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Marshall Team Brings ‘Total Impact’

Marshall graduate students take second place in Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

May 16, 2021
Team second place in Total Impact Portfolio Challenge
Top row: Blayke Tatman, Madeline Robbins
Bottom Row: Melissa Wongso, Welela Makonnen

A team of USC Marshall graduate students won second place in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge (TIPC), hosted by Wharton Social Impact Initiative and SOCAP Global. Out of the 46 participating teams, the four finalists on May 3 were USC, Bard College, Duke University and Fordham University.

The annual TIPC gives students experience designing impact investment portfolios. This year each TIPC team was tasked with proposing a $75 million investment portfolio for a private foundation that was inspired by the pandemic and racial injustices to drive positive impact with its endowment’s investments.

Marshall’s team consisted of five students representing diverse graduate programs: Welela Makonnen MSSE ’22, who is associate programs manager in enterprise social responsibility at The Walt Disney Company; Melissa Wongso MBA ’22, a fellow with the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab (BSEL); Madeline Robbins MBA ’22, a fellow with BSEL and the Forte Foundation who is a consultant in global advisory solutions with Accion; Katherine Marx MBA ’22, an associate at Athenaeum Partners and co-founder of Silicon Beach Investment Group; and Blayke Tatman BS/MS ’21, graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree and December with a master’s degree in finance, and planning a career in impact investing.

The team explored how investments in each asset class could minimize negative social and environmental impacts and maximize positive impacts while meeting the foundation’s financial goals.

“In constructing our portfolio,” Tatman said, “our team aimed to align the foundation’s investments with its core mission to support low-income children enduring difficult environments. In order for the foundation’s capital to fund a more equitable future for children, we recommended investments that focus on racial equity, economic opportunity, affordable housing, education and health care. We mapped our investments to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and planned a system to measure and manage the impact performance of the investments.”

Judges for the competition were: Mary Stokes, managing director at Bank of America Private Bank; Ruth Shaber, founder and president of Tara Health Foundation; and Mary Green, VP and ESG client portfolio manager at Federated Hermes.

For Tatman, collaborating with students from across Marshall’s graduate programs was especially rewarding. “We all brought significantly different perspectives to the team, which afforded us a diverse skill set and a rich learning environment,” he said.

His favorite part of the competition was researching impact investment opportunities in the fixed income and alternatives spaces.

“The nature of these asset classes allows capital to have more direct and intentional impact, so our recommendations here were clearer in how they would drive progress toward impact goals that the foundation cares about,” he said. “It was inspiring to see how investments can fund community-driven solutions to pressing societal problems, and I'm hopeful that investment management will continuously improve its relationship with social and environmental systems.”