Social Finance

Announcing the 2014-2015 RSF Social Impact Fellows

December 19, 2014

RSF Social Finance is pleased to announce the 2014-2015 RSF Social Impact Fellows. This cohort marks RSF’s fifth year of the fellowship program, and the first year professionals have been invited to participate in addition to graduate students.

The Social Impact Fellowship is designed to support the development of the next generation of inspiring leaders in the social finance field. RSF also seeks to bring a fresh perspective to the organization’s business development activities.

Fellows will work closely with RSF’s Lending Team to identify prospective borrowers, conduct due diligence, and structure commercial loans that will become part of RSF’s $85 million Social Enterprise Lending portfolio. The Fellowship is an extension of RSF’s mission to build the field of social finance. Working with graduate students and professionals across disciplines and geographic areas not only allows RSF to build a network of advocates for the industry, it also spreads the work of social finance into places where the concept of values-aligned investing is still very nascent.

Twenty-seven fellows have completed the program since it began in 2010. Nearly half are now successfully working in the social finance field at organizations like Village Capital, Impact Assets, and OPIC.

“I know first-hand, this is an incredibly valuable experience,” said Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF. Danaher was a part of the first cohort of Fellows and now runs the program. “These fellows have the opportunity to identify and engage with pioneering entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of solving pressing social and environmental problems.”

2014-2015 Social Impact Fellows 
                                                                                                                                             

Lisa Fisher is the Founder and President of an independent consulting firm focused on cultivating vision, authenticity, and sustainability in individuals, organizations, and communities with an emphasis on social responsibility and social impact. For 17 years, Fisher has served nationally and internationally as a coach, a facilitator, and an educational, organizational, and development consultant for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and holds a Master of Arts in Teaching degree and a Master of Arts in Leadership and Organizational Development. She is currently completing a Master of Arts in Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Systems with a focus on catalytic philanthropy and social enterprise. Fisher is a certified yoga instructor, a former Junior Olympic alpine ski racer, and, most importantly, a mother. She loves to play in the glorious outdoors as often as possible.

 

Nakul Kadaba is currently a Project Associate at the Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund and helps manage their projects and other initiatives in South and Southeast Asia. He has experience in innovative finance, enterprise development, and poverty alleviation for several organizations. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from George Mason University and a Bachelor’s degree from The College of William and Mary. He is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is excited to add to the social finance conversation.

 

Sam.Kressler_Head Shot CroppedSam Kressler is the Executive Chef of Bom Dia Market, a neighborhood gourmet market in Noe Valley. Before joining Bom Dia, Sam ran Stir Consulting, a consulting agency that focused on menu and product development for hospitality and food businesses. Sam holds a culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute and a Masters in Food Systems from NYU. He is a founder of Slow Money NYC as well as a monthly happy hour that brings together Bay Area professionals across the sustainable food and agriculture industry.

 

Dave Hanold is a loan officer at NYBDC, a mission-based lender in New York State. Dave leads a team of community development lenders specializing in SBA loans of $25,000 and upward to businesses that are not eligible for traditional bank financing, with a recent focus on food and beverage producers. After graduating from Macalester College in 2009, he spent a year in the Americorps NCCC program, performing community service projects across the Midwest. When he’s not evaluating balance sheets, Dave’s probably at the climbing gym or playing soccer!

 

Stu Fram currently works at the High Meadows Fund, an environmental foundation in Vermont, where he supports the administration of the Fund’s mission spending budget. Prior to joining High Meadows, Stu received a BA in Human Ecology from Middlebury College, where he co-founded an organization that works to improve the amount of local and sustainable options available in the dining halls. While studying abroad in Madagascar, Stu received a grant to study local and institutional perceptions of integrated conservation and development projects in one of the country’s national parks. He resides in Burlington, VT.

