10 years ago, Chintan Panchal left his position as a lawyer at a large international law firm to start his own shop, “While I had learned a lot and relished the complexity of the work we were doing, I was missing something. I realized I needed three key ingredients to be fulfilled in my work:
- Working with clients that I believe in
- Interesting, meaningful and impactful work for those people
- Building a team of people who align with my values
When I started RCPK out of a spare bedroom in our Brooklyn apartment in January 2010 I had set out to start something different: to focus on private capital markets around the world with mission-aligned entrepreneurs and investors. I wanted to start a firm focused on innovative finance and corporate structuring for clients who were seeking to use capital and commerce to drive positive change in the world.”
Standards and Definitions
“We generally speak about ESG: the environmental, social and governance performance of any given investment. We look at how a company’s core business directly supports performance in any of these three areas. For example, a solar panel business’ core activity directly drives environmental impact – i.e. the more panels that are deployed and activated, the greater balance of overall energy production from a renewable source.
The issue we run into in the impact investing space – and you’ve probably heard about it – is that definitions and standards are not harmonized, as it really is an emerging industry. For example, what does it really mean to have more diversity on the board of directors? For one company, it means recruiting from different ethnic backgrounds while for another it means greater gender diversity. For yet another company, it means having a board that represents different socio-economic backgrounds. We might all be talking about the same term of “diversity” but we’re really talking about completely different outcomes. “
In terms of standards and terminology, we’re not as advanced as we want to be, but keep in mind that this is an emerging field.
What is the biggest change you have seen in the impact investing world since you started?
“Back in 2010, people thought I was crazy for starting a boutique law firm that specialized in impact investing. The thinking still was ‘You make as much money as you can in your commercial activity, and then you give as much of it away as you want in your philanthropic activity.’ It was very much this left pocket, right pocket thinking.
People thought I was crazy for starting a boutique law firm that specialized in impact investing.
And to be honest, when I first started this firm, I couldn’t be sure that impact investing really was a thing. The predominant debate was whether by making an impact investment one was necessarily giving up financial return. I’d say over the course of the first five years, that zero-sum argument was settled. Now we know, one can do well by doing good. And we are seeing big players move onto the scene.”
What is one piece of advice you have for social entrepreneurs looking for impact investment?
“When I hear social entrepreneurs say that there is no capital for them, I am reminded that our language is wrong. There is no such thing as a singular concept of “capital”. There are relationships and individuals who happen to have or manage capital who are looking to build relationships with people who build enterprises that align with specific criteria. If that connection is made, there is an investable opportunity. I think this is where Social Venturers comes in: building the community and infrastructure means growing the connective tissue that helps build these relationships. We need intentional opportunities to come together and build meaningful relationships.”
If you lead with what you want from someone else, you’re unlikely to find it. Instead, focus on your shared mission or the problem you’re focusing on, then you’re likely to be able to find common ground.”
How can we support you in your efforts?
This is a growing field, with lots of new ideas and fresh perspectives. We have a lot of experience and knowledge to share, as well as a lot to learn from the community. Connectivity with the broader impact investing community is something that is always helpful for us.
New York, USA
Founder and lawyer. Believer in capital and the power of markets.