Lisa Hall of the Calvert Foundation on Impact Investing: An In-depth Interview

Monday, October 24, 2011

Recently, I interviewed Lisa Hall, President and CEO of Calvert Foundation. Appointed by the Board in January 2011, Lisa joined the foundation in 2005 and brings nearly 25 years of industry experience and has held multiple policy and financial posts. Lisa has held positions in real estate and community development finance with the Enterprise Foundation, JP Morgan Chase and Travelers Insurance.

Calvert Foundation’s mission is to maximize the flow of capital to disadvantaged communities in order to create a more equitable and sustainable society. By creating innovative financial products and services, they have made it possible for everyday people, not just institutions, to participate in financial instruments that directly serve communities. It’s a win-win. You can lift people out of poverty through an investment that also earns a financial return. Currently, Calvert Foundation has nearly $200 million invested in 250 community organizations in all 50 states and over 100 countries.

Rahim Kanani: Describe a little bit about the founding and motivation behind the Calvert Foundation.

Lisa Hall: So many of us take for granted that we can get a loan for school, to start a business, or buy a car, if we need it. But the fact is there are millions of people, both in the U.S. and around the world, that are shut out of the financial system. And opportunity is hard to come by when you are shut out.

Calvert Foundation was officially founded about 16 years ago. Our founders Wayne Silby and John Guffey (who also founded the socially responsible mutual fund company Calvert Investments) surveyed investors about the desire to go deeper socially, to invest in nonprofits and organizations providing opportunity to underserved communities. The overwhelming response by these investors was yes! And so Calvert Foundation got its start.

We started with support from Calvert Investments, just a few dedicated investors, and grants from foundations, including the Ford, MacArthur, and Mott Foundations. We have over the years helped revolutionize the way money is raised to empower underserved communities. We make it possible for everyday people – not just very wealthy or institutional investors – to participate. Today, we are an independent non-profit with thousands of investors – both individual and institutional – investing anywhere from $20 to millions of dollars.

Rahim Kanani: As you survey the impact investing space today, where is the Calvert Foundation carving its niche?

Lisa Hall: We are the only retail impact investment option that can be purchased through brokerage accounts and that offers global diversity. From the perspective of financial advisors, our core product, the Community Investment Note, serves as a tool for differentiating themselves. Several of the thousands of advisors we work with have told us that bringing this unique offering to their clients has given them a competitive edge-and the chance for a deeper connection with their clients.

We were also instrumental in overcoming barriers to distribution. Brokerage firms were reluctant to offer products like our Community Investment Note because it doesn’t fit neatly into an existing financial product bucket. We’ve worked for years to break into conventional sales and distribution channels such as brokerage firms, and hope that our work will pave the way for similar products issued by others in the future. While we enjoy being unique, we value the growth of this industry even more. Our Note is available on the platforms of more than 400 broker dealers and is offered by more than 250 financial advisors throughout the U.S.

As for global diversity, our portfolio allows investors to support multiple social impact and geographic sectors through one investment, as opposed to focusing on just one region or issue area. We invest in affordable housing, community development, and job creation in the U.S., and micro-lending, financing for Fair Trade coffee co-ops, and sustainable agriculture projects internationally.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)