Community Foundations Deploying All Resources to Build Community Wealth

November 24, 2014

The following preface was written by RSF President & CEO Don Shaffer for the Democracy Collaborative’s recent report, A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community Foundations Deploying All Resources to Build Community Wealth. The report highlights “The Innovative 30″ community foundations and their cutting edge work focused on deploying resources, in many cases not just grants, in support of rebuilding community wealth. RSF is particularly excited about this report as it ties in well with the ongoing work we are doing with pioneering community foundation leaders who are determined to align their individual foundations’ investments with their deep commitment to place.

community foundations

Preface

Many thanks to The Democracy Collaborative for this insightful paper. As so many of us push for innovation, it’s important we pause today to celebrate–as this paper does–the wide range of benefits that community foundations already generate.

Of many great quotes in the paper, one by Janet Topolsky from Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group brilliantly sums up the challenge: “A community foundation can do anything… But it has to decide what it wants to do.”

On the one hand, community foundations are nonprofit public charities with flexibility in their legal structures to create direct loan funds, loan guarantee pools, collaborations with community development financial institutions, and many other new approaches to working with different kinds of capital to meet the needs of local social enterprises. On the other hand, community foundations face many barriers in trying something new.

Yet, as this report shows, exciting innovation is already underway by community foundations, in both economic development and impact investing. Both are ways of moving toward the vital new anchor mission of deploying all resources to build community wealth.

The anchor institution work that The Democracy Collaborative has pioneered is a no-brainer for community foundations to embrace. Yes, it is resource-intensive and requires skillful partnering. But what is the alternative? It is a challenge community foundations will be wise to embrace.

Regarding impact investing, a massive cultural shift is still needed. There are very few foundation leaders who can say, as Clara Miller from the Heron Foundation does, “Our fundamental question for deployment of all capital will be, ‘what is the highest and best use of this asset for furthering our mission?'”

Short-term paper gains in a portfolio of public companies are just that–paper gains. They do not represent real wealth. The aspirational investment goal for community foundations is deploying 100 percent of assets for impact in their local communities. As this paper reports, Kelly Ryan and her board at Incourage Community Foundation in central Wisconsin are the first among community foundations to make this commitment. It will be exciting to watch as they move toward realizing this ambitious goal. At RSF Social Finance, our vision is of 100 community foundations reaching the 100 percent goal in the next decade.

I send my best to all of you taking on these worthy challenges.

Sincerely,

Don Shaffer

President & CEO, RSF Social Finance

Click here to read the full report.

Who Are the Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars? We’re Still Looking to Meet Them

November 12, 2014

RSF_SocentStarsLOGO-300dpi (2)Our campaign to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year is introducing RSF to hundreds of social enterprises striving for outsized impact—about 1,600 enterprises and referrers had checked out our campaign page by the end of October.

Why is this important? Most growing businesses face challenges raising capital at some stage in their development. But for social enterprises, which use the power of business to directly improve society and our environment, the funding obstacles tend to be tougher and more persistent. By definition, they upend the expectations of traditional investors, lenders, and donors. RSF provides the kind of flexible, mission-aligned capital that meets social enterprises’ needs—but they’re often operating in isolation and don’t know we exist.

So please keep spreading the word! The more #SocentStars posts there are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more social enterprises we can reach and assist. Here are a few post ideas:

Are you one of the next economy’s #SocentStars? @RSFSocFinance can fund your growth: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #socents

Every #socent needs a savvy funder. @RSFSocFinance has loan money for the next 25 #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Do you know any #SocentStars? @RSFSocFinance has loans for the next 25. Send them here: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #socent

Not sure who would be a good fit? We’re looking for more enterprises like these new RSF borrowers (also see details on the Social Enterprise Stars campaign page).

Liberty Source staff young woman stockLiberty Source

Liberty Source, a public benefit corporation and subsidiary of existing RSF borrower Digital Divide Data (DDD), employs military spouses in U.S.-based business process outsourcing work. Although founded just this summer, Liberty Source already employs over 90 people at Fort Monroe in Virginia. The more than 700,000 military spouses in the U.S. have a higher rate of post–high school education—80 percent—than the general population, but are four times as likely to be unemployed or underemployed because of frequent moves and the limited number of job opportunities near military bases.

