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A New Year’s Greeting: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Dear Friends,

While it is hard to believe that 2019 has come to a close, there is something magically rounded about decade numbers like 2020, so welcome to the new year, and know that we are most grateful that you are with us. Before we get too far into 2020, we would like to share a few highlights from 2019.

Reflecting on our Journey

Last year marked some important milestones for RSF: the 35th year since RSF Social Finance made its first loan, and 21 years since RSF moved to the Presidio in San Francisco. In the fall, we celebrated ten years of our Community Pricing Gatherings, which bring together Social Investment Fund investors, borrowers, and RSF staff to make the Fund’s interest rate recommendation for the upcoming quarter. This radical process changes people’s perception of how money actually works in the community. It is our hope that in the new decade other organizations will adopt this practice.

Building the Field of Social Finance

As part of our commitment to effecting change in the field and inspiring action, in 2019, our Integrated Capital Institute (ICI) welcomed its third cohort of 28 Fellows–there are also 46 alums from the previous cohorts. This program is working to advance a movement of financial activists who are committed to developing collaborative solutions to social and environmental problems and creating an economy that is rooted in generosity and inclusive by design. In the words of Katheryn Gilje, executive director of Ceres Trust, and a Fellow in the second ICI cohort, “The ICI fellowship is catalyzing system change. The power of the effort is in the collective, and the ICI reinforces interdependence.”

Empowering Mission-Driven Social Enterprises

As another expression of changing the whole conversation around money and advancing systems change, 2019 brought an increased focus on “mission-first” business structures. Rather than perpetuate a system that is shareholder-centric, we are seeking to collaborate with social enterprises that support stakeholder primacy. These companies anchor their structure, ownership, and governance so that profit can serve both the mission and all stakeholders. This direction is an extension of our 2018 work with Organically Grown Company (OGC) when it restructured as a perpetual purpose trust in order to scale the business and transition its founders without “selling out.” With our loan, OGC was able to buy back all outstanding shares from its stockholders and then transfer them to the trust, which will hold 100% of ownership rights. This structure will allow OGC to grow its mission now and in the future, and will ensure that the company can never be sold.

RSF is collaborating with Purpose Foundation to make these alternative structures accessible for businesses that want to grow without sacrificing their vision, mission, values, and ownership. In October 2019, we published a report, “State of Alternative Ownership in the U.S.: Emerging Trends in Steward Ownership and Alternative Financing.” This report indicates the demand for alternatives to traditional business structures, and the growing interest of enterprises who want to transition their own companies to this structure.

RSF continues to provide funding to support social enterprises that are working to create long-term social and ecological benefits in the areas of food and agriculture, education and the arts, and climate and environment. One such social enterprise that joined the RSF community in 2019 was All Good Products, a woman-owned, California-based organic skin- and sun-care company that makes reef-friendly sunscreens, lotions, and lip balms from responsibly-sourced, natural and botanical ingredients, including some grown on their farm. All Good is a vocal advocate for reef-safe sunscreens (most sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone that are toxic to coral reefs and marine ecosystems.) The company has been instrumental in rallying industry support and advocating for legislation that protects reefs and bans these chemicals. As a certified B Corp and 1% for the Planet member, All Good embraces a business philosophy measures success through environmental, social, and economic health, which led it to seek out a mission-aligned lending partner in RSF.

Engaging Our Community

In 2019, we hosted or co-hosted numerous gatherings. These provided an opportunity to share incredible stories about and among the investors, donors, social entrepreneurs, Fellows, and allies with whom we have been privileged to work- all making incredible contributions to a more just, compassionate, and regenerative economy. We also increased the number of webinars we offer, and most recently hosted Bias as a Barrier to Wisdom and an overview of A Decade of Learnings from our Shared Gifting Grantmaking Model, with more planned for 2020.

We hope this letter has given you a sense of the depth and range of our work. With your participation and support, we are now prepared to recognize and meet an even wider range of opportunities and needs and to clients for whom capital has not historically been accessible, especially where there is a connection between community, climate, and regenerative economies. We move forward into the new decade with a deeper commitment to economic empowerment and social justice. In addition, we are working toward change in our own practices that invites diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We close this letter with heartfelt thanks to our community, best wishes for the year, and gratitude for your commitment.

In Community,

Jasper J. van Brakel. Chief Executive Officer
Ron Alston, Board Chair

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