Healing Through Financial Transaction
May 9, 2014
This CEO letter was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.
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.
Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance