April 29

Scott Anderson / Kyle Poplin / James Militzer

Roundup: Chicago’s $100M Impact Test, World Bank Relevance Check – And Defending ‘White Savior Barbie’

Something big happened in Chicago this week that mixes retail investors, impact investors, mission-based ventures and community development. Just how big? $100 million big. But implications for impact investing could travel well outside the city limits.

I’m talking about Benefit Chicago, a new project announced on Monday by the Chicago Community Trust, MacArthur Foundation and Calvert Foundation to funnel $100 million in impact investments to nonprofits and social enterprises in the Windy City. The ideal ventures that could receive loans work in education and child care, healthy food access, affordable housing, energy conservation, and job creation and training, among other areas.

The mechanics are structured like so:

Interested investors can purchase what are called Chicago-targeted Community Investment Notes, and get in as low as $20 and up to $1,000. The Calvert Foundation plans to issue up to $50 million of these fixed-income securities, which mature in anywhere from one to 15 years, with annual interest payouts. The Chicago Community Trust has committed to invest $15 million in a 15-year Chicago-targeted note, using a portion of “donor-advised funds” that it manages. Meanwhile, the MacArthur Foundation is investing $50 million of its own assets in this new special-purpose fund to make “low-cost” social sector loans, although no specific interest rates for the firms/nonprofits were mentioned in the initial announcement. The Chicago Community Trust will head up an advisory committee to review the investments.

According to The Chicago Tribune the interest on the notes will “range from 1 percent for a one-year investment to 4 percent annually for 15 years, the maximum term. But the investment won’t be liquid so investors won’t be able to trade these securities on open markets or cash them in early.”

The paper reported that the money should be flowing to businesses and nonprofits by fall.

“We’re excited for Chicago,” MacArthur President Julia Stasch told the Tribune, “but also because we think that what the three of us have brought together is a universal idea. That is, a model other cities can emulate to turbocharge their social impact investing.”

Another great aspect of the project, writes Inside Philanthropy, is “how well the different collaborators fit together to make Benefit Chicago happen. You have MacArthur bringing the deep pockets and experience in impact investing; CCT bringing the donor-advised funds as well as its vast knowledge of Chicago nonprofits; and the Calvert Foundation, which is creating the financing tool. Very clever.”

It certainly seems clever to us. We hope to take a closer look soon, to see if this model can be exported internationally.

Scott Anderson


World Bank Relevance Reading

Foreign Policy this week ran a long and eminently readable story, “Is Jim Kim Destroying the World Bank – or Saving it From Itself?,” which delves into what role the World Bank should play in the 21st century as fewer countries need its help.

Written by Andrew Rice, the article is among the most extensive assessments of how Kim, who took over leadership of the bank in 2012, is acting upon some fairly radical ideas to keep it relevant: “He has redirected large portions of the bank’s resources – it issued $56 billion in loans and other forms of financing last year – toward goals that fall outside of the institution’s traditional mandate: stemming climate change, stopping Ebola, addressing the conditions driving the Syrian exodus.” A key Kim quote: “We … bought into this notion that development is something that happens after the humanitarian crisis is over. I am here to tell you that we are no longer thinking that way.”

World Bank traditionalists, Rice writes, see this as “mission creep” and maintain that “despite its name and capital, the bank can’t be expected to solve all the world’s humanitarian problems.”

It all serves to frame a debate beyond the World Bank, about the true meaning of “humane” development.

– Kyle Poplin


In Defense of ‘White Savior Barbie’

As a cynical member of Generation X, I’m usually delighted to poke fun at the pretensions of millennials (or at least to read articles about them online). But something about the Internet’s latest exercise in hipster baiting doesn’t sit well with me. Since it’s graduation weekend at our local university, among others – and since this particular critique involves emerging countries – I’d like to draw your attention to White Savior Barbie.

If you’re not familiar with this latest installment in the ever-popular series of Barbie-related memes, White Savior Barbie is the star of a satirical Instagram account lampooning the self-centered cluelessness of young Western volunteers in Africa.

The account features Barbie dolls Photoshopped into different developing world settings, with captions like:

“Trying to squeeze my third two-hour coffee break into my hectic schedule. … Can you believe they have coffee here?!?”

“The people living in the country of Africa are some of the MOST beautiful humans I have ever laid eyes on … her figure is kept flawless because she is in a constant state of malnutrition.”

“I will never view my rights the same way after hauling my own water today. This is the reality of so many poor Africans. I even broke a heel!

The anonymous makers of the account describe themselves as former “white saviors” who drew from their own experiences volunteering in Africa. Quoted in a Huffington Post article after their parody went viral, they say they’re ridiculing “the attitude that Africa needs to be saved from itself, by Westerners. … It’s such a simplified way to view an entire continent.” The roots of their critique go back to an influential essay and series of tweets by Nigerian-American author Teju Cole, in which he coined the term “White Savior Industrial Complex,” which he summed up thusly:



But while Cole makes some good points about the contradictions of Westerners offering charity to individual Africans without disrupting the “patterns of power” that keep their countries poor, the snark that punctuates his article – and that White Savior Barbie elevates to an art form – seems like a rather cheap shot. While there are no doubt plenty of shallow and obnoxious people, both young and old, working in global development, broad attempts to parody their attitude or denigrate their impact raise a bigger question: What exactly is the “right way” for an idealistic young person to try to make a difference in the world?

  • Should they only volunteer abroad if their motives are entirely selfless? That seems like an awfully high standard to hold any person to, regardless of their age.
  • Should they avoid “imposing themselves on Africa” until their governments no longer wield economic or military power over poorer countries, as Cole suggests? That’s likely to be a long wait.
  • Should they ensure that they’re impeccably well-informed about the country they’re visiting, and fully trained in the work they’ll do, before they go? This is often their first experience abroad, and part of the reason they’re going is to learn these things.
  • Should they only value their work if it has a measurable impact on the poor? There are plenty of established charities and social enterprises that can’t make that claim.
  • Should they avoid sharing their experiences with their social networks – or only mention them after expunging any sense of pride or fulfillment in their work? These are millennials we’re talking about, having what may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The fact is, young people are often hilariously self-absorbed: It’s part of growing up. And in many if not most cases, doing development work abroad serves as a valuable stepping stone in this process. So in a sense, the experience really is “all about them.” Regardless of how cluelessly they behave, or how little they accomplish, these young volunteers often come home with a new understanding of the challenges of poverty, a new sense of humility and gratitude for their privileges, and a lifelong commitment to continue to help. So what if they take some selfies along the way?

– James Militzer


Photo: A sample from the barbiesavior Instagram account.


Education, Investing
impact investing