Our Common Future conference was held in Detroit, Michigan at the end of October 2017. We have a Part One and a Part Two to give you the top ten. We will interview several guest speakers that help shape our community. They give us some insight into the work that they do to empower entrepreneurship and Impact Investing.
Welcome Back to the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. On this episode, we continue with part two of the Our Common Futures conference. On this episode, Jennifer and Natalie, catch up with conference attendees Melanie Audette with the Mission Investors Exchange, Brenda Hunt with the Battle Creek Community Foundation, Amy Peterson of Rebel Nell, David Contorer with Hebrew Free Loans, and Jason Paulateer with PNC Bank and Foundation.
To kick of Part Two, Jennifer sits down with Melanie Audette of the Mission Investors Exchange…..
Jennifer: What I'd like to start off today, during our talk is to have you tell me a little bit about yourself and your organization and then we'll go from there.
Melanie: Well, I'm the Senior Vice President at Mission Investor's Exchange. I am based in Seattle and Mission Investor's Exchange is a 12 year old organization with offices in New York and San Francisco and then we have some staff in Seattle, but we're a very small but mighty team that has a membership consisting of mainly foundations of all types and sizes across the US who are either building or expanding an impact investing program. And we started out as the PRI Makers Network 12 years ago, when foundations were really focused mainly on doing program-related investments, and about five years ago we merged with The More Formation Campaign, which was a campaign to encourage foundations to devote two percent of their endowments to invest for a mission.
Jennifer: I love that. So here at the conference so far, what are your impressions then of how it works and how it applies to your mission through Mission Investor's Exchange?
Melanie: Well the independent sector conference as well as the Council of Michigan Foundation's Conference, where we are today, represents two things for me specifically. First, the independent sector has a very much more broad attendance and participation than a lot of the conferences that we attend and that includes the foundations who are at the heart of our network, but also those who play a very important role in the ecosystem around impact investing. And that includes non-profit organizations who oftentimes have social entrepreneurial goals and projects and so, therefore can be investees of impact investment's five foundations as well as those who support them in the field, so investment advisors, philanthropic advisors, attorneys, and accountants. All of those participants really play an incredibly important part helping foundations to identify who investees can be and to be able to do the work efficiently and within the law and correctly and responsibly.
The second part is the Council of Michigan Foundations, Mission Investor's Exchange has had a five-year partnership with CMF, and we've worked together over the years to provide education first for those foundations who are interested in learning about impact investing. Through this partnership, Michigan has become the model, really for the whole country informing what's now an infrastructure within that association to help foundations not only to learn about impact investing, but to actually build and identify investment opportunities, create a pipeline for investments, support them in that work and now this year, they've hired an Executive in Residence at CMF to help on a local and regional level, their membership to do this.
Jennifer: So understanding that you're drawing from a large group with a lot of people here from a lot of different areas all across the globe, what do you feel has been the highlight of the conference so far for you?
Melanie: Well, one of the highlights for me, because I was a speaker was seeing a room that was absolutely packed full of people who are interested in mission investing or impact investing and we've found that recently, that there is an incredible amount of interest, but what's most gratifying is to see the participants in the audience really respond to the examples of this work taking place in real life and we had panelists in our break out session, who helped people to understand, that even as a small foundation you can be responsive to the community, through different types of financial tools like alone, that really is a more appropriate use of capital for a particular situation, or an investment in a four concept business that has a mission, in this case it was Green Infrastructure that really fits our philanthropic mission as well, but it's a four profit investment that is also a real possibility for foundations to aline more of their capital with their mission.
Second, and this was really personally gratifying as well, I got to see Mo Rocca, and Mo Rocca is one of my heroes. He was moderating a session yesterday, and he has a kids show on CBS on Saturday mornings that my husband and I watch and it's called Innovation Nation.
Melanie: And he did an incredible job talking to Gary Wozniak, Amy Peterson, and Davita Davison yesterday on plenary stage. These three social entrepreneurs were so inspiring. Davita Davison actually brought tears to my eyes, talking about her work in the food space and one of the quotes I loved from Davina yesterday was, she was talking about the people that she's in a sense mentoring and she said "I encourage them to run for the United States of America, for the President of the United States of America". And to me, a statement like that means that with leadership like this in communities, she is helping people to understand that anything is possible and our session, you know Impact Investing, The Art of the Possible, was really personified on that plenary stage yesterday by those speakers.
What are you gonna take back to Mission Investor's Exchange from this conference? And then, in turn, share with the world? What are your plans?
Melanie: You know, it sounds funny but, at these conferences, there are oftentimes a lot of ... the sponsors are the ...
Jennifer: The exhibitions?
Melanie: The exhibitions.
Melanie: So, a lot of times people just walk through the exhibitions, and you know that can be frustrating sometimes for the exhibitors, but I find that in talking with the exhibitors, I really learn a lot, but also find things to bring back and for this conference and this set of exhibitors, which is really excellent, I've found several things. One is the Fetzer Institute. The Fetzer Institute is an organization that is focused on, now in this environment, which is a little bit polarized, you know talking about spiritual healing.
Melanie: And this reconnected me with some work of Parker Palmer who is also another hero of mine and it reminded me that for our conference in May in Chicago next year, that some things to focus on include some of that racial and spiritual healing. Also, there was a group out of the booth in Chicago. There was an NBA program, a weekend program with full scholarships and for those in the non-profit sector who were thinking about learning more and engaging more in the impact investing space, that's an enormous opportunity to go from maybe having a social work background or a liberal arts background, which a lot of non-profit executives have, to having that opportunity that's funded by a foundation to have a full scholarship for a Saturday weekend program in Chicago. I thought that was amazing.
And finally, the artwork. There's an artist that's collating the ideas, the inspiration from the community in order to create a community artwork here at the conference and I'm excited to see that come to fruition and also look at the opportunities for engaging with the arts community next year. So these are really practical things that I've brought back from the conference, but they're really valuable. It's a part of the value that I get from attending a conference here.
Jennifer: And I'm in 100 percent agreement with you when you talk about art and what art can do and talking about being polarized in multiple different areas right now. Art can heal. Art can build bridges, and by being able to incorporate that into your conference next year, I know it's an amazing takeaway. I think that it's gonna be very impactful for the attendees and it will help heal and build those bridges. That's great.
Thanks, Jennifer and Melanie, for your parting thoughts on how very important community art can be along with Melanie’s note on the great exhibitors. Next up, Natalie catches up with Brenda Hunt, CEO of the Battle Creek Community Foundation. We jump into the conversation just as Brenda begins to discuss how much all of the different sectors of funders intersect, especially at this conference.
Yeah, I think the deeper we get in, the more we all crisscross and the more we're all alike. We're more alike than different, even in the sectors. We should borrow, and pick and choose from each other. And we should use for profits when it makes most sense, and create for profits when it makes most sense for the situation and use nonprofits more sparingly would be more thought pattern.
Natalie: You make a really good point about identifying the landscape with everybody working together in this space. Can you talk a little bit about how identifying the landscape is really important when it comes to impact investing?
Brenda Hunt: Absolutely. We kind of rushed in and wanted to do something. I think a lot of people are rushing in trying to figure out what it is they should do after they decide they wanna do something. And we've done a few things now and more to come. But before I can say to the board, this is where we need to be in what we all call this space, this space of impact investing or however anybody chooses to frame it up, I think you need to learn about what else is taking place in our community in what I call a community capital stack. I believe those are your terms.
Natalie: Everyone's got their own terms, don't you think? They all mean the same. Essentially identify who the players are, who's got the money, and who needs to deploy it and get off the couch, right?
Brenda Hunt: Yeah. Exactly. One of the pieces as we get into looking at what type of funding, what type of investment, what type of loans, what type of investors you have in a community, that are investing in your community, then perhaps it becomes more clear of what our role could or should be. And in that time and in that span as you're probably doing some things, you're also a catalyst. So when we look at our staff, we can identify what we thought we're probably already missing, and when we have local people of investor quality, they're not investing locally in our community from a business sense of the word.
Natalie: Right. It's that basis start of a philanthropic heart, but you have that investor mentality where this space of impact investing lives in that you are talking about. For our listeners out there, Brenda and her whole entire taskforce in my opinion, in our whole company's opinion, are just courageous thought leaders on all of this. They are out there, not only discussing about what things are going on, but really they're the ones that are actually taking action and really making things happen. So I am excited for you, Brenda, and your task force. You're the doers. You're the doers.
Brenda Hunt: Thanks. I checked in with the executive committee, and they agree also. I think one of the most exciting pieces that we are waiting to see how it turns out right now is a new manufacturing startup, a food business, on the north end of our community. It's in a place that was my grocery store when I first moved to town. It's been gone for a long time. We took a look at what area we might wanna do impact investing there, and then had you folks do the research on that, and then we said, "Not now," and delivered some very constructive messages in a whole bunch of ways.
Then came the calls from out of town from some other folks that had looked at investing, and there's some funds, and looked at putting some money in there. I look very forward to our future discussions of how those funds, our local investment, and some private investors might take this to the next phase. What's most important is that the leverage in this situation has brought some people in the food industry business to the table, which we're not in the food industry business. But we are the eyes and ears of the community. So there's some potential collaborations here. So, we'll just see how that turns out.
Natalie: Right. I think it's very, very exciting. Like I said, you have taken the forefront lead, the pioneering piece of it. I think that's just incredible. So let's get back to the conference. What has been a highlight for you attending this? Has anything really spoken to you that you're really excited to share?
