16 Dec The Transformative 25 (Part 1 of 2)
25 funds transforming finance for people and planet
by Jen Astone, Integrated Capital Investing, firstname.lastname@example.org
Philanthropy is missing a strategic opportunity for transformative finance.
As foundations and mission-aligned investors swiftly shift their investments into ESG screened funds and direct investments in values-aligned companies and entrepreneurs, they overlook many visionary funds and fund managers who are forging the future that we need. These funds are myth-busters and courageous innovations. More than rethinking our financial system, they are creating viable alternatives to investing in people and planet for generations to come.
This list of 25 funds – The Transformative 25 – is an invitation to push past philanthropy’s comfort zone and consider the question:
What funds are transforming finance for people and planet?
I searched but could not find such a list that prioritized how investment and finance is offered, not just its outcome or impact. This list emphasizes funds making finance work for people and the planet by people trained both inside and outside of finance. I offer this as inspiration and reference, a library for learning. We need a different conversation around investment in philanthropy, one that is motivated by our unique position as values-based institutions that can ask hard questions about our financial system.
As someone who works with foundations to coach, educate, and catalyze their learning around integrated capital strategies, I know that foundations and investors don’t know how or where to start in identifying transformative fund opportunities that are diversified, have quality management, and a groundbreaking thesis. These catalytic opportunities can only attract institutional capital if philanthropy makes the first move.
It is high time to go beyond standard impact investing language and contribute to a just transition. It’s important to understand why a fund would request a loan guarantee, a grant or an investment with a 0-2% return. This sector agnostic list helps to show how these innovative fund managers are creating opportunities for businesses and communities with their holistic approach to finance and other services.
Criteria for the Transformative 25
The fund must meet at least three of the following four criteria:
- Use integrated capital to reach those unable to access finance
- Engage with creative finance structures for shared prosperity
- Focus on social, relational, and ecological returns as mission centric
- Reshape ownership and governance for shared prosperity
In the words and work of RSF Social Finance, “integrated capital is the coordinated use of different forms of financial capital and non-financial resources to support strategies and enterprises working to solve complex social and environmental problems.” Many of the funds are associated with non-profits which enable them to receive integrated capital or a combination of grants, investments and allyship necessary to extend finance to those who are unable to meet conventional finance requirements. Others, such as NDN Fund for Native Americans, are centered within movements. These flexible structures enable them to bundle support to an investee or entrepreneur.
NESsT Enterprise Loan Fund was created in 2018 to align with and support their 20+ year-old incubation program with its goal of creating dignified jobs for people most in need with one-on-one business development support to social entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Their definition of social entrepreneurs includes: Indigenous People, people with disabilities, former inmates, women, small producers and artisans, and youth.
Creative Financing Structures
A creative financing structure is “when a loan or investment is put together in a different, unusual or innovative way to create a circumstance where a person with a nontraditional credit history or a lack of collateral can access those resources.” From recoverable grants to evergreen holding companies, these funds reshape our expectations and understanding of what is possible.
The Perennial Fund offers revenue-based financing for farmers transitioning to regenerative organic agriculture that includes technical assistance such as farm planning, crop marketing, and a peer community of changemakers as part of their approach. Many funds offer patient capital with terms of 5 to 10 years, and others a loan loss reserve to extend debt to those without sufficient collateral or other revenue. Creative financing structures also include revenue-based or royalty financing, alternative equity structures, subordinated debt, and recoverable grants.
Social, Relational and Ecological Returns
Social, relational and ecological returns are built into the purpose of the funds alongside targeted financial returns. These funds consider return in varied, multiple and holistic ways, including well-being as a target. This stands in contrast to funds where the emphasis is focused solely on the return on investment (ROI) or the profitability measure of financial gain or loss generated on an investment relative to the amount of money invested.
At Raven Indigenous Impact Fund, they seek a quadruple bottom line – fiscal, environmental, social and reconciliation. As Paul LaCerte describes their fund situated alongside the non-profit Fireweed Fellowship, “We are undoing hierarchy and replacing it with reciprocity. It is a form of a return.” He centers relationship in their financial decolonization work. They argue that reparations in finance must include changing the finance system to become inclusive, that patient money with shared values will create safer, more resilient communities, ones in which everyone can be proud to be participate. Each fund has varied approaches to measuring its returns, some have adopted external quantitative metrics, others use internally qualitative data, and many use a mix of approaches.
Ownership and Governance
Many funds center their transformative work in rethinking ownership and governance, including questions around who owns the assets, who makes decisions about the assets, and how decision-making processes work. Funds can be set up as cooperatives and or be led by people within their communities. These are important shifts in finance.
