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SEI25 Series: Tracy Palandjian (MBA 1997), CEO & Co-Founder, Social Finance

By: Tracy Palandjian 28 Mar 2019
This post is part of our Social Enterprise Initiative 25th anniversary blog series, which highlights some of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have been a part of SEI throughout the years. In this post, Tracy Palandjian (MBA 1997) discusses the ways in which she and her organization are pursuing social impact. Tracy is the CEO & Co-Founder of Social Financea nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing capital to drive social progress.

What motivated you to pursue a career path in the social sector? Before I co-founded Social Finance in 2011, I had been on a fairly predictable track. Things were good: I’d built a career in management consulting and asset management. My family was healthy and happy. But something was missing – I wanted to have an impact outside of myself. So when Sir Ronald Cohen (MBA 1969) and David Blood (MBA 1985) recruited me to start Social Finance in the US, I embraced the opportunity. It was definitely daunting – nothing in my life had prepared me to be an entrepreneur. And it has been the hardest work I have ever done, but it has also been the most enjoyable and rewarding. Over the past nine years, we have built not only Social Finance from the ground up, but also a brand new field for social change.
How is Social Finance pursuing social change? We are building a new model for social change through a set of financing strategies we call Pay for Success. All Pay for Success strategies share a set of core principles: clearly defining and measuring progress toward shared goals, collaborating across the public, private and social sectors to achieve these goals, and making funding directly dependent on outcomes achieved.
We have built these innovative financing tools – social impact bonds, career impact bonds – with the North Star of fundamentally improve lives for people in need. This means supporting low-income mothers to achieve healthy births, upskilling low income individuals to get good jobs to move up the economic ladder, helping people leaving prison reintegrate into their communities, and finding permanent housing for the chronically homeless. The financial tools are simply a means to an end. The end is about achieving measurable, sustainable results for our most vulnerable communities. 
How would you describe the social impact you seek to have in the world? With Pay for Success, we are seeking to revolutionize social impact at both the micro and macro levels. For individuals, it is about delivering impact that is tangible and measurable. It is about using data and evidence to increase accountability and ensure that programs truly make a difference in the lives of the people they are meant to serve. At the macro-level, it is about enlisting private capital and the discipline of markets to serve the public good. And it is about shifting mindsets around collaboration. We see opportunities to break down the old silos and develop new models for deep, cross-sector partnerships for impact. It’s not just in the province of the public sector or the private sector or civil society to solve our biggest challenges. We have so much more potential for impact when we work to solve problems together.
What do you hope for the next 25 years of SEI? When I think about the next 25 years, I think about a rising tide and a shifting zeitgeist. I imagine that all of this will become less novel and more standard course of business. Impact will be at the heart of consumption and investment decisions. Investors will routinely assess impact as a third axis alongside risk and return. Corporations will focus on creating sustainable long-term value by optimizing their social and environmental impact. High-performing nonprofits and social enterprises will be rewarded for delivering results. And governments will make funding decisions based on outcomes. I think SEI has a critical leadership role to play in ushering in this new societal paradigm.