A major shift is coming in which all investors, individual and institutional, will commit at least a portion of their investable assets to social impact and investing in harmony with their values. Lisa Hall, President and CEO of Calvert Foundation (www.calvertfoundation.org), recently wrote in a blog post: “In 20 years we will look back and consider these past few years as the turning point in an economic movement”. She says she is seeing “a change in cultural norms and expectations”.
Investing for a return that is both financial and social, in other words impact investing, has gained popularity in the last few years, since about 8 years ago when it was still dubbed “community investing.” This remains a core part of socially responsible or sustainable investing, investing into organizations which help people to improve their lives through affordable housing, jobs, community services such as daycare and healthcare, and more, not into publicly-traded companies.
For example, Calvert Foundation offers impact investments so everyone from individual investors in increments of $20 to large corporations in as much as $20 million can invest in low-income communities and provide capital where there is none. The Community Investment Note (CI Note) pays a return of up to 2% to investors and directs capital to help finance affordable housing, charter schools, health centres, Fair Trade coffee co-ops, and job creation. She says: “These investments in the future of our country and our world are helping to transform the lives of individuals and families.”
The mood is changing in how investors think about risk, return and rewards. Calvert Foundation recently commissioned a study involving 1,065 financial advisors: 72% said they had interest in offering products that provide sustainable investment to their clients, while 38% expressed strong interest in being able to offer those products now. The advisers surveyed indicated that they were willing to recommend impact investments to one-third of their clients, dedicating 10%-20% of their portfolios to this type of investing. Based on these numbers, the study estimates a sustainable investment market of about 2.5% of advisers’ assets under management, or $650 billion. “The change that these dollars can make is both monumental and within the scope of our imagination, our expectations and our ability.”
Calvert works with financial advisors and multiple brokerage firms so investors can include the CI Note in their investment portfolios. Microplace (www.microplace.com), an eBay company started in 2007, helps investors purchase Notes online from as little as $20. Hall says: “We are also developing strategies to bring new investors into the fold. For example, we want to engage the millennial generation through partnerships with colleges and universities, social media outlets and networking events. We are also embarking on efforts to connect diaspora communities and enable individuals to invest in their countries of origin. Other special initiatives that we envision for the future include regional initiatives.”
Business – Starbucks backs jobs
The business community is also getting more interested and large corporations are beginning to understand the power of uniting investment and social conscience. Starbucks Foundation in US has teamed up with the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) to help create and sustain jobs with a $5m seed investment into Create Jobs for USA programme provides capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), including Calvert Foundation, which provide loans to under-served community businesses. The goal of Create Jobs for USA is to bring people and communities together to create and sustain jobs throughout America.
“Food to my soul”
An investor may see impact investing as just a part of the portfolio until she or he understands the social impact. Marta Santiago, a New Mexico resident and CI Note holder since 2005 said: “Calvert Foundation offered me a great opportunity to give food to my soul when it came to switching from Wall Street to an organization that is entirely devoted to helping the community, especially the needy, in a varied, fruitful, and meaningful manner.”
As US government grants for non-profits gets shut down, they turn to impact investors so they have funds to continue providing critical services. The Nonprofits Assistance Fund (NAF), a Calvert Foundation borrower, stepped in to offer emergency bridge loans, providing credit to cover cash flow delays for groups such as the Northern Lights Community School of Warba, Minnesota, a well-managed and incredibly successful school catering to students who have faced difficulties in traditional public school settings. Since 1980, NAF has provided over $75m in loans to more than 1,700 non-profits.
Calvert Foundation’s partner The Paradigm Project, also accessible to investors through our CI Note, invests in clean-burning stoves that reduce wood consumption and toxic smoke, saving village women in northern Kenya long and often treacherous journeys to collect wood. Although the stove is a solution to just one problem, it is part of restoring dignity to women for whom mercy has been in short supply.
Hall is President and CEO of Calvert Foundation. She has more than doubled the portfolio she managed from $76m to $190m while keeping losses under 1.2% during one of the most economically challenging periods in recent history. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaGreenHall