Thursday, June 10, 2010

Profit with a purpose

Posted By on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Now that the economy is beginning to rebound, will the business sector incorporate the lessons they've learned — or will things revert back to conniving for profits at all costs? For all of our sakes, let's hope things don't return to path that led to the Great Recession.

Some folks, and I'm included, are looking for new types of investments. We're looking for ways to invest that will benefit our communities as well as our retirement funds. We're looking to help finance the green economy and help people like Sherane Berkeley buy her first home ...

From the moment she arrived in the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago in 1994, Sherane Berkeley dreamed of owning her own home. But as a single parent with a young son, it wouldn’t be easy. A lousy credit score and little sense of how to go about getting a loan meant Berkeley needed help before making any move. Fed up with her inner-city neighborhood in Washington, D.C., she set out to get it.

In 2004, at a weekly class held by Manna, a D.C.-based group that lifts low-income families onto the property ladder, advisors helped Berkeley budget her money, polish her credit score and learn the steps to owning a home. And when a modern brick-and-siding home renovated by Manna came onto the market in 2007, they offered her favorable terms to buy it.

“Friends say, ‘You don’t come out anymore,’” says Berkeley, 39. “I say, ‘No, I have a home now. I love it.’ The Caribbean Blue in my bathroom reminds me of back home.” Berkeley—and the hundreds of others helped by Manna—isn’t alone in profiting from the organization’s work. Equally gratified are its investors. One of Manna’s lenders since 2003, the Maryland-based Calvert Foundation, which sets out to blend social impact with financial return through its $200 million fund of investments, has few regrets about its wager on affordable housing. Scores of successful ventures in more than 100 countries allow the foundation to pay its backers, from individuals to large institutions, up to 3 percent interest while boosting poorer communities.

It’s “an opportunity to know my investment is [going] toward those things I care about more,” says Anderson Allen, a 48-year-old office worker in Durham, North Carolina, who placed a portion of his retirement savings with the foundation in 2008. “It’s unambiguously positive for the people trying to make it. I’m writing to friends and family saying, ‘This is something to consider.’”

Financial returns should not be an investor’s sole measure of success, though. Social and environmental change might once have been the preserve of the charitable sector, but the opportunities for investors to blend good causes with good returns are growing. And for those same individuals comes an additional responsibility. Before picking a retirement plan or signing up for a mortgage, ask yourself where any return will come from and what will have gone into it. “Money can only be earned if there’s real value creation,” cautions Blom. “And that only happens in the real economy.”

Read the rest of this Ode Magazine article, by Adam Smith, here.

Tom Croft, author of Up From Wall Street: A Responsible Investment Alternative, discusses how responsible investing can generate positive social, economic, and environmental benefits — and financial returns:

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