Millennials are making money by investing in the future.
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The Rockefeller Foundation

If you invest $30,000 in three specific stocks, you could triple your money in 10 years.

At least that’s what acclaimed financial analyst Malcolm Berko wrote in his advice column last year.

The stocks you’d have to invest in, he said, are Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin — three defense companies. In other words, what he’s saying is: You could triple your money in 10 years, but you’d be capitalizing on the U.S. revving up its defense spending.


But here’s the thing: Some investors, especially millennials, aren’t concerned with only the returns.

Image via iStock.

As a generation, millennials want to put their money into stocks that are good for the world.

They’ve seen firsthand how much can change in 25 years. They’ve seen technology move at warp speed, lived through major policy shifts, and watched the world’s population grow. They know they can effect change in the next 25 years — and they know we need change.

Millennials are also more apt to distrust financial institutions. As a generation, they had to enter the workforce amid record high unemployment rates, stagnant wages, and larger student debt bills than any previous generation. That’s why many millennials want to take financial matters into their own hands.

In the next several decades, an estimated $30 trillion will be passed down from baby boomers to younger generations. That means $30 trillion of the world’s assets could be reallocated into humanitarian endeavors.

In addition, by 2020, millennials will comprise 46% of the workforce, and as they become the primary earners, they will have an even greater effect on investing in this country.  

Image via iStock.

In fact, they may well be the first generation that considers making the world a better place along with investment returns.

And it makes sense if you think about it: This is the generation that was promised a return on investment on their college tuition and instead got stuck with a massive bill and waning job prospects. The world they grew up in taught them to put less stock into promised returns and care more about tangible value.

But there is a smart way for millennials to invest in making the world a better place. It’s called impact investing.

Impact investing essentially means putting money into causes that effect social change, explains Adam Connaker, an associate at The Rockefeller Foundation, a foundation that is working to solve the world’s biggest and most entrenched challenges through innovative finance mechanisms.

“You have a right as an investor, no matter your size, to ask what impact your investments are having in the world,” says Connaker.

If the projects do well, the investors see good returns on their investments. It proves altruism and making money on your investments are not mutually exclusive.

Eric Letsinger, founder and CEO of Quantified Ventures, says we are witnessing the largest transfer of wealth in our country’s history, while simultaneously seeing government funding for health, social, and environmental programs dry up. As a result, impact investing will likely get a huge boost from millennial investors thanks to inherited and newly accumulated wealth.

Many of these impact investing projects allow members of a community to invest in public works that will improve their own neighborhoods. For example, Jason Anderson, president and CEO of Neighborly Securities, worked on a deal in Burlington, Vermont, that encouraged residents to invest in public projects like building sidewalks, rehabilitating bike paths, and improving waterfront access to Lake Champlain.

Photo via Garrett Brinker/Neighborly.

“We've talked to resident investors up in Burlington who told us that the main reason they invested in the issuance was because they commute to and from work on that bike path every day,” says Anderson. “Because of their investment in the city, they can have a direct impact on that rehabilitation project.”

Putting money into city-centric or environmental initiatives allows investors to directly affect the future of our communities.

Image via iStock.

Letsinger says that in 2016, they worked on an environmental impact bond with DC Water. The project financed green infrastructure as an alternative to building large concrete tunnels for Washington, D.C.’s water utility.

“If the project succeeds, it presents a win-win to both the investors and DC Water: The investors earn a higher return than they would have on a standard municipal bond from DC Water, and DC Water has then proven that green infrastructure is highly cost-effective,” explains Letsinger.

In addition to the high returns for investors, the DC Water investment helped create green jobs and improve neighborhoods, and the success of this project will have future implications when it comes to making cities more environmentally friendly.

Because many millennials are a generation that would rather see green infrastructure go up in their neighborhood than watch their bank balance go up on a computer screen, they’re the first generation that could make impact investing the norm.

If the millennial generation commits to investing in causes, it could change how we see money.

Image via iStock.

In fact, Letsinger says that most of the impact investors his company works with are millennials. Working with clients who are motivated not just by making money but by improving the world for future generations allows impact investing firms to target niche causes in various communities around the world.

He also says 2017 was a particularly good year for impact investing, which bodes well at such an early stage. He means that the returns on investment were good — but also that they saw more interest among people looking to make a difference.

With impact investing, “values and returns can coexist, allowing investors to fight climate change, produce more affordable housing, and develop clean energy,” says Anderson.

If this trend continues, 20 years from now, financial advisers might be primarily offering environmental causes to invest in, rather than defense stocks.

Putting some savings into investments is something most people either already do or are going to do in the coming years. That doesn’t need to change — what can change is where we put that money.

We can no longer rely on our government to fund the social and environmental efforts needed to improve our society and planet as a whole. This financial shift to impact investing will allow us to pool our money with other people who also want to create positive change. As a result, it can happen on a larger scale than we ever thought possible. Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll likely find you can do well for yourself while simultaneously doing good in the world.

For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot — or will not.

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