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What Really Excites Me About Mission Investing

Peter Berliner

Home solar lights and cell phone chargers in India? Clean-burning cookstoves in East Africa? Next-stage nuclear? Urban lettuce gardens?

At the Florida Philanthropic Network's recent conference in Orlando -- a great mid-winter destination! -- I was asked to describe some really exciting mission investments. It’s hard to pick just one, because there’s such a variety of ways that foundations are directing their funds, but I'm partial to any and all that are aimed at building community wealth and tackling climate change.

For a catalog of community-building examples, take a look through the Democracy Coalition's publication, A New Anchor Mission for a New Century. I love how the Cleveland Foundation helped launch the worker-owned Evergreen Cooperatives; how the Greater Cincinnati Foundation invested in the Minority Business Accelerator; and how Incourage Community Foundation in Wisconsin financed business start-ups as part of its effort to invest 100% of its resources for mission. These efforts are creating jobs and building assets -- and by doing so, addressing the larger issue of income inequality.

In terms of an an issue that affects us all, it’s gratifying to see more and more foundations taking actions to help the environment. Some are using advocacy, like the members of the Divest-Invest Philanthropy project, and shareholder activism. We're also seeing more collaborative efforts locally and globally, like the Ford and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations' investments in regional initiatives like the Natural Capital Investment Fund, the Packard Foundation's equitiy investment in the EKO Green Carbon Fund and JP Morgan Chase's funding of The Nature Conservancy's NatureVest program.

Many more examples of groundbreaking work can be found among more than 500 transactions. totaling nearly $1 billion, documented in our Mission Investment Database. Each reflects a foundation’s uniqueinterests and capacity; seeing all the ways these foundations are deploying their assets is truly exciting.

But in truth, what’s even more compelling than any one specific investment is that so many people in philanthropy are embracing new ways of doing business. Mission investing means going beyond the comfort zone of making grants. For some, it still feels like leaping off the high dive platform. But what better way to get the adrenaline flowing?

What really excites you about mission investing this year?