Social Investment Fund

An Innovative Approach to Financing

June 7, 2013

by Kate Danaher

 

Normally, when a values-driven non-profit social enterprise needs a large influx of capital to purchase property and expand its operations, it has three options: wait to raise all of the necessary funds from donors and foundations; approach a conventional lender, often a trying and unsuccessful process; or, seek funding from both sources, a time-consuming and also challenging process.

Common Market logoLast year, when Common Market Philadelphia, needed to expand their operations, RSF was able to assist them with an innovative combination of both debt financing and philanthropic support. This unique approach provided Common Market with the financing they needed in just a matter of months, financing they could not have received from a conventional lender.

In December of 2012, RSF Social Finance provided a $1 million mortgage loan to enable Common Market Philadelphia to purchase a 73,000 square-foot facility, now called the “Philly Good Food Lab.” The RSF lending team and Common Market’s founders worked closely together to secure the loan. Considering Common Market’s size, making a loan of this magnitude required an innovative approach including a combination of grants, guarantees, and debt financing—what we call an integrated capital approach.

When Tatiana Garcia-Granados and her husband, Haile Johnston, moved to North Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in 2002, they found themselves in a fresh-food desert. The couple started working to bring a farmers market to the neighborhood and discovered a much bigger problem. “It wasn’t just neighborhoods like ours that didn’t have a link to the farmers right around us; it was also hospitals, universities, and schools,” says Garcia-Granados. Working with other local farm and food advocates, including Bob Pierson of Farm to City, they created Common Market in 2008 to forge a distribution link between threatened farms and fresh food-deprived urban communities.

Since then, the venture has grown rapidly. In 2012, Common Market supplied over 150 customers—institutions such as schools, hospitals, retailers, restaurants, and buying clubs—with produce, dairy, and meat from about 75 sustainably run regional farms.

And that market is only continuing to flourish. Last year, Common Market’s limited facilities became the greatest bottleneck to future growth. As they expanded their product line, and more institutions requested their services, Common Market had to turn down sales opportunities due to lack of storage and packaging capacity. The path became clear. Common Market had to move to a larger space and they needed to do it quickly.

This growth in business has also driven growth in the diversity of the community ready to stand behind Common Market’s success. To secure the loan, Common Market called upon well-established relationships with organizations such as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Claneil Foundation, and the 11th Hour Project to procure over $350,000 in pledge contributions in conjunction with a $100,000 RSF Donor Advised Fund grant. Additionally, the Common Market community came together to make $35,000 in individual guarantees through the RSF Social Investment Fund.

This collective effort accomplished two very important goals. From a financial perspective, it made the loan possible. The grant funding strengthened the credit and made for a sound financial transaction. Equally important, at a social level, the deal built and reinforced important long-term relationships.

“Trading in a modest rent bill for a million dollar mortgage is a huge leap,” says Ted Levinson, RSF’s Director of Lending.  “The guarantee community and the multi-year commitments from foundations convinced us that Common Market was up to the task.”

RSF’s relationship with Common Market actually began in 2010. At that time Common Market had ready suppliers and buyers; the big challenge was cash flow—institutions are used to paying in 60-100 days but supporting farmers requires a shorter payment cycle, typically 15-30 days.

“As we grew we realized we were facing a huge cash flow gap. That’s where RSF came in,” says Garcia-Granados.

RSF provided a $130,000 line of credit through the RSF PRI Fund.  At the time, the Program Related Investing Fund (PRI) was a perfect match by providing low-interest loans to social enterprises not quite ready for long-term debt financing. A year later, as the organization grew its revenue and increased its stability, RSF was able to increase the line of credit to as much as $350,000 through the Social Enterprise Lending program. To date, RSF has extended this credit line into a third year.

While the demand for Common Market’s mission-driven services is strong, the capital to support their efforts was hard to come by. This is a familiar problem for social enterprises, particularly those working for a more just and sustainable food system. Oftentimes, whether for-or non-profit, organizations acting as aggregators and distributors of sustainable, local food are new with limited revenue and access to capital.

Conventional lenders and equity investors rarely take the slow growth approach to helping these businesses succeed. These companies often get their start with personal funds and the support of community, friends, and family. But, when it comes to really making a larger impact, scrappy bootstrap methods only go so far. This is where social finance comes in. Organizations need substantial financial support in order to scale. And they need it from foundations and lending institutions who understand the value of positive impacts in addition to financial return.

At RSF, we pride ourselves on supporting game-changing social innovators, like Tatiana and Haile, who don’t meet the standard expectations of traditional finance.  We have established a track record for this through debt—with steady, incremental payments—and close working relationships with our borrowers. The integrated capital approach pushes our model one step further; it allows us to offer a mixture of traditional debt financing and philanthropic funding for an organization’s growth needs—all in support of its important transformative mission.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2013 RSF Quarterly

Kate Danaher is Senior Lending Associate at RSF Social Finance.

