Last month, over 500 people from philanthropic organizations from across the country descended on Baltimore for the bi-annual Mission Investors Exchange conference. With ideas and inspiration from leading minds in philanthropy and finance, the conference introduced and explored major trends disrupting typical investing by the private sector, government and philanthropy.

Mission investing is the growing practice of philanthropic organizations using their endowments in pursuit of their charitable purpose. Some organizations, like the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey and Abell foundations, have been doing this for years. They have taken money traditionally invested in hedge funds or large public companies and used it to address community challenges core to their mission, whether it be in education, inclusive job creation, affordable housing or neighborhood revitalization.


This activity from innovative foundations is a subset of the broader field of impact investing, which is asking individuals, organizations and institutions to examine their investments — whether they have $10,000 in a savings account or $10 billion in a pension fund — to see what impact those investments are having. This field is challenging asset owners to shift their mindset from pursuing profit at any cost to pursuing transparent and sustainable economic value across global communities.

This call for financial reflection is not new. The first modern example of financial activism dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when individuals used their savings and retirement account assets to boycott companies associated with the Vietnam War, poor labor practices and apartheid in South Africa. These "screening" practices have matured over the years from excluding companies with bad behaviors to actively investing in companies with strong environmental, social and governance practices ("ESG investing"). This model was pioneered by firms like Al Gore's Generation Investment Management, which invests only in companies that have diverse and involved boards, strong labor policies and environmentally sound practices. Over the last decade, these strategies have provided strong financial, environmental and social returns.

What we find exciting is the recent translation of these global practices into local communities. Since the Great Recession, investors have been wary about placing their money into something that they do not understand, given the economic destruction caused by the growth of "synthetic" financial products. These investors — individual and institutional — are demanding ways to keep their money circulating within their local economy where the impact of that investment is tangible and real. This demand is causing many in the impact investing space to explore "place-based" strategies.

One example is Ours To Own, a new partnership in Baltimore among the Calvert Social Investment Foundation, Goldseker Foundation, Humanim, Invested Impact and Straus Foundation. Its mission is to connect investors with projects, organizations and businesses working to build a stronger Baltimore. So far, local investors have supported the renovation of a local school, critical community projects and thousands of units of affordable housing while earning a financial return. As the interest from local investors grows, investments will strengthen small businesses, neighborhoods and communities across Baltimore that have historically struggled to access capital from traditional sources. The entry point for investment is $20 via the online platform Vested.org, so it's easy to participate.

Another easy way to invest locally is to shift your savings or checking accounts to a local bank or credit union. These institutions take deposits and use them to lend money to local businesses or provide affordable mortgages to Baltimore homebuyers. Thus, your savings is providing jobs, homes and opportunity to your neighbors.

It is no secret that Baltimore is a city with both concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty, driven by a long history of racially motivated exclusionary policies and practices that have worked to divide. We are in a historic and pivotal time, and the need in our city is too great to be met by philanthropy alone. Imagine if Baltimore could ride this rising tide of mission and impact investing to channel more of its individual and institutional assets into its own economy, not only through grants, but through investments where everyone benefits from each other's success. We believe the opportunities are endless.

Mark Joseph (mark.joseph@sheltergrp.com) is president of The Shelter Foundation, Patti Baum (patricia.baum@rbc.com) is a financial adviser at RBC Wealth Management and a trustee of the Baltimore Community Foundation, and Beth Bafford (beth.bafford@calvertfoundation.org) is a director of investments at Calvert Social Investment Foundation.