by Jen Astone, Ph.D., 2017 Just Economy Institute Fellow
I am obsessed with lists. I love how they organize the world through bite-sized chunks of information. Through lists, I discover books, hikes, recipes, and movies. Yet when clients asked me where they could find a list of integrated capital funds, I couldn’t locate one.
Thus was born “The Transformative 25,” a list of 25 funds using finance to create solutions for people and planet. I thought compiling the list would be easy. I’d been doing impact-first investing with the Swift Foundation and had a lot of ideas. But I struggled. Who was I to make such a list? What criteria would I use? How could I be sure that it was relevant?
A call to David LeZaks of the Croatan Institute and fellow Just Economy Institute (JEI) alum (2018–2019) eased my hesitation. “Do it,” he encouraged me. “Jen, we need to move more money into solutions!” With his confidence in me, I took the next step, created a form, and called for submissions. When I received one from JEI faculty Dawn McGee, I reached out and asked about how their fund, Goodworks Evergreen, worked in rural Montana to address jobs. Another submission from alum Annie McShiras (2019–2020) of East Bay Community Real Estate Cooperative in urban Oakland, California, highlighted their innovative stakeholder approach to real estate ownership. The year-long fellowship I’d started in September 2017 to explore how integrated capital can create a just economy was deeply informing my list making.
After I’d selected the first 10 funds, I assessed the underlying criteria for how the funds create opportunity in ways that traditional finance can’t. They all used at least three of four common criteria: (1) integrated capital; (2) creative finance; (3) social, relational and ecological returns; and (4) ownership and governance. My request for feedback led me to another JEI alum, Nwamaka Agbo (2017–2018) of Kataly Foundation, who suggested integrating a discussion of race, gender, and power asymmetries in my analysis. Each contact I had with a JEI connection built on our common experience. I realized we were a community connected by a shared language, set of principles, and mission-driven focus on transforming finance to work for people and the planet. The JEI community is what made it possible to access and assess the funds that made it into the 25.
This community includes people like Indigenous activist and 2019–2020 fellow, Nikki Pieratos at the NDN Fund, who describes how they use integrated capital to “develop several different access points and resources for the [Native American] communities we work with, such as fellowship grants and funds for pre-development and specialized services to align the right capital stack and consultants for each project.” Other alums like Janice St. Onge (2018–2019) of the Flexible Capital Fund in Vermont explain their use of creative financing that “offers flexible risk capital that takes the form of revenue-based financing, subordinated debt and revenue kickers, self-liquidating equity instruments and convertible debt.” And then Lora Smith (2017–2018), co-founder of the Appalachian Impact Fund, focuses and insists upon democratic governance practiced as “community run, located, and controlled, which is transformative for a region marked by extraction, powerlessness, and a lack of control over resources including capital resources.”
Since the mad dash to put together the list, I am now holding webinars to bring fund managers together to share their insights with investors and others. Only now do I recognize what a learning journey this list has been for me. My Just Economy Institute colleagues have profoundly influenced my thinking, supported my efforts, and pushed me to learn about the diversity of approaches and solutions.
Jen Astone is a financial activist and philanthropic leader. She founded Integrated Capital Investing to catalyze foundations and high net worth individuals to use all their assets to create just, regenerative and restorative economies. A Just Economy Institute alumna, she co-founded the Transformational Investing in Food Systems Initiative (TIFS).
- Group Shot: East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative: Coop 789 Residents, Oakland, California. Photo Credit: Laurel Chen
- Woman with nail gun: Appalachian Impact Fund: The Housing Development Alliance in Kentucky builds affordable, energy efficient housing while training people exiting opioid recovery centers. Photo Credit: Chris Ritchie
- Woman in blue with small cake: Teresa Maynard of Sweet Teez Bakery, Boston Impact Initiative. Photo credit: Hornick Rivlin Studio.