What Funders of Social Enterprises Want

June 5, 2013

Don Shaffer - Default

Originally published by Sustainable Industries

by Don Shaffer

Interest in social enterprises is growing—and believe it or not (some entrepreneurs may have their doubts), so is the pool of capital available to them.

The broad field of impact investing—which involves directing capital to enterprises that are doing good, rather than simply screening out companies that have strong negative effects—is projected to grow by a billion dollars this year. Impact investors surveyed for a J.P. Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) report released in January said they plan to commit $9 billion to impact investing in 2013, up from $8 billion in 2012.

Of course, much of that money will go to larger, more established businesses, not to emerging social enterprises. But RSF Social Finance does finance social enterprises that need growth capital—and our investment funds mirror the broader trend. RSF’s main investment vehicle, the Social Investment Fund (SIF), grew 20 percent in 2012, to $90.5 million.

In addition to a larger pool of capital, several other trends are creating opportunities for social entrepreneurs:

  • There’s a growing focus on developing social entrepreneurs through the use of accelerators and technical assistance groups. Some examples are Village Capital, Ashoka Fellowships, and Hub Ventures.
  • Investors are looking at alternative forms of investing, including royalty payments.
  • There’s increased interest in investing regionally, specifically in the United States.

What are investors looking for?

Many of the investment organizations funding social enterprises specialize in particular niches, or work on a few key focus areas at a time. If you’re seeking capital, your first stop should be a funder that specializes in your area—they’re more likely to understand the business opportunity, and can plug you into a valuable network.  For example, one of RSF’s current focus areas is the creation, support and expansion of decentralized, regional food processing and distribution operations, because they contribute to strong local economies by providing markets for small and midsize farmers, helping with the logistics of aggregating food from multiple suppliers across a region, and serving as market creators by connecting producers with local food buyers.  We’re also seeking to build relationships with impact-making borrowers in our other two focus areas: ecological stewardship, and education and the arts.

What qualifies as a social enterprise?

Every funder has their own criteria, but ability to demonstrate impact and capacity to run a successful business will probably always be top of the list. RSF defines a social enterprise as a for-profit or non-profit venture in which the economic activity is a means toward creating significant social or ecological impact. We vet borrowers for:

  • Social and ecological impact for public benefit: Is the organization’s economic activity a means toward directly solving or alleviating society’s greatest challenges in our focus areas?
  • Advocacy for change: Is the organization an advocate for or does it demonstrate social change in its field? Does the organization hold itself accountable and is leadership committed to the social mission?
  • Capacity to accomplish the mission: Does the organization have the capacity to tackle the problem? Do its activities have the potential for scale?
  • Commitment to financial and operational sustainability: Is management committed to and capable of growing a profitable or self-sustaining independent enterprise? Could RSF’s involvement be catalytic? Does the business meet high standards for workplace and environmental practices?
  • Community building: Is the organization building a community committed to its success?

If you have an enterprise that meets those criteria and needs a finance partner to reach the next level, please get in touch. If you’re not there yet, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources available to social enterprises. There’s never been a better time to be a social entrepreneur.

Don Shaffer is President & CEO of RSF Social Finance, as well as an alumni speaker at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum.

Safe, Ethical, and Transparent Fashion

May 23, 2013

RSF borrower Indigenous has been pioneering fair trade fashion for years, and the recent tragedy in Bangladesh shows how much their work is needed. Indigenous is now offering to share its transparency and labor practices with the rest of the fashion industry, and urging consumers to demand ethical fashion.

Here’s a taste of what Scott Leonard, Indigenous CEO and co-founder, has to say about the current situation and what’s possible:

“Many fashion industry executives claim full transparency is too hard to accomplish, too elusive, too big to get their arms around. At Indigenous we believe they are not trying hard enough, and they are not using the right tools. This Fall every INDIGENOUS garment will include a QR code on its hang tag. This code launches our ‘Fair Trace Tool’ application. The Fair Trace Tool shares the story of the artisans who make our clothing, information about our supply chain and social impact survey data.”

Read Scott’s full blog post here

As he says, “No one should have to suffer and die to produce the clothes we wear.”

RecycleForce Keeps Electronic Waste Out of Landfills and Ex-Felons Out of Prison

May 21, 2013

Building the Next Economy

Since 2006, Indianapolis-based RecycleForce has paid over $10 million in wages and employed 650 ex-felons to recycle over 20 million pounds of electronic waste. RecycleForce, a non-profit social enterprise, has a dual mission: to help people coming out of prison successfully transition back into civil society, and to keep as much electronic waste as possible out of Indiana’s landfills.

