Friday, July 22, 2011

Launching the California FreshWorks Fund in Los Angeles

Calvert Foundation Relationship Manager Justin Conway traveled to Los Angeles, CA this week for the official launch of the FreshWorks Fund, California's new healthy foods financing initiative, which brings together a large and diverse group of partners to improve access to healthy food in the state's many food deserts.

Justin Conway
I’m on the road quite a bit, especially on the West Coast, but somehow I’ve always managed to avoid Los Angeles, CA. It is by far one of the only big cities in North America where I haven’t spent some time. I’ve circled Southern California from just north of LA in Ventura, out off LA’s coast in the Channel Islands, to south around San Diego, but I’ve never been to LA. Never even flown through LAX. How can this be?

Then comes the California FreshWorks Fund, spearheaded by The California Endowment that is based in LA. This new $200 million fund is designed to spur healthy food access and economic development in low-income communities throughout California. It is a partnership with The California Endowment, NCB Capital Impact, and many other great partners. While the FreshWorks Fund was first announced by Michelle Obama on Wednesday at the White House, the official launch took place in LA on Thursday. 

Justin with Flavia Romero of Microplace 
So off to LA I go for the FreshWorks Fund launch…but of course, first for a taco. I mean that’s what I’m supposed to do, right? I don’t have time to find actors’ stars on Hollywood Boulevard or drive by their homes, or the many other more cultural and beachy things I’d like to do. In my very limited time in LA, I’m just hoping to squeeze in a food cart taco. Then I see Homeboy Industries – a social enterprise I’ve known of for years that helps former gang members turn their lives around by, among other things, employing them in the food service industry. – and the accompanying Homegirl Café. I honestly have no idea what food they’re going to serve, but lucky for me they have tacos. Not tacos like I was originally expecting from LA (there was hibiscus flower and carmelized onions in one of mine), but amazingly good. It was also great to see that in addition to their social mission, they have a strong commitment to sourcing from local, organic urban farms…which is what I’m in LA to support. 

Just a couple minutes away from Homeboy Industries, is The California Endowment’s beautiful headquarters outside LA’s Chinatown, where all of the partners have come together to launch the FreshWorks Fund. There were inspiring speeches, amazing food from local chefs, fresh produce all around, lots of networking among the hundreds gathered, and an overall buzz. I was there to speak about Calvert Foundation’s unique role in the FreshWorks Fund – to provide a way for the public to invest in increasing healthy food access. Calvert Foundation is a pioneer in helping all types of investors, big and small, institutions and individuals, get involved in community and impact investing. Through our partnership with Microplace, people can invest in the FreshWorks Fund Initiative at investment levels of $20 or more. As one person at the event said to me “I think it is great that I can be like the institutions (and invest)…this is my favorite part…and thanks for making that happen.”
Having worked closely with community and impact investors for the past 10 years, I’ve heard many similar stories from individuals appreciating the opportunity to invest in a way that historically only institutions have been able to do. It’s not a surprise that I’d hear it in LA too, but it makes me realize that we haven’t been as active with the investor and financial advisor community around here. We have several great partners based in LA including Century Housing and Clearinghouse CDFI, and many more like NCB Capital Impact that are very active in the area. Now, through the FreshWorks Fund, we have many more partners in LA. All in all, having only spent 12 hours in the city, I fly away convinced that Calvert Foundation has an opportunity to get more folks involved in what is a huge, but largely untapped market. I hope my colleagues and I, as well as other impact investing partners, are able to spend many more days helping investors in Los Angeles understand how they can invest in their communities…and finding great tacos.

I get by with a little help from my (impact investing) friends

Last week, Carrie Hutchison, Marketing and Communications Manager at Calvert Foundation, hosted the first-ever Meeting of Impact Investment Marketing Professionals.

Carrie Hutchison
I love invitations. Love receiving them. Love sending them. When sending, I love the whole RSVP process. I would get married again just for the invitations.

So I was especially excited a few weeks ago when I had a 100% positive RSVP from everyone I had invited to be a part of the first meeting of Impact Investment Marketing Professionals. The genesis for this group was a series of informal conversations I’d had a few months earlier at a Net Impact happy hour organized by my superstar colleague Patrick Davis. At this event I found myself talking to people who – like me – are tasked with promoting the impact investment products at their respective organizations. Through these – and subsequent – conversations I found common themes: it’s hard to explain what we do, we’re the only (or one of the only) ones at our organizations doing marketing – and often all facets of it (including PR and communications), we work at nonprofits with lean budgets, we love what we do.

Encouraged by Institute for Community Economics Director Andy Slettebak, who graciously offered to host at his offices in Georgetown, I put together a loose agenda – and the promise of food and drink – and sent out the invitation. Not only did 100% say they’d come, all but one did! (And he had a very good excuse.)

You know that Blind Melon video where the girl dressed up as a bumblebee struggles to fit in until the end when she finds all the other bees? That’s what it was like! I’ve often told family and friends that I finally found “my people” when I joined Calvert Foundation and the impact investment industry. And what I found that night with my fellow marketers was that I really really found my people.

We have a lot of work to do. We need to communicate a complex and important concept effectively and simply. We have to juggle multiple roles and tasks. We have to prioritize.  But in one night we in many ways expanded our small staffs, since we now have each other to draw upon for ideas and advice. And that is what is so great about this industry. We’re so new and the work we do is so critical to helping low-income communities that we aren’t competitive. All boats float if we succeed. And that’s a nice feeling too.