The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EBPREC) a people of color led land and housing investment fund features a unique, non-extractive, multi-stakeholder, cooperative real estate model with 282 member-owners including: community owners, investor owners, resident owners and staff owners. Its framework is based on restorative economics. Similarly at the NDN Fund, Nikki Love asserts the key role of decision making in their Indigenous-led and run fund, “our mission is to create paradigm shifts that allocate resources and give decision-making back to Indigenous Peoples.”
All of the funds have a return profile that they articulate in their prospectus and terms and they range in structure and approach to include: financial returns of 1-8%, 100% recoverable grants, evergreen funds with limited exit opportunities, and a dividend return based on a revenue model. Importantly, they are all unique in their approach and bear consideration as they are tailored to the problem they are trying to solve. In this same light, some of the funds are open for funding now while others are currently closed with plans to open for funding in the next 6-18 months.
The Transformative 25 – Starting with 10
I am delighted to share the first 10 of 25 funds on the list. I learned about these funds through my work at the Swift Foundation and my RSF Integrated Capital Institute alumnae network. To be clear, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Instead, it is a starting point for people to discover a few of the many innovative efforts going on.
These fund managers are courageous in developing their ideas and approaches. They bring deep knowledge and relationships with the communities and entrepreneurs they serve. They work hard and challenge us to rethink our role in finance for social justice.
To make the list more comprehensive and diverse, I am opening up the nomination process until January 7, 2021 to funds and fund managers who think they meet the criteria to be included in the Transformative 25. The final list will be shared in late-January. Please fill out the survey here or contact me at Jen@iciaptos.com for an interview.
Part 1 Preview List of 10 Funds
The following ten funds have raised over $60 million from 516 investors and have made 176 investments to date.
Thesis: Blends capacity-building grantmaking with investment capital for community economic development in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. By matching nimble early-state capital to overlooked entrepreneurs and neglected downtowns, AIF readies our communities for investment.
Geography: Eastern Kentucky coalfields
Thesis: Provides debt capital to small and medium social enterprises that create income and protect the environment, create sustainable paths for a healthy people and planet.
Geography: Latin America, Asia
Thesis: Provides accessible, non-extractive grants and investment support to grassroots groups in the Global South to build thriving, resilient local economies that support community autonomy, self-determination, and wellbeing. Practices a participatory governance model to democratize decision making.
Geography: Mexico, Guatemala, South Africa, Nepal and India
Thesis: Aligns the technical, financial and organizational resources necessary to support Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and allied communities to cooperatively organize, finance, purchase and steward land & housing in Oakland and the East Bay.
Geography: East Bay, Oakland (Alameda County), California
Thesis: Provides privately held impact companies with mission-aligned, long-term, and non-controlling capital; operate impact real estate that supports impact companies, non-profit organizations, and small businesses; and operate for the holistic benefit of its members and stakeholders rather than for profit maximization.
Geography: United States
Thesis: Within 5 years, plans to move $100 million in capital to large-scale development projects and social enterprises led by and serving NDN’s Indigenous communities that uphold the principles of regenerative and just economies.
Geography: Native America, United States
Thesis: Invests debt capital and business assistance to high-impact enterprises supporting livelihoods in marginalized communities. Focuses on enterprises creating social and environmental impact that lack access to traditional sources of financing.
Geography: Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Chile
Thesis: Provides patient, flexible capital to Indigenous entrepreneurs in a culturally grounded way while also generating competitive returns to our investors. Raven’s decolonized investment approach and relationships are transforming the social finance ecosystem.
Geography: Across Turtle Island with a focus in Canada & below the 60th Parallel
Thesis: A Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and impact investment fund that provides flexible risk capital in the form of subordinated debt, revenue based financing (also known as royalty financing) and alternative equity structures, to growth-stage companies in Vermont and the region’s food systems, forest products, and clean technology sectors.
Geography: Vermont, New England
Thesis: Helps mid-sized US farmers transition to regenerative organic agriculture by providing revenue-based financing that includes technical assistance, farm planning, crop marketing, and a community of changemakers.
Geography: Upper Midwest, United States
I take full responsibility for the content of this article and wish to thank the following for their feedback and inspiration: David LeZaks, Adam Rein, Liz Sessler, Deb Nelson, Morgan Simon, Rex Raimond, Justice Funders, Cordata Capital, Tory Dietel Hopps, Katie Wheatley, RSF Integrated Capital Institute Fellows, Susan Wyche, the Kataly Foundation, and Erik Schultz.
 Koen Van Seijin developed a list: Why these 12 Funds could transform agriculture. The Impact Assets 50 is a frequently accessed list for impact investors with the recent and notable addition of Emerging Fund Managers.