By TOM PETRUNO DECEMBER 7, 2014, 5:00 AM
Once she gets her MBA degree from UC Berkeley in May, Leigh Madeira’s dream is to help find funding for young companies devoted to improving the lives of the world’s poor.
That isn’t quite what her family had in mind. When she told her 90-year-old grandfather about her plans, “He gave me this look,” she says, laughing.
For 29-year-old Madeira and others in her generation — the millennials — the goal of a high-priced business degree isn’t a job in traditional Wall Street finance anymore. Many are embracing “socially responsible” investing, which steers money to businesses and organizations that pledge to have a positive effect on society and the planet.
Nydia Cardenas, a 28-year-old MBA student at the University of Michigan, believes that Wall Street needs a makeover.
“I feel like the system is set up to breed greed,” she said. “But I think finance can be used in a really positive way to transform society.”
Yet there are questions about how far millennials will be willing or able to take socially responsible investing — especially if it means their nest egg earns less than the stock market overall. As people age, the fear of outliving their money can trump the willingness to sacrifice personal financial gain for the greater good.
Proponents of socially responsible investing say it’s a common misconception that their movement favors businesses that de-emphasize profit growth. In fact, some of the most widely held stocks in socially responsible mutual funds also are some of the most profitable U.S. companies, including Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Google Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.
Cardenas is on this year’s leadership team of the Social Venture Fund, an investment portfolio overseen by students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The fund, launched in 2009, invests only in small companies that are “committed to positive and measurable social or environmental impact.”
This year the fund invested $50,000 in Powerhouse Dynamics, a 6-year-old Newton, Mass., company that has developed a cloud-based energy management tool for small businesses. The program controls power use for each piece of equipment in a business, with the goal of reducing power consumption and utility emissions.