Following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast was devastated. Access Capital Strategies, a SRI community investment firm, decided to use the tragedy of Katrina to showcase the power of community investment strategies. The Boston-based asset management firm joined forces with Liberty Bank and Trust, a large local African American Bank. Together, they played a key role in the reconstruction of the devastated areas by providing bridge loans, financial support, and commercial and residential rebuilding. Other community investment groups, including The Calvert Foundation, Jewish Funds for Justice, and Hope Community Credit Union, joined in to further stimulate the region with more then $2.4 million in capital. Hurricane Katrina provided a glimpse into an investment sector that has grown in the last 5 years from a $4 billion sector to nearly $20 billion.
Historically, socially responsible investing (SRI) has referred to a set of approaches used in investment decisions that consider social, ethical, and environmental issues. One of the latest incarnations of SRI is Community Investing. This strategy involves using investment funds to provide capital or loans to communities that lack access to conventional funding sources or are overlooked by traditional financial institutions. SRI values are incorporated into community based investments by concentrating capital toward housing projects, development banks, and infrastructure in order to strengthen a specific micro-economy. Some of the successful strategies of Community Investing include micro-financing and the fortification of local credit unions. The regions that have benefited most include Bangladesh, South Africa, sub-Sahara Africa, and the rural regions of Kentucky and Tennessee. From a SRI perspective the primary goal of community investing is to apply responsible investing strategies to improve the standard of living within a micro-economy while earning competitive returns.
Despite its rapid growth, community investing remains uncharted territory for most investors. As world economies are experiencing inflationary pressure on food and increased energy prices, fragile economies are suffering the most. Paradoxically, these struggling economies will act as proving-grounds for community investment strategies in the coming years. Of the 84 Community Investment funds currently operating, listed below are a few that I think represent the best positioned funds to take advantage of the current economic climate.
Partners with international micro-finance institutions; accepts individual investments
Calvert Foundation – http://www.calvertfoundation.org
Offers community investment notes where investors can specify that their capital be directed to international loans or one of seven U.S. regions e+Co.
Offers investments based on loans to clean
energy entrepreneurs in developing countries
Finca International – http://www.villagebanking.org
Manages village banking programs in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe; offers investments that fund village banks
Fonkoze USA – http://www.fonkoze.org
Manages a socially responsible loan fund that lends to Haiti’s largest micro-finance bank
Shared interest – http://www.sharedinterest.org
Guarantees bank loans for low-income communities in South Africa; accepts investments for periods of three to ten years
Underdog ventures – http://www.underdogventures.com
Designs and manages customized single-investor social venture funds for HNW investors
Coalition of Community Development Financial Institutions – http://www.cdfi.org
Offers facts and figures on community investing
Community Investing Center – http://www.communityinvest.org
Accion international – www.accion.org
Copyright © 2008 David van der Roest