Andrea Turner Moffitt ’07 has learned over the course of her career that seeing around corners can lead to opportunities for growth. Data has been a source of inspiration as it reveals disparities that can be turned into new markets.
In 1998, when Turner Moffitt was an undergraduate spending a year abroad in Spain, it was data that snapped her attention to a type of inequality she had been only vaguely aware of. She had been tasked with writing an article for a Spanish women’s magazine about gender representation in finance and, looking at the statistics, remembers being “struck by what a dearth of women there were in financial services at that time,” she says.
Later, she would have datapoints like this in mind as she sought the right avenues to integrate finance, diversity, and sustainable business. Turner Moffitt pursued a career in investment banking on Wall Street after graduating at the height of the dot-com era. Clocking 90-hour workweeks, she jumped into the world of technology helping enterprise software companies raise capital. The hard skill-building experience also helped Turner Moffitt secure the financial acumen she had long suspected more women ought to have in pursuit of a more equitable world.
Turner Moffitt’s dedication to purpose-driven investing traces back to her upbringing. A Midwesterner, she came from many generations of farmers. Her father was the first in his family to pursue a professional career as a lawyer, and her mother was an English-as-a-second-language teacher dedicated to helping immigrants achieve an equitable shot at the American Dream.
Inspired by her parents to do well and do good, Turner Moffitt first pursued social investing when she moved to New York City. She recalls interviewing for roles at a Salomon Smith Barney SRI mutual fund and a microfinance organization Women’s World Banking. While neither panned out, she was early to see the market shifts underway that later gave rise to ESG and impact investing.
It was when Turner Moffitt enrolled in the MBA program at Columbia Business School that she gained deeper conviction to pursue the uncharted path of investing with intention. “There, my aspirations started to change,” she writes in her book, Harness the Power of the Purse: Winning Women Investors, emphasizing the influence of a CBS class taught by Professor Bruce Usher, called Finance & Sustainability. She says Usher’s class exposed her to a new framework through which she could start to conceive how to leverage the skills of finance and business to address society’s many challenges.
After earning her MBA, Turner Moffitt stayed on the investment banking path, moving into energy, infrastructure, and development finance. The role afforded her close proximity to the early growth of clean tech 1.0 and a chance to work with large and small businesses across emerging markets. She started to reflect on the sheer scale of the capital being deployed — trillions of dollars — and, at the same time, the homogeneity of the perspectives driving the investment decisions and of the investments themselves. She also watched as ESG investing exploded.
“I was deeply frustrated by the lack of diversity I was seeing — and I was unsettled that I wasn’t finding ways to deploy my own personal capital in a way that I felt could be part of driving world-positive outcomes,” Turner Moffitt says.
In her search for a personal financial advisor who took her seriously in her desire to channel her own capital in ways aligned with her values, she came up short. She realized that others, particularly women, must be similarly frustrated. “[As women], we had the financial know-how and the will to harness our wealth to drive social change,” she wrote in her book, adding that women simply needed to find advisors to partner with them in doing so. “That they proved so hard to find suggested both a market failure — and an incredible market opportunity.”
Turner Moffitt approached economist and former Columbia professor Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who founded a think tank focused on corporate talent and diversity called the Center for Talent Innovation (now Coqual). Turner Moffitt hoped new research could ignite a global conversation about better engaging women investors. In partnership with the think tank, she oversaw a massive data-gathering project, to better understand the nuanced, under-explored forces that motivate women’s approaches to investing. She would go on to gather and unpack that data in Harness the Power of the Purse, so that the financial industry could easily digest what her data had revealed — and be changed by it.
The research surveyed nearly 6,000 high-net-worth investors — across the US, UK, India, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The findings, which were published in 2014, shed light on how women investors differ — both from men and each other — across culture, generation, and sources of wealth.
One of the most striking findings was how the preponderance of women surveyed — a full 90 percent — said making a positive impact on society was important to them, particularly in the areas of gender equality, diverse leadership, and the environment. “More than men, at least in the developed world, women were found to invest according to their values,” the report highlighted. Reflecting on market evolution over the last few years, Turner Moffitt suspects this gap is shrinking with the expansion of more investors pouring money into climate, diversity, and sustainable business.
Turner Moffitt launched her own early-stage platform, called Wealthrive, to support women eager to learn more about building wealth and investing according to their values. As she built Wealthrive, however, she noticed that a different yearning was crystalizing for her.
