Under current rules, regulators can’t stop companies from selling contaminated chicken or require practices that could reduce salmonella on farms, but they may soon have new tools at their disposal.
July 26, 2010
RSF Social Finance, a non-profit financial firm focused on using money as a force for good in the world, has announced the launch of a new Food & Agriculture Program-Related Investing (PRI) Fund. The idea is to encourage investors to support elements of the agricultural and food sectors that look beyond the bottom line to take the health of our environment and communities into account.
Of course caring about more than profit means returns might be more modest than investors are used to, but that is exactly the idea. The firm designs its strategies to capitalize on the benefits of employing “patient capital,” a term that refers to the long-term, slow-building nature of these investments.
And “patient” seems like just the right concept to apply when talking about the project of growing and providing food. Investors who don’t appreciate the slow and cyclical nature of food production—like investors in search of fast and massive returns who were disappointed at the prospects on display at the recent Agricultural 2.0 investment conference—need not apply. RSF Social Finance is more interested in those who see patience—both in creating food and in building wealth—as a good thing.
RSF is targeting foundations, whose focus on societal improvement makes them likely to embrace slow-return, high-social-benefit investing. Participating foundations will be allowed to invest part of the annual distributions they are required by law to disburse—five percent of their assets, usually given out as grants—into the PRI fund.
Foundations will be able to “leverage their philanthropic dollars for additional impact,” as an RSF press release states, benefitting from RSF’s expertise in making and servicing loans. Foundations must put in a minimum of $100,000 over five years, which will secure them a one percent annual return, money that can be used to invest further in beneficial enterprises or give out extra grants. RSF will use the money to give loans of at least $50,000 to nonprofits and businesses that are active in improving our food system in areas such as production, value-added processing, distribution, and waste management.
The concept of investing in ways that limit financial return but allow for social benefit has been gaining traction since Woody Tasch advanced the concept of “Slow Money,” also the name of a related NGO Tasch founded. It’s a wonderful idea, and foundations are certainly a fertile place to start.
But how many people will be willing to see their rates of return shrink in the name of working toward the common good, especially in ways that are sometimes indirect or slow to progress? Well, as the squeeze on resources grows and its becomes increasingly clear that the essentials in our lives—especially food—cost more than the dollars and cents on the price tags, the idea will surely catch on. In the meantime, RSF is moving in the right direction.
Originally published on food.change.org
Photo: drakemor via stock.xchng
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