RecycleForce deconstructs electronic waste and other recyclables provided by residents and corporate partners, separates the reusable materials, and disposes of the waste safely and cleanly. The scrap metals and other recyclables collected are sold to help pay for job training programs and employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated men and women.

INSPIRATION

The day he laid off 150 men was Gregg Keesling’s last straw—and the genesis of RecycleForce. For several years Keesling had been running a staffing agency that employed ex-felons. By having the staffing agency be liable for the employees, he was able to get his clients a foot in the door, but finding them steady employment was a struggle. When he lost a big contract because the manufacturer decided to outsource to China, and then had to make those painful layoffs, Keesling decided he’d had enough: “I no longer wanted to be at the mercy of someone who just wanted to make money and throw these people away.”

With his business partner, Tom Gray, Keesling set out to found an operation that would offer steady employment for the ex-felons he was committed to helping re-enter society. He was in the midst of failing negotiations on a prospective opportunity when he stumbled upon a literal gold mine. “The owner of the building we were meeting in took us down to his basement and asked us if we could do something with all of his junk,” Keesling recalls. This “junk,” which filled a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, floor to ceiling, was the remains of a computer refurbishing business. “It turns out there was more gold in a ton of that junk than in 55 tons of ore from the ground.”

Recycleforce de-manufacturing a TVINNOVATION

When RecycleForce opened in 2005, employing a marginalized workforce by recycling what most viewed as trash was unexplored territory. Keesling and Gray, building on the foundation of their newfound goldmine, created a new system of working with ex-offenders that would support them in their re-entry and prepare them to succeed in the workforce.

Ex-offenders face a myriad of challenges upon release. They often have no home to return to, no job prospects, and no job skills. When they do find a job, they have to fit work hours around court requirements like drug testing or counseling, and most employers aren’t flexible enough to accommodate that. “They’re faced with tough decisions: go to work or go back to prison,” says Keesling. “It’s a catch-22.”

Minor parole violations, like missing a court appearance or not paying child support, are the primary reason people go back to jail. RecycleForce addresses this issue with a comprehensive program allowing ex-felons to earn a living while complying with strict supervision. Participants receive six months of transitional employment with on-the-job training, plus additional services focused on job skills, character development, and personal counseling.

RecycleForce sources its “trash” through contracts with city and state agencies, public drop-off locations for toxic waste, collection events with local business and churches, and reverse logistics—products that are returned or never make it off retailers’ shelves.

IMPACT

In the fall of 2010, RSF provided crucial financing for RecycleForce to purchase an industrial shredder, affectionately known as “the Beast.” That investment has improved productivity, dramatically increased the amount of material RecycleForce is able to recycle (6.3 million pounds in 2012 versus 3 million pounds in 2010), and opened up new markets. But it almost didn’t happen. “We went to bank after bank after bank,” Keesling says. “RSF offered us a loan when no one else was interested or able to understand our model.”

The Beast is a massive piece of equipment, measuring around 60 feet high by 120 feet long. It allows RecycleForce to disassemble electronics that can’t be broken down by hand. Once the large electronics are shredded, a heavy-duty magnet removes the metals and staff “pickers” sort through the remains, separating the materials they then sell for recycling: copper, aluminum, plastic, steel and precious metals such as gold.

“When you toss out electronics you might as well be throwing away money,” notes Keesling. Electronic waste contains many valuable materials, and countries that don’t have much of them or can’t mine them are eager to purchase the millions of pounds of materials Americans get rid of every year. RecycleForce generates over $50,000 per month in sales of gold and other precious metals.

The Beast has equipped RecycleForce to divert millions of tons of electronic waste from the landfill. The organization quickly surpassed its goal of 600,000 pounds of processed materials per month; its new goal is 1 million pounds per month. That’s an immense positive environmental impact, and RecycleForce is achieving remarkable social benefits as well. The recidivism rate in Marion County, where RecycleForce is based, is 52 percent in the first year following prison release. RecycleForce’s goal is to cut that to 25 percent for the ex-offenders who go through its program, and it’s on track to do much better than that. For the current cohort of 250 ex-offenders, the recidivism rate when results are tabulated in later next year is expected to be well under 20 percent.

“We embrace a labor force on which the rest of the country has turned their backs,” Keesling says. “Without effective support, we can’t expect folks with limited job skills to feed their families and overcome a host of mandates that challenge their ability to improve themselves.”

