Danielle Pal, 2014

Danielle Pal is an alumna of the 2014 Munk One cohort, the second graduating class of the program. During her time at the University of Toronto, she studied Environmental Studies and Psychology, with a minor in Environmental Behaviour. We caught up with Danielle to discuss the highlights of the Munk One program for her, including her summer abroad experiences, and how she leveraged her diverse educational background to her current work in Sustainable Investing for CPP (Canada Pension Plan) Investment Board. 

How did your experiences in the Munk One Program influence your undergraduate experience?

I’m a huge advocate of the Munk One Program because of how it shaped my university experience. I went into it as a very ambitious and driven high schooler like we all are, and being in Munk One helps you take that passion, focus it, and expand it to understand the ways in which you can use your ambition. I think that a lot of times people go to university and might feel dulled because there are 1,200 people in your class and you’re finding yourself just trying to read a textbook and memorize things. Being part of Munk One helped a lot with my ability to focus research questions and provided a great framework for asking critical questions in order to solve problems.  It also provided a really nice community of folks who are also very driven and critical, and having those connections, including the professors, was really impactful for the rest of my university career.

Could you tell me a bit about your summer abroad experience in Israel? Did it impact the way you viewed the world?

I did the Coexistence in the Middle East program with Hebrew University and being Jewish, I was raised a certain way and had learned particular narratives of my people, so going in, just like everyone, I had a bias. That’s why I think going abroad and doing this hands-on program was so powerful, because it teaches you to confront the fact that we only know so much from what we’re taught, and only when different perspectives come to light are you actually able to challenge that and question those beliefs. So much of the Jewish narrative is about struggle, but when you open your eyes and see the Palestinian narrative, it’s one of struggle and living under occupation, so there are a lot of similarities, but I think that lack of connection – because people aren’t allowed to meet each other due to border controls and other reasons – is a major barrier to coexistence.

My summer abroad experience gave me a perspective that was based in evidence and experiences that were not just my own and my diasporic family living in Canada, but of people actually living in the conflict. It was an invaluable experience and because of that, I returned the next year to do the Cooperation Through Water Systems program, which was an amazing experience too, because a lot of conflict that happens and so much of the world’s wars have been and will be fought over water, so learning about conflict through the lens of hydrology was a profound experience as well.

What do you do now in your capacity as a Sustainable Investing Analyst at CPP Investments and how did you land there?

When I joined CPP, they were looking for people who were not traditional finance students, but students who were really good at primary research and had a lot of grit and motivation, because so much of what makes a good financial analyst and investor is strength in primary research. So because I was part of a very interdisciplinary degree and had developed the skill set thanks to that and Munk One, I applied and became an intern. Because of my passion for sustainability, I later joined the Sustainable Investment team, where I’ve been working since. In sustainable investing, you look at environmental, social, and governance factors that could be a risk or an opportunity to potential investments that we’re undertaking, so it’s kind of a complementary process to the traditional investing process, whereby you’re taking into account non-financial metrics and working with the Deal Teams to make investments.

What was the most valuable aspect of the Munk One experience to you?

I loved the MUN105 labs because working on issues that are tangible and important with people who are hardworking and passionate was amazing. Learning how to define a problem and operationalizing it is such a great skill to have. Something I also truly do miss was Professor Wong’s MUN101 class, where he’d get us to read articles each week and we would talk about them and debate them in class. It’s such a good way to teach yourself how to engage in evidence-based debate with people who are also super reasonable but might have opinions that are not in line with your own views. Going abroad was also amazing, and overall Munk One is just such a great program. It really makes you feel empowered and helps you feel equipped to take on the rest of your university career.