People often focus on investing in emerging markets when they talk about impact investing. Yes, access to clean water, healthcare, nutrition, access to lighting are absolutely essential in emerging economies. But what about the challenges faced closer to home? What about what’s going on in the cities of Minneapolis/St Paul? Denver? Baltimore? Oakland?
Poverty, community regeneration, access to healthy and sustainable infrastructure, the challenges of building a small social enterprise also impact U.S. cities.
Last week, a new national project was announced addressing this very landscape called Ours to Own. The effort has a long way to go before it’s available everywhere, but it’s a great start.
Until now, you could indirectly make positive local impact by banking with a local community bank, finding local enterprises that need investment and directly investing in them. Perhaps you could also be part of a community-lending initiative like the Carrot Project in New England if you had enough capital to be a significant lender.
But it has been hard for the average person to find a way to make a difference on a local level with local businesses. Impact investing has been in need of something the average consumer could buy online or through their bank that is financially regulated and backed with other capital.
You get to choose how much to put in, with as little as $20 (or a lot more, if you can), and you decide only on how long you want to commit your capital for, which drives the interest rate that you will get on that money. This is all debt, and the types of projects that your money will help to fund will vary city by city. We’re not talking about high rates of interest — this is a little better than keeping your money in cash. But it’s a very low risk way to start down the path of investing with your values, and it’s local.
In the Twin Cities, for example, you’d be backing small businesses, and the criteria are that they are minority-, women-, or veteran-founded and led. Gloria Freeman, founder of Olu’s Home, is on the site as an example of a locally owned, woman/minority-owned business in the Twin Cities.
According to the Ours to Own website, “Gloria’s business, Olu’s Home, is a licensed care organization that provides residential and in-home services to the elderly and persons with developmental disabilities or mental illness. Olu’s promotes an integrated and holistic approach, rooted in the belief that ‘we all have the right to a fulfilling life — to be happy, whole, and accomplished individuals.’” Gloria received financing to purchase a new facility that will allow her to expand significantly. She now employs nearly 100 people.
You have to be 18 or older in order to invest through Ours to Own, and the platform is online through Vested.org. This is backed by Calvert Foundation, which was a pioneer in community investment notes, and also the team who launched Women Investing in Women (WIN WIN) notes a few years ago. You can invest as little as $20 in WIN WIN as well, via Vested.org.
While Vested.org lets you pick what kind of issue you want to support, nationally or globally, the Ours to Own offering is more about “place” than about specific issues — for now. But if you want to think global and act local, and do it for as little as $20, with interest, this effort is for you.
I tried investing the other day. It took about five minutes to register, confirm my email and do my first investment. Once you’ve registered, you have online access to your account of all of the loans that you do, including the amount, the term, the interest rate, etc.
Its time to look at what we can do closer to home.
Suzanne Biegel is a member of the DailyWorth Experts program. Read more about the program here.