VITALS

Company name RecycleForce
Impact Area Education & the Arts, Ecological Stewardship
RSF Relationship Social Enterprise Lending Program
HQ Indianapolis, IN
Annual Revenue $3.5 million
U.S. Employees 250+
Communities Served Marion County, IN (employment opportunities); U.S. (recycling services)

Easter in the Investment Conference Room

March 28, 2013

At this time last year, RSF investor Rosemary Feerick, brought her two sons to our office to open their very own Social Investment Fund accounts. Later, she decided to share the story of her experience that day.

This essay was originally published in the Harvest Time newsletter.

by Rosemary Feerick

When we arrived at RSF Social Finance, Ellie, the receptionist, asked if we wanted a cup of tea.  It was the day after Easter, a day off from school for my sons.  I told the boys that we were going to San  Francisco to invest some of their college savings.

On the way to the city, we stopped at our credit union and withdrew money from a savings account I had set up for my eight year old son Ian. I gave Ian the check to hold in the car. He studied the piece of paper carefully. When we got to RSF Social Finance, he was still holding the check with care.

“I would like a cup of darjeeling, please,” Ian responded to the receptionist’s question.

“Darjeeling. Hmm. Let’s go see if we have some,” she offered, leading us into the kitchen.

Mark Herrera, RSF’s Client Development manager met us there. As Ian and Ellie focused on tea, Mark showed the composter to my 11 year old Roddy and explained what biodynamic sugar is. “These are some of the products made by the companies supported by the fund in which you’ll be investing,” Mark explained.

Next, he led us upstairs to the conference room overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. We felt very important.

In the conference room, Mark gave the boys samples of organic cookies. Together they read the ingredients, all of which actually sounded like food. Then, Mark told the boys about a company that employs people who are newly released from prison. Next, he described with excitement a sustainable fishery in Alaska that is allowing the Eskimo people to keep their way of life. “These are more of the companies the fund you are investing in supports.” The boys nodded.

Mark then sat down with Roddy and Ian and explained the mechanics of the investment, making sure they understood how it worked and what the rate of financial return would be. Together they did the math to figure out what that translated to in terms of the boys’ investments.

Rose Feerick & Sons

Rose with her sons Ian and Roddy.

When Mark was satisfied that Roddy and Ian understood what they were getting into, he had them each fill out an application and sign it. Their accounts were officially open.

On one level, this exchange felt like no big deal; it seemed like how making an investment should work. But as I watched, another part of me wanted to celebrate. I was aware that what I was witnessing was the result of years of my searching for a different way with money.

Twenty years ago, I received a gift of love that came in the form of a financial portfolio. At the time, I understood little of how investments worked. But as I learned about the mutual funds in my portfolio, I realized that I was invested in companies whose products and ways of doing business offended my conscience. I searched for other models of investing and discovered socially responsible mutual funds.

Initially, I felt good about moving my money into those funds. But as I read through the prospectuses and annual reports, I soon realized that in spite of a variety of social screens I was still invested in companies whose products I would not buy. The socially responsible mutual funds I had in my portfolio felt to me like the lesser of two evils.

A few years later, I was attending a conference on Sabbath Economics when Rob Baird of Progressive Investments (now Portfolio 21) got up to speak about investing. He did not have any fancy visuals, but as he spoke, I felt as if fireworks were going off. Listening to Rob, I saw for the first time a way that investments could do something good in the world.

Up until then, I felt I had to hold on to some of my investments in order to care for my family. But I felt horribly conflicted about doing so because it felt that my money was sitting inside of a global economic system that is causing harm. As Rob spoke about different models of investing, a door to a whole new world opened for me. I started to search for investments that could do good.

I learned about investing in microcredit; in affordable housing mutual funds; in community development banks; fair trade companies; and social investment funds. I worked with Andy Loving, an advisor who shares my faith and began to move some of my money into those kinds of investments. When the financial statements came each month, I noticed how differently I felt opening the ones that came from investments I had chosen. Instead of feeling guilty, I felt excited. It felt like a privilege to participate in the work of fair trade companies and local organic farms.

Shifting to alternative economic models required that I let go of the possibility of a high financial return. Having been raised to believe that receiving a high financial return was “good stewardship,” that was hard at first. Didn’t I have a responsibility to seek high returns for myself and for my children?

But as I learned about the impact many corporations are having on the ecosystem and the human family, I came to believe that that definition of good stewardship was inadequate. Good stewardship, for me, needed to take into account the world that I am passing on to my children as well as the money that will eventually change hands. I wanted any investments that I participated in to be part of creating a world full of life.

On one level, my visit to RSF Social Finance to invest a portion of my children’s college savings on Easter Monday was simply the next step in my process of shifting the investments I manage into such vehicles. But that day in the conference room I felt as if something else was happening too. There was something there that felt holy.

