5 Questions in 5 Minutes with Aaron Bourke

May 3, 2022

You come to RPCK with a wealth of experience doing fund formation and transactions at the nexus of impact investing and corporate finance, and most recently you were co-founder of Reed Smith’s Social Impact Finance Group. Tell us about your journey to impact.

I became interested in impact investing and social enterprise when I was in law school at NYU, where I co-founded the Law and Social Entrepreneurship Association. The vision for my career was always to do impact investing but I was kind of pragmatic about the need to get traditional training as a corporate lawyer. So, I went to a big firm and basically just chipped away and chipped away at building a practice around impact investing over the course of 12 years. I was a litigator for the first three years of my career before telling Reed Smith that I wanted to be a transactional lawyer, where I was in the lending practice for a year. Eventually, I became a kind of free agent within the firm and connected with partners who were fund formation specialists. In large part, this was because I wanted to try a new transactional area, but they both happened to be building portions of their practice around impact investing. Eight and a half years ago, I started doing fund formation and, really from the start, impact investing was a piece of that because we were already representing firms like Omidyar Network and Accion International. I was able to plug into that work from the start. I got my training as a fund formation lawyer in parallel with building the impact practice and becoming one of the co-founders of the Social Impact Finance Group at Reed Smith.

Could you talk about how your career in law and impact has evolved?

Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted to focus solely on impact investing and social enterprises. Coming to RPCK is the culmination of that. I spent 12 years of my career in big law, attempting to build this practice within big law and gaining experience. To me, this feels like I’m completing a cycle and coming back to what I always planned on doing. My passion lies in doing the work that will make the world fairer and more just by using the tools of finance to help solve some of our most intractable social and environmental challenges. I don’t just want to help those that are already winners in life. RPCK’s own authentic presence in impact investing and its values align squarely with my own, and at this point in my career this is very important to me.

Historically, a lot of the work I was doing was focused on emerging markets. My previous team’s work for the Catholic Church focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, but what we have seen since George Floyd’s murder is a lot more interest among investors in the U.S. investing in racial equity, domestically. We followed the opportunities and as a result I have now done a fair amount of racial equity work focused in the U.S. (including minority owned banks). Generally, my impact investing work has been more on the social side, rather than the environmental side.

You have a good deal of experience in fund formation. What are some of the needs of fund managers looking to raise capital in the impact investing sector?

That’s a great question. Impact investing projects are oftentimes even more complicated than working with a massive buyout fund in some instances because you might need a blended finance structure, where you have different levels of return for different investors – not to mention the impact outcomes you’re trying to achieve. The complexity and sophistication demanded by impact deals creates a real conundrum for clients — how are you going to get really good, affordable legal services for a complicated project like that?

At this point in your career you literally could have written your ticket to go anywhere you wanted. What drew you to RPCK?

In many ways RPCK and impact investing have come of age together and both are at exciting inflection points – and I believe that’s not a complete coincidence! RPCK is no longer a small, boutique firm. The firm has reached a point of growth and momentum where it’s now an institutionalized organization with some of the top talent in the fields of corporate finance and impact investing – and that’s the sweet spot for me. I saw how difficult it is just to build an impact practice within a big law firm, so I was really seeking an opportunity to do the work that excites me and is top to bottom aligned with my principles and values. For me, the mere fact that I’ll be able to focus only on the clients doing the work that really moves me is going to be super energizing and I’m excited to commit myself to work I want to be doing.

Can you talk about some of the people or books that have inspired you to your career in impact?

“The Life of Mahatma Gandhi” by Louis Fischer was a very formative book for me. I read it a couple of times at different points in my life. The first time, I had just arrived in Rajasthan, India, where I spent 10 months volunteering for a development organization. I wanted to read up on Indian history and I knew it was a seminal book. Reading about a specific slice of world history through the lens of a colonized country and its fight for independence helped to shape my views about justice and fairness, and solidified my interest in doing “socially impactful” work in some capacity. The second time I read the book, I was well into my career and starting to think about things like leadership, management, and how best to have a meaningful impact on the world. I wanted to understand why Gandhi was such an effective organizer and leader. How could this diminutive, pacifist man have sparked and led a movement so powerful that it eventually took down the British empire? How could any single person with no official title or position, and with no means of mass communication other than radio, effectively “go viral” and be able to reach and organize people in the most remote villages of India? I think “The Life of Mahatma Gandhi” has so many pearls of wisdom to share about leadership, authenticity and creating change in the world. For example, the way in which Gandhi was able to build a massive megaphone by patiently and consistently applying his principle of non-violence and by demonstrating his willingness to suffer in the name of justice through his hunger strikes and through frequent imprisonment; the way that he rejected traditional power structures by uplifting and exalting those considered to be on the lowest rungs of society (referring to the “untouchables” as “harijans” (or “people of God”) and naming his weekly newspaper “Harijan”); or the way that he insisted on treating everyone, even his supposed enemies, with dignity, respect and fairness (such as pausing negotiations with the British when they were in times of distress rather than using the opportunity to take advantage of them). I think there’s also much to be learned from his mastery of communication and symbolism – for example, his insistence on wearing homespun cloth and on spinning during sessions of Parliament as a rejection of dependence on British imports; or the way that he responded to a British salt tax by leading a protest march across India to the ocean, where he boiled sea water to make his own salt in defiance of the tax. “The Life of Mahatma Gandhi” has been the most influential book in my life and very much inspired me to pursue a career in impact investing.

View Aaron’s Bio


See also:

5 Questions in 5 Minutes with Zahra Smith
5 Questions in 5 Minutes with Sebastian Martinez-Villalba
5 Questions in 5 Minutes with Tom Scriven

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