“Without support from RSF, we would not have been able to get Liberty Source off the ground,” said Deborah Kops, Board Chair, Liberty Source and Board Member, DDD. “The RSF loan provided us the seed money to hire staff and buy equipment. Only a mission-aligned lender understands both the social impact and the imperative to operate a commercially viable company.”

Stefan Hartman - SK- Black River Organic FarmEastern Carolina Organics

Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) is a farmer- and employee-owned food hub distributing fresh, seasonal, organic produce to retailers, institutions, distributors, and restaurants across North Carolina. RSF provided a line of credit through our PRI Fund to help ECO bridge the time between payments to farmers and sales receipts from customers.

“Food hubs like ECO have the ability to connect producers with growing market demand, which holds incredible promise for positive impact on the local economy, social equity, and the environment,” says Kate Danaher, RSF Senior Lending Associate.

Know any loan candidates like these? Please send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

The Changing Ground of Social Finance

November 11, 2014

This CEO letter was originally published in the Fall 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Don Shaffer - DefaultDear Friends,

I urge you to check out Kiva Zip, a website facilitating interest-free loans to small businesses that are “doing good” in the U.S. and Kenya. It’s in the initial test phase, but they have already connected 32,000 individual lenders with 4,500 social entrepreneurs, and enabled over $4.3 million in loans.

As a lender, you can provide as little as $5 towards loans that will ultimately be from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on the project. 90% of the loans have been re-paid.

Kiva has been a pioneer in the field of crowdfunding for many years already; this is their most recent innovation. I love it for several reasons:

  1. These loans are as direct as it gets. Kiva, the non-profit parent organization, supports the overhead of Kiva Zip, and PayPal is contributing their payment processing services for free. So, at least in the U.S., every dollar you lend goes to the borrower.
  2. It seems that many of the loans are extraordinarily catalytic, enabling projects that would not happen otherwise.
  3. The community-building features are great, and will continue to develop. Kiva Zip requires U.S. borrowers to invite at least 15 people from their “trust network” to participate in the loan, thereby keeping the borrower more accountable to re-paying it. And the Kiva Zip Conversations option is particularly intriguing: it allows the lenders and borrowers to connect and learn more about each other.

Of course there is also the Maimonides factor. The 12th century Jewish scholar Maimonides (my-MON-i-deez) declared that the highest form of charity is providing an interest-free loan to a person in need, so long as that loan creates more freedom for the person. I feel strongly that we’ll see a lot more pay-it-forward, interest-free lending in the near future. As a staff, we have been studying the spirit of gift this year at RSF – it’s been a very fruitful journey so far, and I am curious to see where it leads us.

Relevant to our topic this quarter, I’ve learned that the fastest-growing category on Kiva Zip is agriculture; particularly loans to young farmers, for equipment and other needs where there is a big gap in the market. I have witnessed for many years that wherever there is emphasis on Place and Community, social entrepreneurs in the Food & Agriculture sector are the first to show up.

Another brilliant crowdfunding site called Community Sourced Capital was launched recently, based on a single question: what if financial systems were designed to strengthen communities?

Then there’s all the good work happening at Cutting Edge Capital, helping community-based businesses conduct Direct Public Offerings.

At RSF, as many of you know, we believe trust is derived from financial transactions that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships; and we want to celebrate all the efforts being made right now “to bring money back down to earth”, as my friend Woody Tasch from Slow Money is fond of saying. The field of social finance, as we imagine it, is growing.

All the best in this harvest season!

Don Shaffer

President & CEO

RSF Selected for the ImpactAssets 50 2014

November 6, 2014

IA 50 2014 badge_plainRSF has been selected for the ImpactAssets 50 2014, a free, online resource for impact investors and their advisors. The IA 50, now in its fourth year, is the first publically available database of private debt and equity impact investment fund managers.