As a mother, I feel a responsibility to form my children in Easter hope. I try to do that by modeling and letting my children know about ways of living that respond to the crises of this historical moment with alternatives that bring life. My children will inherit this world. For me, it is not enough to bring them to church. I feel I also need to show them how to discern where God is moving in the world and teach them how to participate in that.

That is what it felt like was happening that day at RSF. In the conference room, I sensed that my boys and I were participating in a way of investing money that brings life to everyone it touches. In addition, Mark’s taking the time to teach the boys about how their investment would affect others was powerful. It was as if he understood that giving children life-giving possibilities when it comes to money is a radical investment in the future.

As I witnessed the exchange, I felt a sense of awe and gratitude. I felt a Holy Presence with us as we sipped tea, ate cookies, and filled out investment account forms on Easter Monday.

Revolution Foods and Oakland School for the Arts Working Together

January 9, 2013

It’s heartening to see RSF borrowers supporting one another. The San Francisco Chronicle recently published this article about Oakland School for the Arts and Revolution Foods working together to offer healthier school lunches. In addition, Revolution Foods has nabbed a major contract with the San Francisco Unified School District. Congrats to Rev Foods and bon appétit to students!

By Jill Tucker

Ajna Singh, 12, nibbled on the cheese enchilada with a side of rice served in the Oakland School for the Arts cafeteria, using fingers instead of a fork.

In between bites and balancing the meal’s recyclable tray in one hand, she said she liked the school food, which included rice, packaged grapes, milk, dinner rolls and a self-serve tray of broccoli.

“It’s especially better than my mom’s cooking,” Ajna said. “I’m appreciative.”

photo courtesy Revolution Foods

Not all of the sixth-grader’s classmates at the Oakland charter school were as enamored with the offerings, provided by Oakland’s Revolution Foods, with one seventh-grader describing the meals as “like, nasty.”

The indiscriminate tastes of preteens notwithstanding, the Oakland students are getting what many parents and school officials across the country consider the top-shelf version of school lunches.

Revolution Foods never serves reheated tater tots, greasy pizza or mystery meat. The meals are prepared by chefs using local ingredients, no high-fructose corn syrup, and nothing is ever fried or frozen. They are in the hands of students 24 hours after coming out of the oven.

Starting Monday, those fresh meals will be in San Francisco schools.

While Revolution Foods has been around since 2006, few large school districts have signed up, despite parental pleas for higher quality cafeteria food, because of the higher cost.

But over the last few years, Revolution has been among the fastest-growing urban companies, with production centers in California, Colorado, Texas and the East Coast, serving more than 200,000 meals every day to children in private, public and nonprofit school programs.

Cost savings came with the growth, allowing Revolution Foods to compete for bigger contracts, going up against national school lunch providers offering frozen meals shipped to school sites all over the country.

The company, created by two moms as part of a business school project, nabbed its biggest client yet in December, when it beat out bigger companies to get a $9 million contract with San Francisco Unified.

“We’re really excited,” said co-founder Kristin Groos Richmond. “I feel like it’s such an honor for us.”

Adding workers

In less than a month, Revolution has had to prepare for serving 33,000 meals to 114 schools in San Francisco and has added 40 workers to the Oakland site, bringing the company’s total to 965 employees nationwide.

In addition, the company often uses local suppliers, including meat from Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora and rice from family-owned Massa Organics in the Chico area.

To meet the increasing demand, Revolution Foods has shifts going 24 hours a day, prepping, cooking, refrigerating and packaging the meals.

“There are so many school organizations out there who want good food for kids,” Richmond said.

Richmond started the company with UC Berkeley classmate Kirsten Tobey, creating the equivalent of a high-tech Silicon Valley startup in the food industry.

At the time, small, parent-driven movements were kicking soda and junk food out of schools, and Berkeley chef Alice Waters was making sure that children knew what kale looked like through school garden programs.

Richmond was pregnant at the time, and she was advised to wait to kick off such an ambitious endeavor.

She refused to listen.

“I remember thinking at the time, no way,” she said. “This is the right time for this movement in the country.”

The company has had some growing pains in recent years, including tangles with labor unions in New Orleans.

The new contract in San Francisco will require working closely with union cafeteria workers who will reheat and serve the food. School board members reiterated their support for the union workers before unanimously approving the Revolution Foods contract.

Cost increase

Despite the concerns raised by labor organizations, district officials and parents celebrated the new contract, which will cost $1.95 per lunch, up from $1.79 charged by the previous provider, Preferred Meal Systems. The 18-month contract caps the costs at $9 million annually.

Students not eligible for free or reduced-price meals will be charged $3 for lunch and $1.50 for breakfast.

District officials hope that more students will buy the meals, helping to offset the higher costs.

