Investing in Rural Communities
As issues facing rural Americans dominate our national dialogue, the impact investing community is deeply engaged. Many Mission Investors Exchange members have been working on the challenges of rural poverty for years. These foundations have evolved their approach from grant-making to PRIs and, now, to new collaborative investment models that promise to put capital in the hands of local, community-focused organizations. These new models allow foundations, the private sector, and government to leverage their own unique resources to accomplish a common set of goals.
We dug deep into these emerging models in our recent webinar, Unlocking Investment in Rural America, which you can view here. Panelists Bill Bynum of HOPE, Justin Maxson of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and Lisa Mensah of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) described the new Uplift America Fund, which brings together a mix of grants, loans, and guarantees in a new way. By dramatically increasing the capacity of local community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and other lenders, Uplift America will fund health clinics, schools, food banks, child care centers, and other community facilities in economically distressed areas across the rural South, Appalachia, the Texas-Mexico border and Native American reservations.
The centerpiece of Uplift America is up to $500 million from the USDA’s Community Facilities Loan Program. Several Mission Investors Exchange members are helping CDFIs build capacity and a pipeline for investment to leverage these federal dollars. With Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation taking the lead, foundations– including Bank of America, Ford, Heron, JP Morgan Chase, Northwest Area, and Winthrop Rockefeller–provided $22 million for technical assistance, staffing, and other capacity building support for CDFIs. Private financial institutions, primarily Bank of America, provided important loan guarantees that serve as a backstop and produce a level of security needed for USDA to make its loans.
The combination of exceptional vision, swift coordination of capital, and innovative financial tools has enabled the diverse partners in Uplift America to become true market makers.
Rural place-based investing is taking shape in other ways across the country. In Wisconsin, for example, Mission Investors Exchange member Incourage has combined public, private and philanthropic dollars and engaged 2,000 residents in planning and designing a community facility out of the historic Tribune building. Purchased in 2012, the Tribune is now a hub for an economic development “accelerator,” incubating local nonprofits and businesses. It is home to art studios, play spaces, a cafe, a microbrewery, and classrooms. Kelly Ryan, CEO of Incourage, says the project models what a new, local, sustainable economy can look like.
From Maine to California, there are scores of member initiatives bringing new investors to the table, leveraging their unique areas of expertise, and setting up local and regional collaborations to make progress against seemingly intractable problems.
The spirit of collaboration in these efforts reflects the very best of the holiday season. We are proud to see our members leading the way, and there is every indication we’ll see much more in 2017. We hope you’ll join us for what is certain to be a very productive new year.
Happy holidays from all of us at Mission Investors Exchange.