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"Doing Good" While Making Money


01Feb 2010

There is an increasing emphasis on the inter-relatedness between the process of making money (whether through active business activities or through investments) and also having a positive impact on one’s community (either at the local, national or global level). The focus, along with developing opportunities, applies to individuals and families, small businesses, corporations, and family foundations.

Let me share with you some recent developments from a variety of social arenas, and also resources available, if you are interested in finding out more.

At the corporate and business level. This past week Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, shared her thoughts about the need for corporations to redefine what true profit is. She suggested that a company’s “real profit” is revenue, less costs of goods sold, less the costs to society. Ms. Nooyi stated, “companies can do well, long term, only if the socieities in which they operate also do well.”

Additionally, others like Dov Seidman [author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life)], propose that companies who behave ethically will also eventually outperform their competitors financially. For an introduction to his thoughts, see the February 8, 2010 article in Forbes entitled “Why Doing Good is Good for Business.”

At the individual and family level. Given the disappointment with the banking industry, their struggles with ethical behavior and seeming lack of interest in anything except pure financial return, individual investors are looking for alternatives. Recently, I was exposed to the concept of community development banks — whose mission is to not only provide a financial return for their investors but also to invest in their communities. They do this at multiple levels — providing small business loans to help businesses grow, being involved in microfinance lending for start-up entrepreneurs, investing in community projects such as Boys & Girls clubs, providing education and training for small business owners, giving loans for education, investing in the local educational systems; the list goes on. An excellent example and leader in this area is Southern Bancorp, who is having a dramatic impact in the Mississippi delta areas in Arkansas and Mississippi. [Note: you don’t have to live in the area to bank there. For example, we are moving our personal money market account from a national financial institution to Southern Bancorp — where we will earn market-rate (or better) interest while Southern will use the money in community development projects.]

From the family foundation and philanthropic perspective. For decades, family foundations and private foundations have emphasized aligning their financial investments with their values. This led to the development of “socially responsible investing” — not investing in companies whose business was not consistent with the family’s or institution’s values (for example, who made products related to military weapons, whose processes seriously damaged the environment, or were related to alcohol, tobacco or gambling).

Further developments have included mission-related and program-related investments — where the foundations proactively invest in companies who are aligned with the foundation’s mission (e.g. companies who are creating technologies applicable for developing countries, or companies developing charter schools). For an excellent introduction, see the publication “Mission Related Investing” published by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

A third wave has been the focus on social entrepreneurs — helping individuals who are both entrepreneurial (in the business sense) but who are also impacting their communities at the social level — through job creation, education and training, creating products using local renewable resources. I have had the prvilege of working with Charly and Lisa Kleissner and their family over the past nine years, as their family coach. Charly and Lisa have become leaders in the area of social entrepreneurship — and I have gotten to see, hear and learn from them in their work in this area. Go to www.socialimpact.com for great resources and to gain an understanding of social entrepreneurs. [I can’t give a sufficient introduction here — it is too big of a topic.]

Finally, a new area of “doing good” while making money is the arena of “Impact Investing”. Historically, foundations viewed socially-responsible investments in their investment portfolio, as an area where they would be willing to earn less (say 2% versus 5%) on their investments. However, there is a new movement among philanthropic investors who are demonstrating that socially-responsible investments (e.g. in long-term sustainable timber production) that not only have a positive social return but also can meet or exceed the financial returns compared to their investment allocation benchmarks.

Again, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, along with Lisa and Charly Kleissner, Raul Pomares and others, have produced a thorough introduction to the topic, entitled, “Solutions for Impact Investors“. Also, the Kleissner’s foundation website provides a great introduction to the topic. Go to www.klfelicitasfoundation.org and hit the button regarding their investment strategy.

I know I have thrown a lot of information and topics out there in this entry — but they are all inter-related and I wanted to give people starting points for investigating, exploring and learning about the new resources that are becoming available. (It feels sort of like doing the abridged version of all Shakespeare’s works in 30 minutes.)

Hopefully, I will be able to “circle back” and give a more in depth discussion of some of the areas. In the meantime, enjoy exploring!

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