There is no shortage of opportunity in Baltimore. Yet, there always seems to be a shortage of resources to seize those opportunities. Even when hundreds of millions of dollars come our way, it feels like a drop in the bucket after decades of disinvestment. Too often, that feeling of scarcity leads to resignation and a lack of imagination.
What if I told you that, just as there are renewable energy sources, there is a renewable financial resource — and it’s already quietly making progress possible? Impact investing, which generates financial returns alongside positive social change, is proving a valuable tool for spurring large scale, inclusive economic growth and creating income and wealth for residents. Impact investments can take the form of low-interest loans, venture capital or municipal bond investments, for example, all with the goal of addressing critical social needs.
Among the intriguing programs and projects already being supported with impact investments are:
- Zero- and low-interest micro-loans via the International Rescue Committee’s Center for Economic Opportunity, helping refugees build credit and a new life in our region.
- Affordable small business loans through Baltimore Community Lending that enabled more minority- women- and city-resident-owned businesses to become vendors at the new Lexington Market and local job creators like Wild Bay Kombucha to grow.
- A national model for development without displacement in Johnston Square, where ReBUILD Metro has worked with legacy residents to understand their needs, creating and renovating affordable housing, mixed-use commercial and manufacturing spaces, and a network of parks.
Every investor weighs the balance of risk versus reward and few want to be the first one in on the ground floor, no matter how impactful — or lucrative — the opportunity might be. Impact investing is no different, but, fortunately, the market in Baltimore is proven. The Abell Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation and Straus Foundation pioneered the field decades ago, while the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) became involved in the past five years and has mobilized a network of co-investors. Together, we are providing patient capital for programs and projects that center residents’ own visions for their community and catalyze complementary, private investment.
The potential for impact investing to transform our city is truly incredible — and its effects could be felt even more deeply if we expand the pool. Take, for example, Johnston Square, where BCF has invested $100,000 to support ReBUILD Metro’s multifaceted work. BCF was established half-a-century ago to serve as a permanent philanthropic endowment for the region and to support philanthropists large and small as they strive to make a difference. Today, we hold more than 900 charitable funds and roughly half are donor-advised funds used by individuals, corporations and foundations to easily manage their charitable giving. In 2021, we created a new type of donor-advised fund to enable fundholders to make impact investments alongside us in ReBUILD Metro. The response was overwhelming. By the end of 2022, BCF’s fundholders had co-invested more than $1 million, leveraging BCF’s initial investment tenfold!
Diving into impact investing can feel daunting. But BCF fundholders have been entrepreneurial, gathering friends and family to meet the investment threshold and be part of an exciting story of innovative giving and inclusive growth. Others have simply given to the BCF impact investing pool, providing the resources for our experienced impact investing subcommittee to invest in a succession of dynamic projects across the region. Imagine how many more communities and people could be touched with more investors engaged.
There’s one more reason to expand impact investing in Baltimore: to change the narrative. We often rail about the unfair portrayal of our city in national media, but among impact investors, we are seen as a leader to learn from and emulate. In December more than 600 philanthropic asset managers from across the country visited as part of the Mission Investors Exchange National Conference. BCF served as co-host and Baltimore shone in a group that included The Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation among others.
We must seize on this buzz and momentum, because from my vantage point, this is the real story of our charming city — passionate people coming together, seeking innovation at every turn, multiplying individual contributions into collective impact to build a better Baltimore.
Shanaysha Sauls (email@example.com) is president and CEO of the Baltimore Community Foundation.