If you are playing this role at your organization, contact me!

Friday, July 15, 2011

White House Provides Visibility to Impact Investing

Lisa Hall, the President and CEO of Calvert Foundation, was recently invited to speak on policy and regulatory implications for the Impact Investing industry at a convening hosted by the White House, along with Rob Wexler of Adler Colvin and Cathy Clark of the Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

Lisa Hall
As I walked through the entrance to the White House grounds a few weeks ago for a first-time convening on the "Building an Impact Economy in America," it took me back to more than a decade ago, when I worked as a staffer for Gene Sperling in the Clinton Administration. Back in 1999, I had the opportunity to travel with the President on Air Force One for what the press dubbed "The Poverty Tour," which the administration used to launch the New Markets Initiative, eventually resulting in legislation to spur investment in impoverished communities across the nation. 

We visited distressed communities in urban areas such as Watts in Los Angeles and low-income neighborhoods in rural areas such as the Mississippi Delta. As we drove into Appalachia on the first day of the four-day trip, I was struck by how many people had come out to see the President and Jesse Jackson, who gave a kick-off speech. The number of people who lined the streets was awe-inspiring and impressed upon me how hungry citizens were for support from the government, and how much they wanted tools in place that would help them get jobs, start businesses, and repair their communities.

This kind of visit wasn't typical of a U.S. President at the time. In fact, Clinton's visit to Appalachia was the first by a President since Lyndon Johnson declared his "War on Poverty" in 1965. The Poverty Tour was an attempt to make underserved communities visible - and it worked. The trip drew unprecedented media attention to low-income communities, receiving five consecutive days of coverage on the nightly news.

One of the many bright spots on that trip was a visit to a factory financed by Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, a certified Community Development Finance Institution that drives investor capital to social causes, creating jobs, funding education, and financing small businesses. Little did I know that a dozen years later I would be leading an innovative organization driving investment dollars from thousands of socially conscious individuals to hundreds of organizations like Kentucky Highlands around the country and the world. Kentucky Highlands is now a borrower of the Communities at Work Fund, a $200 million Citibank fund managed by Calvert Foundation’s wholly owned subsidiary Community Investment Partners. (I’m honored to serve as the Board Chair of Community Investment Partners.)

The visibility of the Poverty Tour has long faded into the background. Bill Shore, Executive Director of Share Our Strength, recently Tweeted about an article in last Sunday's New York Times titled "Somehow, the Unemployed Became Invisible." A recent nationwide survey conducted by HBS professor Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely found that Americans “drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States.” It's time to bring the spotlight back where it belongs. Norton is exploring whether educating Americans about this inequality will increase their support for better economic policies. There are many others who want to bring more attention to the needs of underserved communities and create avenues of opportunities for the people who live there. I have the privilege of working with them every day.

Which is why I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to the White House last month for a convening on "Building an Impact Economy in America” (watch the video clip here). The Aspen Institute, which co-sponsored the convening, defines the Impact Economy as the supply of capital and those firms demanding the capital in pursuit of both profit and social impact. The Administration wants to build a policy agenda that will drive investment in American businesses and also generate financial and social returns. This event brought together many of the people I am privileged to work with, such as: Ron Phillips of Coastal Enterprises, a long-time Calvert Foundation borrower; Debra Schwartz of the MacArthur Foundation, one of our earliest grant supporters and a true believer in the vision; and Bob Annibale of Citi, who has used his influence within a large corporation to drive investment dollars and attention to both domestic work like the Communities at Work Fund and microfinance initiatives internationally. My former boss Gene Sperling, now President Obama’s top economic adviser, was also at the event and spoke eloquently about the administration’s efforts to rebuild the economy and create jobs for Americans. 

The White House has recognized the power and efficacy of investing for both financial and social return. Those attending the convening were there to advise the government about how to “remove barriers, streamline regulations and target existing government resources to support the building of an impact economy.” At its core, the event was about creating prosperity and alleviating economic suffering throughout the country. I believe that just as Johnson did in 1965 with his Great Society and Clinton did in 1999 with his New Markets Initiative, President Obama has the opportunity to use the power and influence of his office to bring more attention to underserved and low-income communities which have been disproportionately affected by our current economic challenges. 

Jonathan Greenblatt of the Aspen Institute described the meeting as "historic"; he believes the "Impact Economy" will soon be a term “that is as well-known as microfinance or charter schools, a trend that overturns an old order, shakes loose ossified ideas and spawns social benefit scale as a result.” The meeting was an important first step toward establishing a national strategy for the impact economy. It is our hope that we can build on the momentum of this gathering and translate the conversations into tangible results for the impact investing industry, and the country, as a whole. 

Calvert Foundation’s vision of a world with "5% for impact" - where 5% of every investor’s portfolio is dedicated to impact investing – appears to be within reach. I look forward to continuing to engage with officials in the Administration about ideas for the future to help build an impact economy which can fuel an overall economic recovery that benefits all members of our society. Let’s all encourage the White House to host more convenings and continue bringing more attention to these issues, ultimately creating more government policies and programs that enable private, social impact investments in the most vulnerable communities in our nation.