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Impact Investing and micro loans

Written by Scott Goodwin Thomas Level 20

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There are several ways to achieve real impact and make a real difference as it relates to social issues you value.  One of the ways is through creating a small micro loan a.k.a. micro finance.  This could be done through various organization's such as Rotary, Kiva, Calvert Foundation, Opportunity International, World Vision and many others.  Small loans at low interest and accountable community have shown to make a huge impact in both developing countries and developed countries.  I was given an opportunity through my local Rotary club to partner with another club in the Philippines and along with that a process and people on the street that would mentor and guide 5 young mothers to earn money sewing instead of their current state of slavery.  It was a feel good investment on the part of several business owners to invest a small but meaningful way.  We knew that the feet on the ground would be their for these women and others locally would be supportive to see it through.

Kiva is an online community and you can seek out people online but rarely get the feedback and confidence that having others you know are doing the follow up work and have a highly successful process. Kiva has the ability to get others engaged into a project you may be heading up and wonderful way to utilize the technology and get greater support. Micro lending could be several individuals putting in only $25 each and it will change a family's life and their ability to get capital and provide for themselves.  Grameen Bank story is amazing and I high recommend to you if you like these ideas to learn more about it. Getting access to capital in developing countries is more than a struggle.  Rates changed to borrow funds are off the charts and create slavery.  It would not be uncommon to find an opportunistic lender in a village charging 50% to borrow $25 for a week or 100% for two weeks.

Another way to get involved may be if you or your organization would like to invest into CDFI or Community Development Finance Institutions as their are about 500+ of these in the United States and growing.  Most of these are to help provide housing for low income.  Banking institutions also invest into these CDFI programs as part of diversified investment strategy as well as being a good neighbor. There are mutual funds and foundations that invest into several of these perhaps hundreds of these.  It is possible if you look for either community notes or mutual funds that invest your money into community notes and impact.  One of the big advantages of a package of community notes is professional risk assessment and diversification. This is not about getting the best returns rather it is about the good and the impact and it should manage risks so the funds are there in the future and keep growing and providing opportunities for at risk groups. There are several Credit Unions across the country that are active in making a big impact.

A friend of mine has invested into a community loan fund as part of the way he sees a proactive way to fight current and future crime.  He goes on to explain it as give others a fair opportunity to learn and live and not be taken advantage of due to education or financial status.  Over the past few years he tells me that his returns in this bucket is better than his stock market investments. He is quick to point out that when interest rates were much higher that his CDFI or impact investments were earning less than the bank and market buckets.

Eventually, you will hear more about this area as more institutions are engaging into these investments. According to 2010 report from Social Investment Forum there were over $41 billion in Community Development Finance Institutional funding. And only 5 years earlier the numbers were less than half.  Would it not be a wonderful thing to find risk managed buckets addressing various social needs and still providing returns to investors and doing good while doing well?

Comment   |  Feb 03, 2012 from Maitland, FL