Building a sustainable economy will require new thinking about how we invest. Instead of investing exclusively in (“Worry Over Inequality Occupies Wall Street”) Wall Street, with its focus on short term-profit, we must begin diversifying our investment dollars into areas that truly support long-term sustainability.
As investors, we can help build healthy communities by loaning money to non-profit organizations that provide resources and opportunities to economically disadvantaged people in the US and overseas. These loans can provide returns of up to 3% (better than a CD or most bonds these days), as well as the satisfaction of knowing we have made a real difference in the lives of others.
In Northern California where I live, organizations like the Northern CA Community Loan Fund and the Low Income Investment Fund give investors an opportunity to help build healthier neighborhoods in the bay area. Investments in these funds provide loans for job creation, small business development, affordable housing, and other vital community services. Similar loan funds can be found throughout the country.
Investors can also help alleviate poverty around the world by investing in non-profit organizations that fund micro-financing and social entrepreneurs. Some of my favorite organizations involved in this work are the Calvert Foundation, Root Capital, RSF Social Finance and Oikocredit. Capital raised from their investors has helped millions of people start their own business, gain access to better health care and rise out of poverty.
Community investment loans are not a hand out, but a hand up. They make possible the creation of local enterprises that would have been impossible otherwise. When capital is denied to the working poor and minorities the only chance for development comes from economic forces outside their communities. This inequity is one of the primary causes of displacement, gentrification, and the growing gap between the rich and poor.
Community investing also makes good economic sense. In fact, over the past 10 years many Community Notes have quietly outperformed the stock market. While such investments don’t have the pizzazz of an IPO or a hedge fund, they do provide real returns for real people.
I believe the sustainability movement will only be successful if it includes all people in its promise. As community investors we have the opportunity to become a positive a positive force for spreading economic equality, by providing the capital needed to build a better world for current and future generations. Now that’s a return on investment!