Week 8- Last Day

I’m writing this post on the last day of my summer internship at CEI. As Erin and I feverishly try to put the finishing touches on the Maine Policy Review paper, I’m thinking about how lucky I’ve been to have this experience. I want to thank Dickinson again for the grant I received to take on this (un-paid) position. I don’t know if I’ll come back to CEI next summer, but certainly down the road I’d be open to it. I’ve made strong connections here that will serve me well as I seek potential post-grad employment in the impact investing field (or policy research?). So I guess this is what they meant by networking… As I move into senior year mode, it feels good to have a clearer idea of what interests me as a career, and it feels even better to know I’m well equipped to make an impact in the workplace and towards social justice. See ya back on campus!

Week 7- Taking over Ron’s paper…

Last week went by at a gentle pace, as I was plugging away on a few little projects, including refining the chart for CEO Ron’s paper for the Maine Policy Review. In addition to the chart, Ron assigned Erin (another intern) and me to the duty of editing the nebulous, brain-dump first draft of said paper. I don’t normally enjoy editing papers, but I was honored that Ron even wanted my input, so I set away at slicing and dicing this sprawling, scattered beast. The thing stands as a testament to the institutional knowledge of this man; it is packed with acronyms, titles of long past forums, and name drops that have the head spinning by page 6. For an introduction to the field of impact investing, this paper has the requisite scope of content, but I’m taking it as my duty to cut down on the abstruse anecdotes and focus in on the central thrust of the paper. On Friday, after a delightful orientation luncheon (a bit late, I know) with Ron and the 4 other interns, we sat down to discuss the paper. I have to be honest, I’m proud of myself for being forthright with Ron about how I felt about the paper. TO be clear, I was constructive with my comments, but I pointed out a number of sections to cut out, quotes to nix, and themes to develop further. I could tell Ron and the other staff who are advising on the paper were impressed by my bluntness. As a reward, Erin and I now have to finish the paper for submission… I reckon this counts as payment by experience!

Week 6- Learning the Underwriting Process

The dog days of summer have made their way up the eastern seaboard and have taken root in coastal Maine, and I felt it last week in the office. Still, I’ve managed to maintain productivity despite the soup-like weather. This past week I was able to take on a loan as the underwriter, and will hopefully see the process through to the finish. It’s been interesting writing up the investment memo on this potential deal because it has raised a bunch of questions for me about lending and what lenders look for from a borrower, and my co-workers have been a great resource for explanations. Outside lending, I’ve been working with the other interns on this chart of CEI deals and their respective triple bottom-line impacts for a paper that the CEO is writing for the Maine Policy Review. It has been a learning experience working for Ron, both in seeing what goes into a paper like this (about impact investing) and getting a glimpse into his perspective on CEI. In light of my observations of Ron, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good CEO, which he most certainly has been. I continue to consider how I can improve to be that kind of leader. That doesn’t necessarily entail drastic change, but may just be capitalizing on skills and habits I’ve already formed. Alas, life is a work in progress!

Week 5- Triple Bottom Line

This past week the interns have been working on Ron’s project, as it has been dubbed, because no one really knows what else to call it. Essentially we are preparing information for an article he is writing, and possibly for internal review, about the Triple Bottom Line performance of CEI’s portfolio in recent years. We are looking for the projects that CEI has been involved in that best demonstrate our TBL (equity, economic, and environment) efforts. I’ve been focusing on the Housing, Health, and Tourism sectors, gathering data on the most exemplary deals and writing up summaries of how they meet TBL criteria and generally benefit Maine’s communities. I’ve enjoyed this project thus far because what I’m most interested in about CEI is its mission and how it fits in the larger marketplace of finance and investing, and through this kind of research I am seeing specifically how we fulfill our mission and enable positive growth throughout the state.
I spent this past weekend in Acadia, hiking, biking, and eating on Mt. Desert Island. I think I really needed to get out in the woods and run around a bit; sitting at a desk all week starts to get in my head! But driving back home through all those little fishing villages along the mid-coast, I thought about how CEI has helped so many fisherman and businesses along the coast stay viable and be successful… certainly not a bad place to sit at a desk!

Week 4- On to the next project…

Last week ended with the joyous culmination of my risk rating project, and I’m excited to move onto new areas of focus. CEI’s CEO is writing an article for the Maine Policy Review, and he’s asked the interns to help out by writing quantitative and qualitative summaries of each of CEI’s targeted sectors of investment. The end goal is to have a concise overview of the economic, social, and environmental impact of CEI’s involvement in sustainable ag, fisheries, eco-tourism, etc. I’ll be looking into tourism and affordable housing, specifically. I can hardly say I’ve held up in my cubicle the past week however, I’ve had a number of nice interludes. On Friday, I drove down to East Nowhere, PA to see the honorable Byron Tannous, a Dickinson Alum, get married. I’ve been hard on Pennsylvania these past few years, but the truth is that it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. The countryside is beautiful and the people are thoroughly charming, what more is there to want? But I digress. Yesterday, the whole CEI crew headed out to Harbor Island for a company retreat. I had lobsters on the beach, bocci ball on the lawn, and sunburn on the neck. I am grateful for the grant I received from Dickinson that has afforded me the gas money to participate on ‘field trips’ like, as well to get to work on the other days!

