Patrick Davis

Our Communities are Ours to Own: How Calvert Foundation is empowering small U.S. investors to strengthen their local cities through impact investments

Editor’s note: This post is part of our Domestic Financial Innovation series – click here to read other posts in the series.

To date, the impact investing movement has focused its attention on foundations, institutional investors and high net worth individuals – those who control the majority of wealth in the capital markets. This is an appropriate strategy to move money, but it will not change minds. The promise of impact investing is a universal reshaping of investor behavior regardless of wealth. Fundamentally, it’s a redefining of the purpose of investment from one that exclusively seeks financial value creation to one that intentionally creates social, environmental and financial value.

As humans living our lives, we do not run about solely worshipping money. Even those of us who are exceptionally motivated by profit are more dynamic than that. We are not monolithic – we have relationships and values that matter to us above all else. Unfortunately, we have inherited (and currently contribute to) an economic system that obscures, distorts and rejects this humanism. We need an economy that reflects our complexity as human beings, one that offers us the opportunity to express our values and hopes through the economic and financial choices that we make.

It is incumbent upon all of us who are committed to social change to consider our role in shaping this economy. Ponder this: On an annual basis, total philanthropy and charitable giving – in many ways the lifeblood of social advocacy work – amount to less than 1/100th of total investable wealth. There is a reality here that we must acknowledge. Without designing a new economic framework that puts investment to work for social and environmental benefit, we will not move the needle. Ever. So how do we design a system that works for us, that looks like us, that serves us?

Big question. Spoiler alert: I don’t have the answer. But I do have a couple of hunches. One: We need to tap into our inherent human sense of agency and desire to participate. We all want to be a part of something – and building an economy that works for all of us is a great undertaking. We need to create opportunities for everyone to be a part of a new economic paradigm. Two: We must acknowledge the inability of even the most well-intentioned power elites to be the primary and exclusive problem solvers. Instead, our goal should be radical inclusion. In tackling a challenge that impacts all of us (like the current state of the economy, income and wealth disproportion, inequitable access to economic opportunity, etc.) diversity is our greatest strength.

Here’s my best take at putting those two – participation and inclusion – together. Ours To Own is a growing movement of people investing as little as $20 to strengthen the communities they live in and love. My colleagues and I at Calvert Social Investment Foundation began developing this concept almost two years ago. Last year, we went on a listening tour in several iconic cities across America, to understand both the opportunities to deploy investment capital for social purpose and the willingness of residents to participate in these investments. We spoke to community advocates, public officials, experts in philanthropy, community development practitioners, financial advisors, civic sector leaders and many other people we met along the way. When we emerged from our research, we convened a workshop in our first city, Minneapolis/St.Paul, to collectively build the brand and values for the movement in partnership with a diverse group of people from the community. We did not create the movement in a vacuum. Ours To Own was born from that collaborative process.

(Above: The Ours To Own movement in Minneapolis/St.Paul)

Today, we are working to ensure that this movement is of and for the people in each place that it reaches. In the Twin Cities, a place that has become increasingly diverse over the past few decades, we heard the call to support women-, minority- and veteran-owned small businesses that have been unable to access traditional investment from banks. In Denver, our movement is responding to the implications of the city’s transit expansion, and we are investing to preserve real estate for community use in transitional neighborhoods. Each place is different, with different opportunities and challenges, but one thing is consistent: The desire of local residents to have a stake in shaping the future.

We are in the process of building community engagement tables in each city, responsible for informing the direction of the movement locally. These tables include people from the communities that are the focal points of our movement, communities that have been economically disenfranchised in the past. We are seeking investment not just for these communities, but also from these communities. The power in our movement is the opportunity to reframe and reclaim the concept of “the investor” in an inclusive way that challenges all of us to invest ourselves and our assets in the future we hope to achieve.

We have a long way to go, but we are bolstered by the growing sense that we have many allies ready and willing to be a part of this journey. You can learn more about the movement, sign up for updates, invest, and find out when Ours To Own is coming to your city here:

Patrick Davis is a senior officer on the Strategic Initiatives team at Calvert Foundation.

Impact Assessment, Investing
impact investing, impact measurement