Every year, alumnae/i return to campus, courtesy of the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC), to meet with students for talks about career and the world outside the Bryn Mawr Bubble. They share stories that trace their own trajectory from Bryn Mawr to the corner office and offer insights about the job hunt, work-life balance, and the definition of success. Last year, the Bulletin sat in on sessions with Brinda Ganguly ’97. Here’s some of what she had to say.
Brinda Ganguly ’97
Major: Economics and Spanish
Occupation: Senior Associate Director, The Rockefeller Foundation
When I graduated from BMC, I was interested in economics, law, and policy—so I ended up at an economic consulting firm in Boston called Charles River Associates. It was an exciting time to be in the workforce but, after three years in consulting, I recognized that I needed more technical skills—so I went to business school at Columbia.
After obtaining my MBA, I lucked into a social investing position at George Soros’s Open Society Institute. There, I was able to further develop my financial skills, but in a way that aligned with my personal values and interest in international development.
Soros was satisfying, but I was young and hungry. So I went to work for Citi in their corporate investment bank. I learned a lot: I was credit-trained, and I worked on some big transactions that were reported in the Wall Street Journal.
But banking didn’t check all the boxes. My mind was learning a lot, but I wanted to go back to the social investing world. I ended up at The Rockefeller Foundation, where I manage a social investments portfolio.
QUESTION: What does The Rockefeller Foundation do? And what’s involved in your work?
The bulk of The Rockefeller Foundation’s activities lie in grant-making: the money goes out the door to fund a social project or organization or activity, and the money never comes back.
But the work I do is different: we’re funding organizations that are doing socially motivated work and they're generating profit. It’s from that profit that they repay us.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on loans to companies in India that are building solar-powered plants in rural areas where the national grid doesn’t reach, to villages where there’s no power.
QUESTION: How do you make a financial return as well as a social impact?
Here is an example. Within the portfolio of investments I oversee, we make loans to microfinance institutions. When we make those loans, they lend in turn to, say, a low-income woman who needs to borrow money but otherwise may not have access to credit. When that person repays the loan, the microfinance institution repays us.
We also invest in private equity funds that have a social mission. We invest in a number of structured debt funds that might be financing low-income housing or the expansion of health clinics that serve low-income people.
QUESTION: How effective is microfinance?
I am a big believer in access to credit. Think about all the access to credit that we enjoy in this country, with our very developed capital markets. We access credit for a lot of very productive things—like going to college. Then imagine not having access to credit, especially when you don’t have very much money and you need to borrow to pay for your kids’ school, or for a business you’re building, or for food for your family.
So, I think having access to credit that's given responsibly is important, and charging reasonable interest rates is important, and not using thuggish methods to get repaid is important.
QUESTION: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Probably 80 percent of my job is just like that of any commercial financier, but then about 20 percent gets funky. That’s the impact piece.
Our typical investments have a positive correlation between social impact and our financial interest. Say we lend to a company that’s building solar-powered plants: they sell power to households and collect fees, and then the company repays the debt to us.
Understanding the nuances of that relationship is part of the funky 20 percent. As an investor, we provide money that has a number of handcuffs. If the company we’re lending to doesn’t achieve XYZ social impact, we have the ability to do things that will not be good for it. And that forces a conversation about what they’re trying to do, what we’re trying to do, and whether we are the right partners for one another.
That’s the part of my job that is personally very fulfilling: it’s the hardest intellectually and the riskiest. It's a puzzle, and you’re trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together.
QUESTION: How did your time at Bryn Mawr help you achieve what you have?
When I entered the workforce, there wasn’t as much emphasis on being prepared as there is now. As a result, I was blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know, and Bryn Mawr didn’t have LILAC and all the programs it offers.
But I did have internships. Internships are a great way to test out your interests, and they build a network of people. When you build relationships early in your career, it pays back 20 years, 30 years later.
Also, then, there’s the value of a liberal arts education. I work with a lot of people who have liberal arts degrees, and I wouldn’t underestimate the skills they bring: critical thinking skills, writing skills, working together.