This is the fourth consecutive year that RSF has been selected among other industry leaders for the IA 50, which serves as a gateway for those interested in achieving social and/or environmental, as well as financial, returns on their investments.

“We are thrilled to be selected on a recurring basis for the IA 50,” said Catherine Covington, Client Development Manager for RSF.  “This list is very beneficial to the impact investing industry, and I often refer individuals and institutions who are interested in learning more about specific investing options to the IA 50 website.”

The $100 million RSF Social Investment Fund (SIF) provides financing to over 90 businesses working in Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship. This capital comes primarily from 1,600 individuals who have invested $1,000 or more in SIF. Investors earn a competitive return on their money comparable to a certificate of deposit while their funds are deployed to leading social enterprises.

The IA 50 is the only free, public, searchable database of outstanding impact investing fund managers. The showcase includes a range of funds across the globe, spanning diverse issue areas and investment, with demonstrated and compelling social and environmental impact. Fund managers included in the IA 50 2014 manage a combined $15.5 billion in assets devoted to creating measurable, positive impact.

The IA 50 selection committee is chaired by ImpactAssets’ Chief Impact Strategist, Jed Emerson, and includes experts from The CAPROCK Group, Labrador Ventures, Toniic, UBS, and other leading impact investors. The IA 50 2014, along with additional details on the selection process, are available at: http://www.impactassets.org/impactassets-50/review-and-criteria.

About ImpactAssets

ImpactAssets is a nonprofit financial services firm that increases the flow of capital into investments that deliver financial, social, and environmental returns. ImpactAssets’ donor advised fund (“The Giving Fund”), impact investment notes, and field building initiatives enable philanthropists, other asset owners, and their wealth advisors to advance social or environmental change through investment.

Search for Social Enterprise Stars Off to Great Start

October 14, 2014

PrintOur Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars campaign is off to a great start—less than a month after our launch at the SOCAP14 conference, nearly 1,000 social enterprises and their referrers had visited our campaign page to check out borrower criteria and other details.

To recap, we’re looking to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year—and we need the help of everyone in our community to find them. We know there are exciting enterprises across the U.S. and Canada that could grow with our help, but they may not know about us—and we may not know about them.

Please keep spreading the word! The more #SocentStars posts there are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more social enterprises we can reach and assist. Here are a few post ideas:

How much social impact could your #socent have with $800K? @RSFSocFinance has loans for #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Pass it on: @RSFSocFinance is looking to fund the next 25 #SocentStars. Get details and #loan quals: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Growing a #socent & need capital? @RSFSocFinance has loans for the next 25 #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Not sure who would be a good fit? We’re looking for more enterprises like these new RSF borrowers (also see details on the Social Enterprise Stars campaign page).

facebookPACT Apparel

PACT, a Boulder, Colorado–based apparel company, makes supersoft organic cotton essentials that are ethically produced and easy on the environment. Here’s what they say about themselves: “We’re out to change the apparel industry and that change starts with your underwear. At PACT we care about our clothes so much that from seed to shelf, we pretty much follow them everywhere they go.”

RSF is providing a line of credit that allows PACT to build inventory to meet growing demand. It’s a natural fit: “PACT is more than just a sustainable brand,” says Mike Gabriel, RSF Lending Manager. “They are really fostering a community—suppliers, producers, intermediaries, and consumers—to accelerate change in the fashion industry.”

truckHummingbird Wholesale

Hummingbird Wholesale, a bulk food distributor based in Eugene, Oregon, delivers high-quality organic, local, and regional food crops to wholesale customers from Bellingham, Washington, to San Francisco. RSF financing allowed Hummingbird to purchase an environmentally friendly freight truck.

