Four Lessons from Four Decades of Impact Investing
May 8, 2018 | 40 Years, 40 Stories

Today’s fast-growing impact investing market is expected to top $300 billion by 2020. But back in 1983, when MacArthur made its first program-related investment (PRI), the practice we now call impact investing was little more than a hopeful experiment, aiming to fuel social and environmental gains. No one really knew if it could make a significant difference.

More than 30 years have since passed. Over that time, MacArthur’s impact investing team has put more than $500 million to work in support of 240+ impact investments. By using our capital flexibly and taking unusual risk, we have helped those we support to unlock substantial flows of additional, more traditional investment – leverage totaling in the billions over the years. It’s thrilled us to see how many of the organizations we have financed have grown and thrived, delivering financial services, affordable housing, and many other benefits to tens of thousands of people in communities across the U.S. and beyond. Our experiment has yielded big dividends, making the kind of difference we hoped to achieve.

 

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Looking back, four key lessons emerge from this long experience – lessons that continue to inform our work today as we develop new strategies to bridge tough capital gaps, extend our reach, and accelerate promising opportunities for progress and change.
  

Take early risk to foster innovation. MacArthur’s very first impact investment supported ShoreBank, an unconventional bank whose work inspired and informed today’s thriving field of community development finance. An investment we made in 2013 helped establish the nation’s first and only nonprofit-sponsored real estate investment trust. And an investment made last year is enabling MyStrongHome to pioneer a new approach to fortifying hurricane-prone homes across the South.
   

Invest in intermediaries to multiply impact. MacArthur impact investments helped organizations like Self-Help, Trust for Public Land, National Housing Services, and others build lasting infrastructure to attract and blend disparate public and private resources, enabling them to tackle tough problems in an expert manner.
   

Collaborate and partner to reach scale. For example, from 2007-2017 MacArthur partnered with Wells Fargo, Opportunity Finance Network and others to invest $75 million in two dozen innovative community development financial institutions pioneering new programs, expanding their footprints, modernizing their tools, and increasing their impact.
   

Complement investments with grants to unlock systems change. MacArthur’s Window of Opportunity initiative used impact investments and grants totaling $187 million to help build a stronger field of mission-driven real estate developers, aided by more information about the nation’s supply of affordable rental housing and public policies that better support efforts to preserve and improve the existing supply of this housing. 
   

These key lessons collectively shaped our most ambitious impact investment to date. In 2016 we launched Benefit Chicago, an innovative collaborationwith Calvert Impact Capital and the Chicago Community Trust. The aim is to mobilize $100 million for investments in Chicago-area nonprofits and social enterprises, and this is being implemented through an intermediary positioned to provide capital for early stage risk-taking among Chicago-area nonprofits, social enterprises and local intermediaries. Benefit Chicago also serves as an agent for systems change, deploying a transformative model for co-investment that attracts new investors to this work, while helping spark and inform similar models of place-based impact investing nationwide.

Taking stock of MacArthur’s impact investing over the years, we know we can build bridges between investors looking for high-impact opportunities and organizations tackling the most difficult global problems. The challenges we face might be greater than ever. But, so too are the opportunities. We will continue to be creative and bold in order to meet them.

 


Since 1983, MacArthur has committed a total of $517 million to 242 impact investments.

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