“What became clear was that I was passionate about really designing an investment model around this — not only providing the educational experience,” she says. “I wanted to actually provide the opportunity to take risk.” Specifically, she wanted to find a way to open doors for women and other underrepresented investors in the asset class of venture investing.
To do so, Turner Moffitt joined forces in 2016 with Deborah Jackson ’80, who had previously founded Plum Alley Inc to advance women entrepreneurs. Turner Moffitt merged Wealthrive with Plum Alley to co-create Plum Alley Investments, a new venture investing platform with a dual mission to engage diverse investors, particularly women, while backing early-stage companies using emerging technologies or medical breakthroughs to improve society, the planet, or humanity. It also stipulates that its portfolio companies have at least one woman in the founding team.
“The call to action in Andrea’s book, and the mission with which she co-founded Plum Alley Investments, motivated me to personally invest behind women founders building companies across different sectors,” says Shannon Bauer, a fellow CBS alumna and an investor in Plum Alley’s Venture Fund and SPVs.
Key to Turner Moffitt’s mission is how she thinks about intentional investing — and how it differs, in her conception, from impact investing. In her research for the book, she discovered that “positive impact” means something different to everyone and an investor’s impact priorities are typically shaped by the life that person has lived. What’s more, not all areas of impact are directly quantifiable.
“I am a huge believer in impact and tracking impact, but I also believe that there are a lot of ways to drive positive outcomes that may not be measurable through impact metrics,” Turner Moffitt says. “To me, intentional investing is really defining the agency you want to bring as an investor in the world and defining the things you really care about — being intentional about that.”
And yet, even as Turner Moffitt has broadened the umbrella to think beyond metrics when investing for impact, hard data continues to be one of her most important tools in spreading the word about what she’s doing and why.
Denise Gibson, a tech founder and CEO who sits on the board of the Consumer Technology Association, a consortium of major technology companies, specifically remembers the moment Turner Moffitt inspired her to become a vocal advocate for investing in women. It was at the 2018 Kellogg Women’s Summer dinner, where Turner Moffitt delivered a keynote with a discussion of her book and a call for more women (and men) to invest in women innovators.
Gibson says she remembers scribbling notes on her napkin as fast as she could while Turner Moffitt spoke. It wasn’t that Gibson was new to diversity issues — she regularly supported efforts to diversify STEM education in schools and colleges. But as she listened to Turner Moffitt, she had her own lightbulb moment: Every time she had sought private equity funding for her companies, the funders she’d sat across from had been men.
Gibson remembers what grabbed her was Turner Moffitt’s highly statistical approach to the information. “She drew us in with examples and then shared all this data that supported the examples,” Gibson says. And the data was striking: Gibson says she was floored by Turner Moffitt’s research on how differently men and women invest and by the statistics Turner Moffitt highlighted regarding the small share of private funding that goes to women founders.
Following Turner Moffitt’s remarks, Gibson was inspired to use her board position to help spearhead a new $10 million CTA Diversity Investment fund that invests in venture firms backing underrepresented founders, women-led startups, and diverse leadership teams.
“This opened my eyes to the impact in supporting investment to women entrepreneurs,” Gibson says. “To say she ‘somewhat influenced’ me would be like calling a tsunami a raindrop.”
As Turner Moffitt considers the next decade, she is optimistic about the explosion of opportunities to invest in world positive outcomes across venture capital, as well as other areas of private investments. She also sees the importance of building deeper ecosystems bridging the worlds of purpose-driven companies, academia, inclusive entrepreneurship, and private investing. Beyond her admiration and commitment for the work of the Tamer Center at Columbia, Turner Moffitt was tapped to join the board of Tulane University’s newly formed Innovation Institute, a transformative endeavor designed to commercialize breakthrough research and to fuel innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment in New Orleans and the Gulf South. The Institute is rolling out expanded programs and newly announced a $10 million fund investing in women- and minority-led ventures in Louisiana.
Turner Moffitt’s motivation to have enormous impact spans beyond the investors she’s influenced, as she has seen the important role institutional and private investors can play in helping founders achieve breakout growth and scale as leaders themselves. “Andrea’s network and relationships with other investors focused on world positive innovation is extensive,” says Dr. Lisa Dyson, founder and CEO of Air Protein. “She has introduced me to strategic investors and offered critical advice along the way. Andrea’s commitment to climate, sustainable systems, and inclusive leadership is steadfast and differentiating."