At Oakland School for the Arts, which serves about 50 Revolution Foods lunches each day, several students are willing to pay the $4.50 the school charges.

Sure, some of the veggies – squash, beans and carrots – are sometimes a hard sell, said Kai Johnson, who monitors the cafeteria during lunch.

“It’s just like at home, when you’re sitting at the table saying ‘eat your vegetables,’ ” she said. But with Revolution Foods, “it’s not an option. They’re going to eat healthy no matter what.”

This article was originally published by Jill Tucker at sfgate.com and is republished with permission of the author.

Impact Investing for All

December 4, 2012

Earlier this year, Mark Finser, RSF Board Chair, had a lively conversation with Chris Mann, Guayaki CEO, and Matt Reynolds, Indigenous Designs President. Matt and Chris were energized about the RSF pricing meeting in which they had just participated and were enthused by the community spirit. They started asking several questions including: How can RSF borrowers better acknowledge their relationship with RSF? In what ways can the borrowers cross-promote their brands and support one another? How can the borrowers leverage their communities to raise more awareness about RSF and the Social Investment Fund, which allows individuals to make a return on their investment while providing loan funds to phenomenal social enterprises?

Chris and Matt’s spirited energy is something we always see following the RSF quarterly pricing meetings and community receptions.

There’s no question that RSF’s pricing meetings are unique. The three stakeholder groups in the RSF Social Investment Fund—investors, borrowers and RSF staff—come together to discuss the interest rate for the upcoming calendar quarter. As far as we know, this process is unprecedented in the world of financial services. What bank is out there asking investors what rate they should receive or inquiring of borrowers what a fair loan rate would be? But, it’s not just the discussion of price that makes the pricing meetings so revolutionary. It’s what happens during the meetings while the participants are sharing their needs and motivations. It’s the stories they tell about what led them to become an RSF investor or, as a borrower, what the RSF loan has allowed their social enterprise to accomplish. It’s community building around financial transactions. Through our expanding and engaged community, amplified by the impact of our borrowers, we’re building the next economy—one that considers everyone’s needs and restores trust in financial relationships.

After several discussions and brainstorms following up on Mark, Chris, and Matt’s enthusiastic conversation, we launched a Facebook campaign: Impact Investing for All. Along with Guayaki and Indigenous Designs, we’ve been joined by additional RSF borrowers: gDiapers, Happy Family, Late July, Mary’s Gone Crackers, and Nutiva.

Impact Investing for All highlights the RSF Social Investment Fund (SIF), in which anyone can become an impact investor with a minimum of $1000. All of the money in SIF is loaned to path-breaking social enterprises. If you open an account, you know where your money is working while you receive a financial return! (And, you’ll be invited to participate in the quarterly pricing meetings.) For the duration of the campaign, the borrowers will be promoting each other and highlighting this incredible community of social enterprises.

These participating social enterprises are passionate, inspiring, dedicated, and making a world of difference. We are honored to have them as part of our borrower community and we are all lucky to have such committed, mission-driven businesses in the marketplace.

Wondering if you should participate in the Impact Investing for All campaign by opening an SIF account?

Are you a mom or dad in love with the Happy Family lines which offer delicious and nutritious food for your kids? Or, are you a gMum or gDad, committed to your baby’s comfort and a healthier environment by going with disposable gDiapers?

Perhaps you’re gluten free and can’t get enough of Mary’s Gone Crackers? Or are superfoods your thing and Nutiva products a dietary staple? Do you appreciate delicious organic snacks and reach for Late July when you need a treat?

Maybe you’re a Guayaki yerba mate aficionado (we have a few on staff!)?

Is fair trade fashion a passion and Indigenous Designs a trusted purveyor?

Or are there other borrowers in our community you know and love?

If you’re interested in participating in building the next economy and know that direct, transparent and personal transactions are necessary for a resilient financial system, become an investor at RSF. All of the participating borrowers have offered generous discounts, so we have gift packages for those who open a Social Investment Fund account before Dec 31, 2012. The gift includes a $50 Indigenous Designs gift card, a $25 Happy Family basket, and much more! The gifts are limited – get yours today!

To learn more about the participating borrowers, check out the campaign page: here

To open an account, contact Mark Herrera at Mark.Herrera@RSFsocialfinance.org or 415.561.6160.

 

Building the Next Economy

October 8, 2012

You’ve probably heard of the “new economy,” which often refers to social media, sharing-based businesses, and sometimes socially responsible businesses. RSF Social Finance is working to build the next economy: one that’s rooted in community, considers everyone’s needs, and restores trust in financial relationships through transactions that are direct, transparent and personal.