“Hummingbird exemplifies the type of organizations we look to support at RSF. It tries to make a positive impact in every aspect of its work—from ensuring local farmers are connected to markets to employing a zero-waste strategy,” says Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF.

Cocafa1Madécasse

Brooklyn-based Madécasse is the only company making high-quality, hand-wrapped chocolate and vanilla products in Africa from bean to bar. Unlike traditional chocolate manufacturing, which creates only minimal income for cocoa farmers, every process in Madécasse’s chocolate production happens in Madagascar. A line of credit from RSF allows Madécasse to finance inventory purchases and cover cash-flow gaps throughout the year.

“Companies like Madécasse take the concept of fair trade to another level,” says Danaher. “By turning raw materials into finished products in-country, they provide skilled jobs and economic opportunities to people who have few options.”

Know any loan candidates like these? Please send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

A History of RSF Social Finance

September 25, 2014

As part of our 30th anniversary we have pulled together a timeline of RSF’s history to celebrate our growth.

Originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly

1936 – The Rudolf Steiner Foundation is incorporated as a treasury for the Anthroposophical Society in America. The foundation remains small for nearly 50 years.

1983 – Siegfried Finser (a trustee of the Foundation) begins meeting with colleague, John Alexandra, to look for ways to work with money that are more consistent with the spiritual and social insights of Rudolf Steiner.

1984 – Mark Finser, Ann Stahl, and Philip Mees join S. Finser and Alexandra in the startup. Soon after, RSF receives a request for a loan from the Pine Hill Waldorf School in New Hampshire, which was destroyed by fire the previous year. When the request is made, the Foundation only has $6,000 cash in assets. The founding group reaches out to the community to fundraise, and the Rudolf Steiner Foundation makes its first loan commitment in the amount of $500,000.

RSF_30th_purpleRSF’s first offices are located in John Alexandra’s garage in Spring Valley, New York.

Total assets: $356,000
Loan Portfolio: $88,000
Investor Funds: $315,000
Client Accounts: 17

1985 – RSF begins making grants through its first Donor Advised Fund, made possible by the generosity of Mary T. Richards.

1989 – RSF reaches financial stability, operating income matches operating expenses for the first time.

Total assets: $5,067,000
Loan Portfolio: $2,893,000
Investor Funds: $3,563,000
Client Accounts: 264

1991 – Mark Finser is elected RSF’s first executive president and CEO.

1994 – RSF moves to its first entirely owned property in Harlemville, New York, with a small office still in Spring Valley.

Total assets: $9,022,000
Loan Portfolio: $4,458,000
Investor Funds: $5,060,000
Client Accounts: 445

1998 – RSF moves to the Presidio in San Francisco. This move is symbolic of a major change for the organization. At this point, RSF begins to expand its activities beyond anthroposophical initiatives and becomes more active in the world by standing for change in the way money and resources are viewed and utilized by humanity.

1999

Total assets: $30,608,000
Loan Portfolio: $14,253,000
Investor Funds: $12,568,000
Client Accounts: 535

2002 – RSF launches its first pilot for for-profit lending called the Fair Economy Fund. Early borrowers include Organic Bouquet and Bent Oak Farms.

2004

Total assets: $80,691,000
Loan Portfolio: $34,081,000
Investor Funds: $39,162,000
Client Accounts: 1010

P1000435

2005 – RSF rebrands as RSF Social Finance to be clearer about its position and work in the world of finance. RSF adopts “inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner” to keep the connection transparent.

RSF is among the first in the industry to launch mission-aligned Donor Advised Funds (DAF). With this new format, assets held in DAFs are invested for social and environmental benefit.

2007 – Don Shaffer joins as President & CEO; Mark Finser becomes Chairman of the Board. At that time, RSF’s assets have grown to $120,000,000.

2008 – The RSF Mezzanine Fund is launched. This is the first fund to provide mission-aligned financing (from accredited investors) for early-stage social enterprises.

2009 – RSF breaks from LIBOR as a benchmark for setting interest rates, and launches RSF Prime, a community-based model for determining interest rates. The first Quarterly Pricing Meeting – a community discussion to recommend rates – is held in September at RSF’s offices.

Total assets: $123,005,000
Loan Portfolio: $69,149,000
Investor Funds: $64,785,000
Client Accounts: 1228

2010 – In response to the indirect, opaque, impersonal and volatile nature of the stock market, RSF divests from all public equities and redirects capital to investments more closely aligned with its values.

The RSF Program Related Investing Fund (PRI) is launched. This fund serves the increasing number of private foundations interested in using program related investment to support charitable projects. The Fund focuses on the Food & Agriculture sector.

2011 – The first RSF Shared Gifting meeting is held. Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that gives grantees the power to decide how a pool of funds is allocated among participants. This model encourages collaboration instead of competition and is based on RSF’s Mid-States Shared Gifting Group.

In partnership with Leslie Christian of Portfolio 21 Investments, RSF publishes “A New Foundation for Portfolio Management” a white paper that challenges the traditional notions of portfolio theory and investment management. It is grounded in the understanding that economic growth cannot be infinite on a planet with finite natural resources.

2014 (Q1 2014 estimates)

Total assets: $162,998,000
Loan Portfolio: $74,769,000
Investor Funds: $99,704,000
Client Accounts: 1836

RSF Seeks the Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars

September 2, 2014

Socent logo

Today we’re excited to launch the Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars campaign to attract a new cohort of extraordinary borrowers.

We’re looking to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year—and we need the help of everyone in our community to find them. You’ll be hearing from us about our search and our newest borrowers here on this blog, on social media, at events, in our newsletter—everywhere.

We know there are exciting enterprises across the U.S. and Canada that could grow with our help, but they may not know about us—and we may not know about them. So we’re asking you—our investors, borrowers, advisors, partners and friends—to be our eyes and ears and send compelling candidates our way. You’ll be expanding your impact, and the enterprises you refer will benefit from working with a pioneering funder that has a true commitment to helping social enterprises succeed.

Why are we doing this now? Our assets have grown 39 percent over the last three years, as more and more investors are putting their money to work for social benefit. That means we’re able to lend to more social enterprises than ever.

Here’s what we’re looking for: established businesses and non-profit organizations that are doing groundbreaking work in food and agriculture, education and the arts, or ecological stewardship—and could significantly expand their impact with a loan of about $200,000 to $5 million. (Our average loan is $800,000.)

To receive a loan from RSF, an enterprise should have these qualifications:

  • A social benefit mission in one of RSF’s three focus areas: Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship
  • Incorporation in the U.S. or Canada
  • Strong collateral (which may include pledge or guarantee communities)
  • Excellent history of repayment (both interest and principal) on any existing debt
  • Funding needs ranging from $200,000 to $5 million ($100,000+ for arts organizations)
  • 3 or more years of operating history
  • Operational profit, or a clear path to profitability in 12 months
  • Annual revenue of $1 million or more ($500,000 for arts organizations)

Please send candidates that meet the criteria to our Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars page.

Thank you for helping to build the next economy! And please share news of our search through the social media you use—we’re using the hashtag #SocentStars.

Healing Through Financial Transaction

May 9, 2014

This CEO letter was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Dear Friends,

We’re so happy to be celebrating RSF’s 30th anniversary this year.  It is an honor and a privilege for me to be leading this amazing organization, having been here for just 22% of that time (since 2007).

Since 1984, we have made nearly $300 million in loans to social enterprises.  We have a 100% repayment rate (principal + interest) to our investors, and a 2% cumulative loss rate on our loan portfolio (which is extraordinarily low by any objective measure.)  We now have over 1,500 investors and $100 million in our flagship Social Investment Fund.

Additionally, we have facilitated over $100 million in grants, with the pace increasing to between $10-15 million per year recently.  We currently have a staff of 38 with a $6 million annual operating budget.

We are proud of our growth, but more important is our focus on potency, not scale.  We have worked extraordinarily hard to create a culture in which each relationship is sacred.  We want to shift the conventionally antagonistic power dynamic between provider-of-capital and receiver-of-capital.  This takes time and considerable effort.

I recently visited one of our borrowers in central Florida, called Uncle Matt’s.  As a 4th generation citrus grower, “Uncle Matt” McLean and his family make organic orange juice.   It’s super tasty, and it comes with a twist.

Today, there are over 600,000 acres of citrus groves in Florida—only 3,000 acres are certified organic.  Uncle Matt’s oversees the majority of this organic acreage.  About 15 years ago, they were told by scientists from the University of Florida that their groves would likely be in serious jeopardy due to what’s known as “citrus greening” – a bacteria that is steadily wiping out citrus fruit worldwide.  It turns out that the organic groves are much more resistant to the bacteria than conventional groves.  The scientists were wrong—they thought the genetically-modified, pesticide/herbicide regimes of the conventional growers would be more successful, and had told the McLean’s they were crazy.  Now these same scientists are visiting the McLean’s farms on a weekly basis in order to study exactly how their organic methods are working.  Currently, we are working to help the McLean family to purchase a 170-acre grove that is being threatened by housing development from nearby Orlando.  It’s possible the solution to the global “citrus greening” epidemic lies in the organic methods from this tiny plot of land, and could ultimately save millions of trees worldwide.

This is an example of our focus on potency.  We have been to the McLean groves twice in the short time we’ve had this loan—their previous bankers from Orlando had never visited the farms, only wanting to see the processing facilities.  We are trying to find investors for the land purchase, introducing them to biodynamic growers around the country, and connecting them to other organic food entrepreneurs in the RSF borrower community.

We believe we’re helping to create an energetic field where healing-through-financial-transactions is possible.  Our plan is to steadily expand our trust network over the next 30 years, one relationship at a time.  We look forward to engaging all of you in that process.

Warmly,

Don

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

The Poetry of Transformation

April 29, 2014

RSF_30th_purpleThis article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

by John Bloom

One beautiful aspect of transformation is the evolutionary element of continuity. Nature is alive with these mysterious metamorphic processes, from seed to leaf, from DNA to a human being. If one can accept that even in a world full of intentionally disruptive activities there is an underlying connective thread, then our task is not to react to “revolutionary” events as isolated, but rather to understand them instead as symptoms of this deeper process. In the grand scheme, one could call this the evolution of human consciousness, and there is poetry to its path—though not always an easy one. For example, what if we took the performance of the stock market as a barometric measure of the human spirit? What would that really say about us as individuals, our relationships, and the culture in which this investment marketplace is embedded? Even if I have no shares or investments, am I really separate from the stock market? And, how could I hold that thought if I really believe (and I do) that we are fully interdependent and interconnected?

It is not an accident that I chose the example of Wall Street. At RSF we often cite it as the antithesis of what we are trying to accomplish through our purpose of transforming the way the world works with money. What we call our theory of change—to make every transaction direct, transparent, personal, and based on long-term relationships—is actually our theory of transformation. We know that, no matter how active and thoughtful we are, we are not going to flip the human-institutional-behavior-money-transaction switch over night. We understand that each individual has to take him or herself through a process and practice. And we know there are more people who have come to this realization, and many more working to get there. From this perspective, our clients join us as a community of practice and as transformational activists/participants.

