A Celebration of Giving – Part II
Sep 11 2014
As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that are bringing associative economic principles into daily practice.
Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers who saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, have become part of our destiny.
A Prophetic Gift
Voices of the prophets have been heard in most cultures throughout human history. They are traditionally seen as harbingers if not agents of change. In 2002, RSF received a prophetic gift from an anonymous donor that would eventually transform the way we work with lending.
Prior to this gift, RSF was making loans solely to non-profit organizations. At that time, the field of social finance was nascent and there were few models for how to work with money in alignment with social and environmental values. Through dialogue with RSF’s community of clients and partners, the idea emerged to expand our work to begin lending to mission-aligned for-profit businesses.
However, RSF’s ability to lend relies on the investments we receive from the RSF community. Because most of our individual investors don’t have the risk tolerance necessary to experiment with lending to an emerging field of borrowers, RSF was not able to experiment with this idea without a source of capital beyond the Social Investment Fund.
Fortunately, one of RSF’s donors was inspired by the idea and decided to make a gift of $2.5M to guarantee loans to mission-aligned for-profit businesses, thereby allowing RSF to gain experience lending in this new way. This initiative was called the Fair Economies Program.
The Fair Economies Program provided financing to businesses in emerging industries that were environmentally restorative while providing fair working wages, humane working conditions, and supporting self-determination in economic development. An additional goal was to support these social enterprises in underserved regions.
The program was developed both to provide early-stage socially responsible enterprises access to low-cost capital, and to demonstrate that enterprises created for social and environmental benefit could be sustainable and provide value to the communities they served.
Through this program RSF was able to contribute to the growth of many successful businesses such as Organic Bouquet, Indigenous Designs, and Root Capital.
Another gift RSF received was experience—both the experience of lending to organizations in fields that we previously hadn’t worked in, and of using new and different types of financing. The Fair Economies Program provided bridge loans, term loans, convertible loans, purchase order financing loans, and working capital loans, most of which had not previously been provided by RSF. We also gained experience working in sustainable agriculture, independent media, and fair trade, whereas our previous experience was mostly working with Waldorf Schools and other organizations inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner.
Additionally, through our dealing with projects in need of early stage financing, RSF provided necessary technical assistance and client attention while supporting some of the companies through challenging situations. While not all of the projects funded by the Fair Economies Program were successful, the lessons RSF learned from it were documented, reflected upon, shared, and eventually fed back into our operations, thereby making RSF a more knowledgeable and experienced lending partner to mission-aligned, for-profit businesses .
The donor and the gift that facilitated the creation of the Fair Economies Program inspired and ultimately provided the experience necessary to create our for-profit lending program as it is today – standing at 50% of our social enterprise lending portfolio. For this we are very grateful.
Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance