Natural Investments hosted a webinar called “Black Economic Self-Determination: To Move Forward We Must Understand The Past” with Ed Whitfield of Seed Commons. Reconstruction, the period that followed the Civil War, was a time when attempts were made to repair our country and our economy from slavery. Reconstruction failed, and set us up for what we are experiencing now–a political, social and economic system based in white supremacy and white nationalist violence. The increasing racial wealth divide exacerbated by COVID, killings of Black people, flagrant racism under Trump, modern day red lining and the January 6th insurrection are all ways that we see and feel the vestiges of failed Reconstruction.
Download a full copy of our 2020 Social Impact Report
A Year of Transformation by Michael Kramer
One from the Heart: A Tribute to Jack Brill by Hal Brill
Putting Equity at the Center of our Organizational Culture by Carrie VanWinkle
Spotlight: Kachuwa Impact Fund by Brady Quirk-Garvan
Spotlight: New Summit Investments by Ryan Jones-Casey
Spotlight: RUNWAY by Nicole Middleton Holloway
Crisis and opportunity have an interesting partnership. They don’t always go together, but when they do, they can catalyze powerful change in individuals, countries, and human civilization. Many forces converged in 2020 to create such a dynamic—a global pandemic, heightened attention to racism, extreme weather events and accompanying natural disasters, the disruption of democratic norms by a white supremacist authoritarian president, the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and, finally, a historic election.
The year 2020 demanded resilience, and while we surely felt tested on many levels and tried to hold onto our center, many of us found ourselves reflecting on the meaning of life and then acting to change our own lives and work harder to build a just, equitable, and sustainable society.
JACK BRILL, the founder of Natural Investments and a pioneering thought leader of the socially responsible investment (SRI) industry, passed away recently at the age of 89. As one of the earliest SRI advisors in the 1980s, Jack was a passionate advocate known for his generous heart and tireless work to advance an approach to investing that was radical in his early career. He wrote one of the first books on the field, Investing from the Heart (Crown, 1992), which was the basis for the Heart Rating, the first and most rigorous rating system of SRI mutual funds. From 1993 to 2000, Jack helped SRI achieve mainstream recognition through his competitive investment exercise in a quarterly NY Times series.
Despite the massive economic and social disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, governments and investors continued to buoy the capital markets. Conscientious investors saw the opportunity to channel their money into funds supporting families and small businesses in crisis. Last year, Natural Investments and our clients held $785M in responsibly managed assets, representing a 21% increase from the prior year.
We directed a significant proportion of our client investments (approximately $541M) toward responsibly managed mutual funds and separately managed accounts that use ESG integration strategies. Applying environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria helps us screen out firms with the worst corporate behavior, an approach that minimizes poor performance risk, as shown by numerous studies.
Natural Investments as a firm has been on its own path of social justice since it began. It’s the core of our mission. And yet in the area of racial equity, we know there is much more that we can and want to accomplish.
Our natural focus is external, in that we are always looking for ways to help clients invest in systems change. But for the past few years, our firm’s rapid growth and circumstances in the bigger world have called on us to look inward—particularly when it comes to racial and gender equity.
Natural Investments plays a proactive role within our industry by facilitating positive economic, social, and environmental change. One of the ways we push for the transformation we want to see is through shareholder engagement with companies, as well as advocacy with elected officials and federal agency commissioners on matters of public policy.
Natural Investments has regenerative investments with forty-nine companies and funds that create social and environmental benefits in response to some of our society’s most pressing challenges. Regenerative, in this context, refers to private equity and debt investment opportunities with an explicit mission for positive societal and environmental impact. As of 2020, Natural Investment clients devoted $110M to regenerative investing, a 19 percent increase from the prior year.
Kachuwa Impact Fund is an investment cooperative and public benefit corporation focused on owning and operating “impact real estate” and investing in privately held “impact companies.” As a cooperative, Kachuwa is democratically owned and controlled by its members. Brady Quirk- Garvan of Natural Investments recently met with Blake Jones, founder of Kachuwa Impact Fund, to talk about what makes Kachuwa unique.
Brady Quirk-Garvan: What exactly is Kachuwa Impact Fund’s approach to investing?
Blake Jones: By design, at least 60 percent of Kachuwa’s assets are real estate and no more than 40 percent of its assets are investments. Kachuwa is like a real estate investment trust (REIT) combined with a mutual fund. Our diversified holdings have a positive impact on society and the environment. Kachuwa’s goal is not to maximize financial return; instead, it is to create positive impact while earning reasonable returns for its members that may be considered “below-market.”
One of the primary challenges facing investors seeking to make market-rate, high impact investments outside public markets is that most private investment structures have high minimum-investment requirements, often above $1,000,000 per investment, that put this type of investing out of reach for many investors.
To address this barrier, New Summit pioneered a private high-impact “fund of funds” model that provides a typical New Summit investor with exposure to 10-12 underlying private fund investments.