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‘Better Than Any All-Star Game’: Bobby Turner And NBA’s Chris Paul On Impact Investing

As Americans have reckoned with their racial, social and economic divides over the last six months, a consensus has begun to form that just trying harder won’t be enough and that fixing the state of our country will require sweeping structural change.

With so much control over the way we live and work, the real estate industry will have to be at the heart of that change. Real estate does not exactly have a storied history of promoting social justice — real estate leaders often undertake philanthropic efforts, but not typically as part of their work. But in the last few years, the industry has gained models for integrating social justice into the work of real estate, maybe most notably the impact investing model of Turner Impact Capital, led by CEO and founder Bobby Turner.

Turner Impact Capital CEO Bobby Turner, Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker and National Basketball Players Association President Chris Paul

“Impact investing is business as a force for good,” Turner said on Wednesday’s Walker & Dunlop weekly webcast. “It’s a belief that making social and financial change is good for business, that you can get better risk-adjusted returns building communities and that doing well and doing good needn’t be exclusive.”

Turner’s company has made a name for itself not just through its work preserving workforce housing, building preventive healthcare clinics and expanding charter school education but also working with highly visible athletes and philanthropists like tennis legend Andre Agassi and 10-time NBA All-Star and National Basketball Players Association President Chris Paul

On the most recent Walker Webcast, Bobby Turner walked through some of the mechanisms of impact investing and Chris Paul, streaming in live from the NBA “bubble” in Orlando, stressed the importance of unity in fighting — and investing — for social justice.

More Than “Band-Aids”

On the webcast, Paul recounted how, on a tour of a school where he was considering sending his children, he was staggered by the number of tablets and computers available to young children.

“I turned to my wife and said, ‘This is blowing my mind,’” Paul said. “‘We’re so blessed that our children will get these resources, but what about the kids on the other side of town?”

Like many NBA players, Paul set up a foundation as soon as he joined the league. Some of his first philanthropic efforts went to resurfacing inner-city basketball courts and, inspired by the school visit, to building out computer labs and learning centers in underserved communities.

Turner Impact Capital CEO Bobby Turner (center) at the opening of Rocketship Academy, one of the charter schools developed by the Turner-Agassi Charter School Funds

While he’s still very proud of those earlier projects, Paul said he felt he wasn’t doing enough to “level the playing field” for children in those communities. Meeting Bobby Turner in 2016 opened up another door, though, and in early 2017, Paul announced that he would be part of a team backing the Turner Multifamily Impact Fund.

The fund’s mandate was to preserve workforce housing in cities around the country while bringing in residents from educational, healthcare and law enforcement backgrounds who could provide essential services to their new communities. 

“You can’t just put Band-Aids on real issues,” Paul said. “To make sustainable change, it takes real dollars, especially in housing development. People in these communities want to know that you’re putting in the work.”

Many of the teachers living in the Turner Multifamily Impact Fund’s properties are recruited from schools developed the by the Turner-Agassi Charter School Funds.  Over the past seven years Turner-Agassi has developed or committed to develop 117 schools serving nearly 60,000 at-risk children in cities around the country, providing the majority of them with free or reduced-cost lunches through a Department of Agriculture program. As Turner clicked through pictures of elementary school students, Paul expressed how moved he was to have played a part in the growth of these children.

“That’s better than any All-Star game,” he said. “That right there is powerful.”

Impact Inside The Bubble

As the president of the players’ labor union since 2013, Paul played an outsized role in the negotiations of how the 2020 NBA season would go down. Though he said he is incredibly happy to be competing again, he described how isolating it can be to spend so much time in one place, without having a day off to spend time with his 11-year old son, and his daughter, whose eighth birthday is four days away.

“This is the longest I’ve ever been away from my kids,” Paul said. “I’m so privileged to be able to take care of my family and so many others, but it’s hard. At a certain point, they don’t want to FaceTime any more.”

Chris Paul playing for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2016

But being in the bubble has had a few advantages, and has opened up new avenues for impact. In the bubble, Paul said he has been able to connect with players on other teams that he had only ever met in passing. Often, he would know of housing or a school that the Turner funds were developing in that player’s hometown, engaging with other players around impact investing and inspiring some to learn more.

As protests for racial justice have continued in cities across the country, Paul has helped organize league-wide calls with speakers like Michelle Obama and Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, to hear about how they can play the game they love and keep social justice issues on their minds.

For Paul, the work of supporting and investing in social justice has been every bit as meaningful as all the honors he’s received as an NBA player.

“My parents taught me that basketball is a tool,” Paul said. “If I’m remembered as being a great basketball player, I haven’t done much. But this impact fund, impacting others and communities I’ve seen, that’s real change.”

Next Wednesday, Willy will host David Ignatius, associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post. Register here for the event.

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Walker & Dunlop. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.