This post was originally produced for Forbes.
This week Utahns celebrated impact investing at three separate convenings with help from the White House at one. One consistent theme at all three gatherings, harking back to Brigham Young’s declaration upon entering the Salt Lake Valley: “This is the place.”
As I was born, raised and live in Utah, I can hardly claim to be unbiased about the argument, but there is certainly a case to be made that Utah can become the center of what author Aaron Hurst calls the “purpose economy” in his book of the same name.
Hurst, who is also the CEO of Imperative, speaking at a conference hosted by Curt Bassett at Park City-based Impact Investment Leaders and the affiliated Purpose Investor Network, noted that Utah’s culture of volunteerism, entrepreneurship and generous giving to charity provides a foundation for building what he believes will be the driving economic force for the world within the next ten years: the purpose economy.
He noted that communities seeking to be the next Silicon Valley are missing the boat, just as much as a community today hoping to become the next Detroit. More and more global leaders, Hurst says, recognize that an economy driven by mission is quickly emerging as the next great force and Utah is poised to be the center of it.
Val Hale, the Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, noted that Utah has “an economic dynasty going right now.” The state has been ranged as the most entrepreneurial state in the country, as best for business by Forbes, and as having the youngest workforce. He noted, too, that James Lee Sorenson, one of Utah’s richest entrepreneurs, donated $13 million to the University of Utah to create a center for impact investing now called the Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center.
Sorenson himself spoke at the conference, drawing on his career experiences and noted that he has come to a point in his career where he is focused on giving back. He’s especially optimistic about the potential impact of impact investing. He notes that it has been the potential for financial return that has scaled the microfinance industry, in which he has been an investor .
Mayor Ben McAdams
The White House also had a presence in Salt Lake this week, co-hosting a conference with Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams on pay-for-success financing. At a reception held at the state’s This is the Place Monument following the conference, The Mayor spoke, invoking the story of Mormon leader Brigham Young entering the Salt Lake Valley for the first time in 1847 and declaring “This is the place. Drive on.”
McAdams, who recently completed the first county-level pay-for-success financing and the first outside the arena of recidivism, suggested that the earliest pay-for-success financing program in Utah began in the late 1840s when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established the Perpetual Emigration Fund, allowing impoverished members abroad to borrow money for passage to Utah, anticipating that they would repay that money once settled in their new home here. To learn more, see my Forbes interview with McAdams here.
David Wilkinson, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Social Finance and Innovation, congratulated the mayor on his completed and ongoing efforts to use pay-for-success financing to fund innovative programs that should ultimately reduce government spending and improve social services by focusing on outcomes.
Mayor McAdams continued the discussion today, convening another conference to discuss pay-for-success and other impact investing models with Utah’s nonprofit community.
Having covered impact investing around the world, it is difficult, still, to make the case that Utah actually leads the country, much less the world, in impact investing. That said, Utahns certainly have a claim to the fertile soil needed to grow an impact investing community to rival what anyone else can assemble.