Skip to content

Q&A: Will Guzman offers early career reflections after four years with Social Investment Practice

Social Investment Practice

Will Guzman joined Kresge in 2019 after receiving an undergraduate degree in economics from New York University. As a Social Investment analyst and associate, he helped monitor and report on the Practice’s portfolio, totaling over 80 active deals and hundreds of millions of dollars. As he departs Kresge to attend Columbia University’s MBA program, Senior Communications Officer Krista Jahnke asked Will to share his parting thoughts on his stint on a foundation impact investing team and his advice for other early career impact investors.

What surprised you about how Kresge approached its work?

Guzman: I started my career at Kresge directly after graduating from college and therefore had no meaningful reference points. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the intentionality behind each program team’s grantmaking strategy. While many different impact areas may fall under the “Environment” category, I learned how that team’s mission is very specific and highly impactful. And the same can be said about each program team.

Thinking of my team specifically, I found it very impressive that across our portfolio of 80+ PRIs, there really is not a single “investment thesis” that can adequately capture the collective goal. What that means is that the types of investments we’re making are highly bespoke and, with precision, tackled “moment-in-time” needs.

It can take time to learn how philanthropy ticks. When did things click into place for you?

Guzman: When I first started, I was very sponge-like in my approach toward learning about Kresge and, within it, my Social Investments team. It was not until the first time I attended a conference that I got exposure to how other nonprofits and quasi-governmental entities think about impact investing and the role of foundations writ large. During walking tours at the conference, I fielded questions on why we don’t invest in certain geographies and why our focus is only on low-income people when middle-income people also have needs. I found the questions thought-provoking but also frustrating because I had not yet understood why we could not be everything to everyone. I came to learn eventually that Kresge, and other foundations throughout the country, cannot be everything to everyone. Because my team can only invest about $30 million per year, we need to be very surgical about where and how that capital is deployed to drive deep systems change. Also, cities are where our staff has the expertise and the networks to build ecosystems.

What do you think other young people who want to explore a career in impact investing should know?

Guzman: Something I would say to college graduates or early career professionals exploring a career in impact investing is that it is more of an art than a science. It is a line of work that rewards those with finance and quantitative experience and all subject-matter expertise. Our social investments are sourced in tandem with program teams. With that comes the opportunity to wear an Education hat or a Health hat while still thinking about how to structure our investments in ways that activate outside private capital and enable our programmatic mission to be realized. If you’re someone that is comfortable working through ambiguity and enjoys working directly with people across different geographies to drive community-level change, impact investing is the line of work for you.

What about portfolio management in particular? What were the biggest challenges in that work?

Guzman: The challenges with portfolio management are largely related to having to understand dozens of bespoke investments that are all different enough that no singular evaluation approach can be applied to each one. Pair that with the understanding that we have some investees to whom we are their only investor, and therefore, we sometimes also help borrowers get up to speed on what it means to report financial statements and other portfolios to an investor. In doing so, we support our investees’ ability to source other private investments because they will have the infrastructure to give investors the type of transparency they want.

What do you think your lasting takeaway will be from your time at Kresge?

Guzman: The biggest takeaway from my time at Kresge will be that it certainly is possible to make a living while also helping to drive system changes in cities to benefit people of low wealth. In addition, through this work, I have seen that there are many opportunities for traditional institutional investors to deploy capital in their geographies in a manner that is both profitable and drives sustainable economic growth that transforms the life trajectories of marginalized and disinvested communities.

As a first-generation American who grew up in a low-income city and became the first in my family to graduate with a college degree, I feel a great deal of gratitude knowing I have spent the past four years giving back to communities like the ones I grew up in, and I hope to bring more players to the table throughout my career.