Despite low unemployment, strong economic growth and a booming stock market in recent years, countless communities across the country are still struggling. Many continue to face underperforming and often underfunded schools, inadequate housing, limited public services, and constrained economic opportunity. These disparities are often driven by inadequate access to the capital that communities across the country need to grow and thrive.
It is with these struggles in mind that an increasing number of investors—big and small—are discovering opportunities to not only generate a financial return but to also intentionally drive capital to contribute to the greater good.
Impact investing is an investment approach that seeks both positive financial returns and social returns, allowing investors to employ their dollars in projects that measurably address societal issues. It enables investors to target their investing to address needs they care about, including those of communities that have been overlooked.
What started out as a niche offering, largely practiced by foundations and the philanthropic community, has grown into a mainstream investment strategy employed by individual clients and institutional investors across capital markets.
Today, we see numerous companies and a wide range of investors aligning the pursuit of profit with purposeful social impact. In 2017 an estimated $228.1 billion was invested in impact-investment strategies, up more than 20-fold since 2014, according to the Global Impact Investing Network.
From our early work on addressing these issues, it is clear that, to make real progress, this work will require a wide variety of partners and actors. And that is why we, a CEO of a foundation and a CIO of a global, Fortune 50 company, are both so excited by the growth of the impact-investing movement.
Through the work the Case Foundation is doing alongside a growing alliance of partners, such as Prudential Financial PRU, +0.86% , we have seen strong signals that demonstrate this approach is taking root. And the core values of the impact investing movement are being embraced by both businesses and their employees.
According to the most recent Prudential American Workers Survey, 74% of workers say they want businesses to invest in the communities in which they operate and 82% say investments should provide a financial return while also creating a positive impact. More and more we are seeing companies make long-term, transformative investments focused on creating measurable, positive change within the communities in which they do business.
Whole Foods’ AMZN, +1.24% local producer loan program is one such example. The grocery chain is putting its money where its mouth is, providing up to $25 million in low-interest loans to independent farmers and food artisans in the communities in which they operate.
Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Communities is another example. Earlier this year, the health system announced an impact investing commitment of up to $200 million to address housing stability in targeted communities.
We have seen investments that make a real impact on the lives of people every day. Impact investing’s social and financial returns are a catalyst for creating positive change, whether it is the launch of companies like MyStrongHome that helps families better prepare their homes to withstand disasters; the Brain Trust Accelerator Fund that deploys capital to fill gaps in the development of promising therapies for brain disease; National Geographic committing $50 million of their endowment to impact investing to align with their focus on science, exploration, education; or the world’s first blue bond issued by the Republic of Seychelles to help the country transition to sustainable fisheries and safeguard oceans.
Consumers are asserting their power to express their personal values through the products and services they purchase and looking for those that embrace this ethos. The survey, mentioned above, also shows impact investments can drive added value through consumer loyalty — 83% of workers would prefer to buy products or services from a business that creates a positive impact on the community. Furthermore, the enhanced reputational capital that companies receive from impact investing also helps attract and retain employees.
The Prudential American Workers Survey found the majority of American workers say they would be more likely to work for a company that actively funds ventures in their community. This statistic should resonate with executives faced with the competition for talent and a generational shift in the labor force. Companies that convey a dedication to being agents for positive change only help their odds in competing for top talent.
In an era in which communities are struggling and legacy programs are less than fully effective, the private sector can play an important role by stepping in and identifying innovative solutions to the challenges plaguing our communities. Through impact investing, we see an extraordinary opportunity to create value, both social and financial, for the benefit of communities nationwide.