James Lee Sorenson provided the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business with a $13 million gift in 2013 to create the Sorenson Impact Center — formerly the James Lee Sorenson Center for Global Impact Investing (SGII) — with a mission to cultivate students’ social impact expertise.
Jim plays an active role in supporting the Center and mentoring its student participants. After leading a team that developed a high-quality, low-cost videoconferencing technology that transformed communication capabilities for 1,000,000 deaf individuals in the early 2000s, Jim realized that his investments could “do well while doing good,” and he hasn’t looked back.
Jim was an early funder of microfinance, funding the nonprofit Unitus in the early 2000s and subsequently investing in Unitus’s for-profit spinoff, Unitus Equity Fund (UEF). Through UEF, Jim invested in SKS Microfinance Ltd., now called Bharat Financial Inclusion Ltd., an Indian company providing financial services to the poor. From 2006 to 2009, SKS grew from serving 200,000 clients to 3,700,000. SKS went public in 2009 with a market capitalization of $1.7 billion.
In 2012, through the Sorenson Impact Foundation, Jim began making program-related investments (PRIs) into high-impact, early-stage social enterprises with robust business models capable of reaching underserved populations at scale. In 2013, Jim became an early investor into Pay for Success, also called social impact bonds (SIBs). His first PFS investment was in New York State for a program that aimed to reduce recidivism. Financial returns depended on the success of job-training programs for newly released prisoners. When the project was announced, 41 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals returned to prison within three years, costing government $60,000 per prisoner annually. Since then, Jim has participated in several PFS transactions in the state of Utah and Massachusetts.