Given the challenge of gathering a thirty year perspective on the evolution of RSF Social Finance (and I have been honored to be part of RSF half that time), the question that arose for me was: How does an organization committed to transformation lead by example? This question, of course, brings one back to origin stories and historical data. This information is important, and RSF’s emergence in 1984 through the loan to the fire-destroyed Pine Hill Waldorf School is well storied. Many more stories have transpired over the last thirty years as a browse through our RSF Quarterly and Annual Report archives would show. Both inwardly and outwardly much has changed. We are now nearly forty staff, our loan portfolio is approximately 50/50 non-profit and for-profit and the character and quality of those loans have grown more complex. Where once Waldorf schools were our anchor borrowers they are now less than half. For an organization founded to further the work of those directly connected to Rudolf Steiner’s work, it could feel to some that we have not only changed, but also left anthroposophy behind. This is not at all the case. Many of our early clients assumed Waldorf schools defined that relationship, but we have now stepped far more fully into supporting the evolution of an associative economy—as Steiner imagined economic life should unfold—through such efforts as our quarterly pricing meetings.

Despite the allure of talking about all that we have accomplished, I find myself drawn to trace what I would consider the more character-based aspects of the organization—not so much what it has done, but rather who it is and what it stands for as an expression of its being. If one follows this thread of core values and practices, the steady evolution of a spiritually inspired financial organization, and specifically the inspiration of Rudolf Steiner’s work, becomes visible in a way that speaks of continuity—a kind of poetry of transformation.

There is a bit of the then and now in how I will approach this exploration. And, there will be some language that seems a bit esoteric as RSF was first and foremost a financial arm of the Anthroposophical Society in America, founded to further Rudolf Steiner’s work. In addition to this founding commitment there was a vision for working in a new way in finance and with money. Here is a selection from “The Foundation’s Ideals ” from the 1985 brochure:

To serve as an objective third party in transactions between donors, lenders [investors in current parlance], and receivers of financial resources. Interest in the intentions of others is its primary focus.

To foster:

  • A threefolding of social life that reflects the threefold organism of the human being
  • Increased understanding of the fundamental social law and its working in society
  • A spirit of determined cooperation in the financing of the work of the anthroposophical movement

[Steiners fundamental social law is, in abridged form: the degree to which we work to meet the needs of others, our needs will be met. Steiner was asking us to recognize the primacy of interest in the other over self-interest]

Fast forward to the present. Here are the first two of RSF’s current operating principles all of which were developed collaboratively by current staff, none of whom would likely have seen the original brochure. All twelve principles can be found on our website along with our purpose and values.

  • Transformation: We are committed to working with those who seek to transform their relationship to money and with those who seek to redefine the core assumptions of our economic and financial systems. We strive to lead by example.
  • Service: We co-create RSF Social Finance with our stakeholders – staff, board, investors, donors, borrowers, grantees, asset managers, partners, and friends. Through listening, we try to discern what is being called for next in a spirit of service. Long-term relationships are of primary importance. We place high value on intention.

I could do a detailed analysis between the earlier brochure statements and our current operating principles, but am hoping that the focus on intention, interest in our clients and the world, determined cooperation/co-creation, and a view of working with money as a tool for cultural change stand out immediately.

In researching this material, I found myself taken aback at how much significant outward change, growth and visibility could happen, and at the same time, how slowly and steadily RSF’s core being has evolved to becoming reflective of founding ideals, yet more linguistically true to those currently doing the work. It has also become accessible to an increasingly broad audience.

So how has RSF, an organization committed to transformation, continually transformed itself in a way that garners trust and engagement for public benefit? Such an organization listens thoughtfully and learns deeply through its interest in others. It holds that wisdom is held in the wider community rather than only by the organization itself. At the same time it reflects on what the world is asking, the opportunities it presents, and, in the spirit of inquiry, asks how its core principles can be practiced and developed through service. As an organization, RSF works at knowing itself while deepening its connections to its spiritual well-spring as a way to best prepare to be of service to the world.

Money and financial transactions are RSF’s tools. So we continue, thirty years later, to benefit from Rudolf Steiner’s insights, from the insights of RSF’s founders, and from the gifts of wisdom and resources from staff and clients, so that personal and organizational change invite and lead the cultural and financial system transformation needed for a regenerative future.

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Social Finance

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