Impact Investing in Action: Appalachia

Driving through Southwest Virginia, Richard Tadler, a venture capitalist and UVA graduate, was able to see firsthand some of the challenges that Virginia’s rural communities are facing; but more importantly, he was struck by the opportunities they present both for impact investors interested in facilitating economic growth at a time of transition, and for UVA students to learn about all the exciting sustainable economic development going on in their own backyard.

“I started to read more about rural issues afflicting this area of the state and felt compelled to find a way to help,” said Tadler. “I have seen what the combination of innovative ideas, hard-working entrepreneurs and patient risk capital can do to stimulate growth. Some of the most successful investments I have participated in have occurred in smaller communities, which is why I was intrigued by this particular area of Virginia.”

Impact Investing in Action: Appalachia is Tadler’s desire realized. Through a donation to Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Virginia (SE@UVA), an initiative of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, UVA students minoring in social entrepreneurship now have the opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges facing this region and the role impact investing can play in its economic rebirth. 

“Thanks to a transformative gift from Richard & Donna Tadler, SE@UVA will now be able to offer a deeply-immersive January-course in Appalachia and Southwest Virginia,” said Batten professor Christine Mahoney, who is also the director of SE@UVA. “The class will be taught by a team of impact investors that were part of the birth of the impact investing movement and who bring decades of experience in achieving financial, social and environmental returns simultaneously.”

The second component of Tadler’s generous gift will provide a fellowship opportunity for students, keen on deepening their understanding of impact investing. 

“The Tadler Fellowship in Impact Investing will be a remarkable opportunity for students to learn about impact investing first-hand and work with some of the most visionary investors in Virginia,” said Mahoney. 

Impact investing, although a relatively nascent term, has gained momentum in the state of Virginia in the last decade—thanks in part to educators such as Mahoney and investors such as Tadler, who have championed its approach to drive positive social and environmental change in addition to achieving financial returns.  

“Impact investing is an innovative way to use capital as a vehicle for social good,” said Tadler. “There is still a financial return with this kind of investment, so in a way, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.”  

The rapid evolution of impact investing has brought new interest and attention from graduate and undergraduate students asking for training that enables them to enter the impact investing field, and many university programs are working to figure out how to meet that demand. SE@UVA is one such program, bolstered by the support of generous donors, like Tadler.

The J-term course will be led under the instruction of Stephanie Randolph, who currently works as a program and grants officer at the Cassiopeia Foundation, also known as the Blue Moon Fund. Throughout the course, Randolph plans to host guest speakers—all seasoned in the art of impact of investing, in order to expose students to different aspects of the field and the challenges impact investors often encounter. With over twenty years of experience working in nonprofit management, grantmaking, and now impact investing Randolph is uniquely positioned to lead this course.

Following the J-term course, students will have the option to continue working with Appalachia-based social enterprises through a competitive fellowship opportunity, which will take place during the summer of 2020 in the form of an internship. Just as immersion is a key component of the J-term course, this internship will be a further extension of that experience. With the support of the fellowship, students will have the chance to continue the work they have done in Southwest Virginia and Appalachia, and devote more time and effort to address a specific problem that they feel requires more attention and additional investment.

Tadler, who graduated from the McIntire School in 1978, has worked in finance for over thirty-five years, hopes these two new education opportunities will expose university students to underserved areas of their commonwealth and push them to think more about local issues in their surrounding communities and how they might effectuate change. 

“UVA continues to do an excellent job of exposing and educating students about the global community and its many challenges,” said Tadler. “This is important work and of course, admirable work but there are already so many problems that exist within our own state.”

For Tadler and others like Mahoney, he hopes that both the course and fellowship opportunity will teach students more about the challenges facing these underserved communities, and how they can help rebuild them. 

“Tadler’s generous and imaginative gift unites the entrepreneurial potential of Appalachian communities with the leadership potential of students at UVA, said Batten dean Solomon. “It demonstrates how we each have a role to play in improving the lives of others—whether it be as an entrepreneur, a social change maker, a philanthropist or the inspiring manifestation of all three roles, as we see here.”

Christine Mahoney