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Jessica Thye, Director of Sustainable Investing, BlackRock

Jessica Thye

On February 8, 2023, Social Impact Lab welcomed alumna Jessica Thye (MBA/MEM ’12) for a conversation on deploying sustainable finance at scale. Jessica is currently the Director of Sustainable Investing at BlackRock, where she drives the firm’s impact finance research, identifies new sustainable investment strategies, and tracks the relationship between sustainability data and market performance.

Students benefited from hearing about Jessica’s vibrant pathway into the impact/sustainable finance industry. After an early career on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs, Jessica pursued a joint degree at SOM and the School of Environment to explore careers at the intersection of profit and purpose. Through her coursework and internships in clean technology and renewables, Jessica refined her thesis that “private capital is a fundamental tool that can enable the delivery of impact at scale.” She sought opportunities where “heart and gut would combine with the financial acumen of the investment world,” and after graduation joined an impact investment firm called New Island Capital Management. For seven years, Jessica worked across emerging markets, including Zambia, South Africa, and Mexico, looking for bespoke and overlooked investment opportunities where “real impact outcomes” in education, environment, and financial inclusion could be achieved.

Now at Blackrock in New York, Jessica is zeroing in on the role of quality metrics for ESG investing. She’s found that designing indicators and responsive strategies for climate risk is straightforward when the inputs and outputs can be conceived in terms of business efficiency. For example, investing in a leaner procurement model for a food & beverage company not only saves on costs and carbon emissions in the short-run, but reduces the company’s exposure to potential climate-induced shocks in the long-run. This connection between decarbonization and improved financial performance is increasingly clear to fund managers, ESG analysts, and client investors. However, investment professionals are still grappling with the best ways to capture social and governance topics (e.g. employee well-being) and relate them through strong metrics to market performance. This, Jessica noted, is a frontier issue that could use more research.

Overall, Jessica expressed excitement about the road ahead for sustainable investing. Clients increasingly want sustainability criteria deployed in their investment strategies, and the tools for doing that are getting more and more sophisticated. Her closing wisdom to students was memorable: “Use graduate school to find the function and type of work that you excel in and enjoy. Then match that in your career choices.”