Alumni Impact Story: Lisa Hall, W’87

Lisa Hall grew up fighting for social justice, joining her father at sit-ins and wearing signs at civil rights demonstrations. Today, she sits in board rooms and wears a suit — but she hasn’t given up the fight.

As President and CEO of the Calvert Foundation, Hall now seeks “economic justice” through impact investing. Calvert provides loans to community organizations using capital from socially-minded investors, who can get involved with as little as $20. With $200 million invested in 250 community organizations in the U.S. and more than 100 countries, Calvert allows people around the world to leverage their investments for social good.

“We’re trying to change capitalism,” says Hall. “I do fundamentally believe we are changing the way people invest. We’re creating a way for people to align their money with their values.”

Raised in the Ashburton neighborhood in northwest Baltimore, Hall acquired a sense of social justice and community commitment from her family. Her mother was a school teacher who became one of the first African-American women in the area’s League of Women Voters; her father was a social worker and community activist who got his children involved.

“I joke that some of my after-school activities were going with my father to demonstrations…holding the placard and walking the line,” she says.

Change is possible

Raised during the Depression, her parents were the first of their families to go to college, and were among the first African-American families to move into the neighborhood. Her family’s experience showed Hall the power of education and community involvement.

“I learned that we don’t have to accept situations as they are today,” she says. “They can change over time.”

She found like minds at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she got her undergraduate degree in economics and marketing. Wharton students hoping to make a social impact should take advantage of the diversity on campus and tap into the wide array of academic offerings, she suggests.

“It has a level of diversity that’s really unparalleled,” she says.  “You don’t find it at the other Ivies because they’re really much smaller in comparison.”

It wasn’t just the racial diversity that energized her, but also religious diversity, socio-economic diversity, strong LBGT and women’s communities, and places like the Du Bois College House and the Intercultural Center that “created a respect for community and difference across the whole campus.” The Penn environment “creates really healthy people who have a sense of civic responsibility,” she says.

Hall put that civic sense to work after graduation as a credit analyst and a loan officer at Chemical Bank in New York, making loans to affordable housing organizations.  Before landing at Calvert, she also worked at Fannie Mae in the housing and community development division, and served as a senior adviser on the National Economic Council during the Clinton Administration.

Hall believes another wave of social change is coming through impact investing, which she calls “a movement — not just a line of products and services.”

“This economics rights movement, it has a similar significance as civil rights,” she says: “to empower people economically and make sure everyone is included.”

From her own experience, she knows change is possible.

“In my lifetime, the change has been enormous,” she says. “When I was born, there were places in this country where people couldn’t sit next to each other on the bus because of the color of their skin…And now I can sit anywhere I want.”