Through our innovative investing, lending, and giving programs, RSF provides critical access to capital for path-breaking social enterprises working in Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship. We collaborate with like-minded organizations to create a financial infrastructure that will support the next economy. And we’ve democratized impact investing with our Social Investment Fund (SIF), which allows anyone with a $1,000 minimum investment to participate in building the next economy.

This is incredibly ambitious. We’re asking you to help spread the word as we promote our “building the next economy” stories on our website, Facebook, Twitter (#nexteconomy) and elsewhere. We’re focusing on these points:

  • RSF provides critical access to capital for path-breaking social enterprises.
  • RSF collaborates with like-minded organizations to create a financial infrastructure for the next economy.
  • RSF has democratized impact investing with the Social Investment Fund, which allows anyone with a $1,000 minimum investment to participate in building the next economy. More information on opening an account: here

Read our latest borrower stories on the Reimagine Money Blog:

Guayakí Pioneers Market-Driven Restoration

Common Market Boosts Urban Access to Fresh Food, Helps Local Farms Thrive

Indigenous Sets Out to Remake the Apparel Industry

B Lab Seeds a Movement Toward a New Kind of Corporation

Strong Vision Helps Pine Hill Waldorf School Persevere and Lead

RecycleForce Keeps Electronic Waste Out of Landfills and Ex-Felons Out of Prison

 

Strong Vision Helps Pine Hill Waldorf School Persevere and Lead

September 24, 2012

Building the Next Economy

Fire is a defining element for Pine Hill Waldorf School—as both metaphor and history. In a sense that’s true for RSF as well.

The old New Hampshire farmhouse the school had occupied since shortly after its founding in 1972 burned to the ground in 1983. Determined to rebuild, the school formed a fundraising team. Among those they approached was Siegfried Finser, who at that moment was reviving the Rudolf Steiner Foundation (now RSF Social Finance) as a social investment vehicle.

“Our situation ignited the rebirth of RSF,” says Arthur Auer, then a Pine Hill teacher and now director of the Antioch Waldorf Teacher Training program, located during the summer on Pine Hill grounds. “Forces and people coalesced and created a comprehensive school master plan and one of the most striking examples of Waldorf school architecture in the U.S.”

INSPIRATION

“I saw an education for children where their whole beings were tended to and cared for—bodies, minds, spirits—and people coming together who all wanted that,” recalls Sherry Jennings, who has been a Pine Hill teacher from the beginning. “I was very inspired to tend that flame.”

She notes that Pine Hill was at the forefront of a surge of interest in Waldorf schools, which numbered only about a dozen at the time, most of them started in the 1940s. “Parents were looking for a new kind of school community, where they could be part of it and have connections with other adults who shared similar values.”

A similar “hunger” arising again today gives the school fresh inspiration, she says. “We’re coming full circle, in a way. I see that parents are really longing for deep connections.”

INNOVATION

That intense parent connection to the school was an important aspect of an innovative $1.1 million rebuilding package that included $500,000 in pledge loans and loan guarantees through the newly minted RSF and an innovative parent bond program. To spread costs, parents of new students were required to purchase a $1,000 bond that could be redeemed upon graduation; at that point many opted to donate their bond to the school, producing an ongoing asset-building stream.

With Pine Hill as a model, RSF has continued to support Waldorf schools, not only by providing capital but also by helping them to build communities willing to commit financial and other resources to a project’s success.

At Pine Hill, the school community also was integral to designing the new building. The architect interviewed teachers, friends, parents and children, and the children drew pictures of what they thought the building should look like. The result was a building that appears to emerge from the land itself.

“We wanted the building to arise out of a sense of place in the forest, on that granite hilltop,” Auer says, “and we wanted it to be not just environmentally friendly but also to fit into the environment. Its main gesture is a big heart of an auditorium in the center and two classroom wings embracing the children as they stream into the building.”

The auditorium was completed several years later in a second building phase, and unbelievably, a second fire struck as the last coat of finish on the stage was drying. It destroyed the auditorium and damaged both classroom wings. Insurance covered the cost of rebuilding, but “that fire was extremely painful,” says Auer. “That building was built with love by a whole team of parents.”

Now Pine Hill is building again, and again with help from RSF. The Children’s Village, an early childhood education center that fulfills the school’s master plan, is taking shape next to a biodynamic community farm. “We’re really excited about The Children’s Village,” says Jennings. “This is a space where we can protect and honor the needs of the really young child. We’re also doing publicly accessible parent education, which is a way to contribute to the whole community.”

Pine Hill child care center

IMPACT

“Without RSF we would not have been able to develop as full a master plan and model school,” says Auer, adding that the impact is not just local: The Children’s Village speaks to other Waldorf schools about the value of establishing their own early childhood education centers.