Week 3- Digging for data, etc.

This past week I spent most of my time searching for loan risk ratings in CEI’s online and printed file system. I was moderately successful in finding what I was looking for, completing the data set for a statistical analysis project, but I can’t say I had rip-roaring good time sifting through old papers in the dingy basement across the street. Oh well. Now that the dirty work is complete, Kevin, the data analyst, and I can begin to make sense of it. We are looking to find a correlation between the initial risk rating of CEI’s loan and the likelihood of a default. With that knowledge, loan officers will then know how much to set aside for loan loss reserves depending on how risky the loan seems at the outset. We’ve yet to begin the analysis but it should be an interesting process. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to do an informational interview with Laura B., Director of Housing Resources and Policy Development. I enjoyed hearing how CEI’s policy arm fits in with the rest of the operation, and how we actually go about ‘doing’ policy work. I got an insight on how lobbying in Washington actually works, and apparently my mental image of a cross between a door-to-door charlatan and court jester whispering in the ear of some helpless politician was a little off-base. Anyway, I enjoyed hearing from Laura how policy actually gets created, often at the grass roots level with a coalition of dedicated local groups. I got Friday off, and with too many relatives (inlaws and outlaws), dogs, lobsters, and pies to count, celebrated the birth of this nation upta camp. How about that democracy!

Week 2- Rural LISC and other adventures

It’s June 29th and I am two weeks into my summer internship at CEI. I’ve been based in Wiscasset, but this past week I spent most of my time in Portland. On Monday, I attended a showcase for entrepreneurs and start-ups hosted by Maine Technology Institute. On Tuesday, the ins and outs of venture capital were introduced to me by Nat Henshaw, the founder and president of CEI’s subsidiary, CEI Ventures. I’ve been trying to poke my head into each of the company’s divisions in order to learn what interests me most, and I was very intrigued by venture capital. The highlight of the week, however, was the Rural LISC conference on Wednesday. Rural LISC is a national organization that supports rural economic and community development initiatives in underserved areas of the US, and in partnership with CEI, they hosted their annual conference at a hotel in Portland. The event brought together hundreds of economic developers and community workers from around the country to share strategies for building and supporting local economies, while providing meaningful employment for populations that lack opportunities and skills. I was fortunate to be able to attend a few workshops and panels, and came away with a deeper understanding and interest in economic development, as well as the challenges and solutions that CEI encounters in Maine. On Thursday, I rode along on a bus tour featuring some of CEI’s project in southern Maine: an anaerobic digester in Brunswick that will soon power an entire industrial park with electricity, and later a selection of affordable housing developments in Lewiston. The more time I spend around the people at CEI, I start to understand and mirror their energy towards helping build economically strong and sustainable communities. I have many career interests, so I don’t know if I will work for a company like CEI, but I know that I could be happy and proud to do this kind of work. #DsonIntern

Week 1 at CEI- Learning the Ropes

On Monday, June 15th, I started my summer internship at Coastal Enterprises Inc. The organization is a Community Development Financial Institution, as they’re called, which essentially means a non-profit bank. However, that title doesn’t encompass the diversity to CEI’s operations. Based in Wiscasset, ME, CEI has been igniting small and medium sized businesses throughout the state for nearly 40 years. As SVP of Operations Keith Bisson explained to me, CEI does this in three ways: financing, business development, and policy research and advocacy. It is a mission-driven organization, focused on serving those businesses that support their ‘triple-bottom line’: social equality, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity. As a result, CEI finances and provides consultancy for the kind of businesses that traditional banks would rather avoid, like a family run dairy farm start-up. During my first week, I was playing the role of the sponge, internalizing the larger goals of the company, as well as the day-to-day operations. I’m interning with the Loan Group, so I’m learning the nitty-gritty process of evaluating a prospect for a loan, and the process for deploying those funds if the we choose to finance the given venture. I think I could pass Accounting 101 just after a week of experience pouring over balance sheets and translating financial jargon. I’m organizing online Investment Memos and cleaning up the shared files server, which is a bit of a yawn, but I’m asking questions whenever something peaks my interest and picking up on larger trends within the company in order to better understand what they do. Also, on Thursday, I visited an eel incubator with the two fisheries experts, and now I’d call myself a dilettante of the aquaculture sector with an appetite to learn more. I’ve got an exciting mix of adventures upcoming this week, so hopefully the sun is shining! #DsonIntern