Saturday, December 27, 2014

Can Impact Investing Benefit Bicycle Programs?

I’ve spent the last few days studying up on the latest in the impact investing world to see if there are any new opportunities for One Street and our partners. Let’s just say, I’m glad to have resurfaced. I suppose it’s no surprise that an industry that is springing from the financial industry has entrenched itself in so much jargon and so many self-congratulating events. In recent years, I’ve also attended some of these events only to be disappointed by their lack of vision and ability to reach into the communities they claim to want to support.

Even so, through the blinding glitz and endless mazes of the websites, I did hit on a few organizations that seem to genuinely want to shift the world of investing toward supporting social enterprises that are changing the world of business. The general idea of impact investing is to invest in social businesses that ideally include all of these elements:

  • Producing products that help alleviate a social problem such as water pumps for clean water or sturdy bicycles for transporting goods,
  • Providing job training and jobs for impoverished people, and
  • Ensuring that the products they produce help lift those same impoverished families out of poverty.

One Street’s Social Bike Business program, which includes our Bike Shift Levers, is based on these social business principles. We look for local partner organizations who also strive toward this three-fold vision.

So, I was hoping that circling back to the impact investing community would land me on likely partners for us as well as our bicycle program partners around the world. Time will tell as I prepare to send out a handful of letters to the most interesting impact investment firms. I also dug out some old files that reminded me of a few creative impact investment organizations that could directly help our partners: works much like a crowdfunding platform, but instead of giving your money, you lend it. You won’t make any interest, but you do get all your money back so you can “invest” in another project. All the projects on Kiva are small businesses owned by struggling people around the world. Even a loan of $25 can push them into success. is similar to Kiva as it offers small loans to small businesses and social enterprises, but their loans are larger and the lending system is a bit more complicated.

I also found some very good articles that came out in the last few months. Most claim that 2014 will be the
year of impact investing because of all the energy that has been focused into these efforts. If you want to read about some of the most active and effective impact investing organizations, read:

2014 in Impact Investing: The Big Bang and its Aftermath – Huffington Post, December 16, 2014

As I wove my way through websites and articles, I was also not surprised by the lack of bicycle programs listed in the programs supported. I did find a few and you can bet that those organizations made my list to contact.

Unfortunately, most of the products that were being supported were technology based. Not that there’s anything wrong with that... But we know how much benefit bicycles could bring to an investment movement bent on alleviating poverty.

Do you know of any success stories where impact investment lifted a bicycle program into a significantly higher level of effectiveness? I don’t. The few I have come across over the years seem to show little gain from the investments made. Please share your stories and links. Even just a few great examples could inspire other similar partnerships between impact investors and great bicycle programs.


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