“One could become very anxious about taking such a risk in a recession,” Auer says. “But I think The Children’s Village is the right decision, to have the courage to go outward and serve the community. Others might say this is not the time to do it, but we are not doubting. Having gone through two fires has proven that Pine Hill has a strong body of life forces. I always have had confidence that those forces will prevail and bring us through to another new phase.”

VITALS

Organization name Pine Hill Waldorf School
Impact area Education & the Arts
RSF relationship Loan recipient, RSF investor
HQ Wilton, New Hampshire
Annual budget About $2 million
Employees 20+
Students 180 children, 125 teacher trainees (summer campus)
Communities served Local area and Waldorf education nationally

 

Common Market Boosts Urban Access to Fresh Food, Helps Local Farms Thrive

September 6, 2012

Building the Next Economy

When Tatiana Garcia-Granados and her husband, Haile Johnston, moved to North Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in 2002, they found themselves in a fresh-food desert.

“Most of our neighbors were getting their food from corner stores. You walk into these stores and there’ll be all these different flavors of potato chips and Twinkies, but no fruits or vegetables,” says Garcia-Granados. The couple started working to bring a farmers market to the neighborhood and discovered a much bigger problem. “It wasn’t just neighborhoods like ours that didn’t have a link to the farmers right around us; it was also hospitals, universities and schools.”

Working with other local farm and food advocates, they created Common Market in 2008 to forge a distribution link between threatened farms and fresh food-deprived urban communities. Today, with a crucial assist from the RSF PRI Fund, Common Market supplies about 200 customers—institutional kitchens, retailers, restaurants and buying clubs—with produce, dairy and meat from about 100 sustainably run regional farms.

INSPIRATION

“Fifty years ago there were deep connections between the farmland right around Philadelphia and city residents,” notes Garcia-Granados. “With the rise of global commodity agriculture, that has changed—we’re more likely to find peaches from California than peaches from New Jersey.”

“When we started planning this, the distribution void was not on people’s radar,” she says. “We got blank looks when we talked about what we were working on. People didn’t realize this was a problem.”

What drove them forward was making the connection between health problems in the city and the loss of farmland. “We were seeing the health disparities that exist in our neighborhood and realizing what a huge role food plays in people’s lives and their ability to pursue opportunity. And every time we went to Lancaster County we would see more farmland being turned into housing developments.”

INNOVATION

Common Market’s key insight—the big step forward in solving the farm-to-city problem—was the value of cultivating institutional customers.

“With the amount of food an institution like a hospital is purchasing, we could have an immediate impact on the farms,” says Garcia-Granados. “We also targeted institutions that serve a cross-section of the population. That allows us to reach people who didn’t already have access to fresh food through farmers’ markets and high-end retail.”

Common Market had ready suppliers and buyers; the big challenge was cash flow—institutions are used to paying in 60-100 days. “But supporting farmers requires paying them quickly, as close to 15 days as possible,” says Garcia-Granados. “As we grew we realized we were facing a huge cash flow gap. That’s where RSF came in.”

The founders made the rounds of commercial banks and state and municipal development lenders, “but no one understood our business model or the sustainable agriculture piece and why what we were doing was meaningful,” says Garcia-Granados. “Common Market is a nonprofit social enterprise—it runs like a business but will invest any profits in expanding access to markets for farmers and to fresh food for urban communities. “The people at RSF were the only ones who understood.”

In 2010 RSF provided a $150,000 credit line (it’s now $350,000) through the RSF PRI Fund, which supports non-profit and for-profit social enterprises addressing key issues in food production, food access, value-added processing, distribution, retail and waste management.

“We had the customers and the infrastructure, but it was that access capital that allowed us to increase our sales and have an impact,” says Garcia-Granados.

IMPACT

Common Market nearly doubled its sales from 2010 to 2011 and its customers include more than 50 public and charter schools in Philadelphia and New Jersey. That’s a key audience given the enterprise’s big goal: changing what people eat and how they get their food.

Achieving that goal will require many more Common Markets, and the enterprise increasingly serves as a model. “Every other week we get a call from an enterprise or development agency,” says Garcia-Granados. “We share our business plan and feasibility study widely and invite people to come see our operation.”

The benefits accrue widely, she says. “For our farmers it’s giving them the ability to differentiate their product and take it out of the global commodity chain. For entrepreneurs, it’s allowing them to serve and sell local produce. For people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to local produce, it’s changing the food they are eating.”

VITALS

Company name Common Market Philadelphia
Impact area Food & Agriculture
RSF relationship PRI Fund
HQ Philadelphia
Revenue $1.6 million in 2012 (projected)
Employees 12
Community served Delaware Valley (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware)


 

Social Investment Fund

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