Brenda Hunt: The change that's taking place you know? We have folks at this conference who are also what we would used to call them, grant seekers. Now, they're investees. They're entities, nonprofit and for-profit that we would invest in. That opens up the whole toolkit to not just grants and loans, but other types of investments that you can do through an intermediary or directly. So you can see that and feel that across here. These conferences used to be called Grant Makers and Grant Seekers, and that was never a term that necessarily resonated with me previously. But you can feel the turn. I think the fact that the impact investing sessions are packed, and there's lines out the doors, that and the whole area around healing of racism are the two pieces that I have seen from this conference that really resonate where the interests are a bit overwhelming with people wanting to do something right and good.
Brenda Hunt: One is when those two items about this conference come together, then I think it's very important that we make sure that our intentions of reaching the populations that need to be reached, that need to be brought along, that need to have jobs and equality of life, and the creation of wealth, not wealthy, wealth, for equality of life that we all think that each citizen has the opportunity for and should have, that we make sure we're doing that and that we don't miss that in our work as we go forward.
So, I'm still employed. I'm on my way back there so stay tuned. Battle Creek Community Foundation, best way probably is Brenda@bccfoundation.org. I will always pick up the phone, 269-962-2181. And I'm always willing to talk, because this is such an emerging area, and I don't have the answers. I've had a lot of things that we've tried. I'm always glad to share what we've tried and what we're doing.
Natalie: Well, that's wonderful. And as you know, pioneering is not comfortable.
Brenda Hunt: No, but it sure is fun.
Brenda Hunt: If we didn't have pioneering, we'd have nothing.
Brenda Hunt: In our country, and in our history, and in our world, and that's I feel the field is right now, too.
Natalie: Right. Well, listeners, it's just be an absolute privilege to be here with Brenda, and I'm so excited that Brenda you've taken the time to share this with us. So thank you so much.
Brenda Hunt: And thank you for how you shape this work and support us. We appreciate it.
Natalie: All right. Thank you.
There is that ‘pioneering’ discussion. It seems to me that the pioneering work of many in the field is rising the tide for all of us. Really great. Natalie and I had a good laugh one day when one of us blurted out ‘pioneering is not comfortable,’ and it stuck, we laughed both at the simplicity and revelation of those few words all at once. But, I digress. Let’s jump back to Natalie as she sits down with Amy Peterson from Rebel Nell.
Natalie: I am delighted to be here with our podcast regular, Amy Peterson, from Rebel Nell. She's been doing some speaking here. Hi to you, Amy.
Amy Peterson: Hi, Natalie. I'm so excited to be here and always love the podcast that you guys are doing.
Natalie: Super fun. Well, how has the conference been going for you this week? I know you've spoken quite a few times and today's the last day. How's it been going for you?
Amy Peterson: This is actually a fascinating conference to be a part of, and I'm really honored to be here and to have the opportunity to speak and share our story and to be in a room full of foundations, to pick their brains and navigate these waters and understand what they're thinking about when they make investments I think has helped me understand how to maybe pitch my business better or to figure out who best to target when asking instead of spinning your wheels and wasting all this time. Really narrowing your focus and figuring out who is the best fit for you, and I think you'll have yourself a lot of time and energy when you do that.
Natalie: That is true. That is one thing that's very unique about this conference where they've pooled together pretty much all the players, in a way, at this conference. It is neat to be in front of everyone and talking and learning about everything in terms of impact investing.
Amy Peterson: Absolutely. The dialogue around impact investing is fascinating, too. What I was incredibly optimistic about is it seems like there's more and more foundations who want to do it and they just can't quite figure out how. But there's enough that are the pioneers in this space that are saying, "Hey, we'll teach you, or we'll find a way to do it." That was, as a social entrepreneur, really encouraging to hear.
Natalie: Right. You're right, you've had experience with impact investing. How has that experience helped and shaped you so far?
Amy Peterson: Yeah. I think we also at Rebel Nell are also early in this space of understanding what it is like to receive impact investing and what it takes to court investors. On more one of those points where you're in the midst of it, you think it's so challenging to do the due diligence and get your ducks in a row. You're like, "God, how many more numbers do they want from me?" In hindsight, that's so valuable as a business owner to understand why that's important. To have companies like Gingras Global who are there to really provide those supportive services and wraparound services to make sure that we are a tight, neat package when we are put in front of investors and knowing and hearing that here at the conference of how they so appreciate that just goes to show, again, how incredible you guys are in what you do.
Natalie: Thank you.
Amy Peterson: Yes, it's been an interesting ride to receive some impact investing, but all the grunt work behind it's been really valuable.
Natalie: Well, yeah, I think that's true. There's a lot of grunt work.
Amy Peterson: A lot of grunt work. A lot.
Natalie: We're not...