I’ve been thinking of calling my collection of activities “full spectrum capital” (but the domain name is already camped on). Good Capital and Tim Freundlich were really key inspirations for me in their emphasis that it’s a continuum between philanthropy and investing, not buckets. The Heron Foundation also looks at their activities this way. I think it was in a break time discussion at SRI in the Rockies that someone suggested that one could regard a charitable gift simply as an investment with a -100% return. On that scale, a community investment note at 3% is meaningful.
Community Economic Development appeals to me because I’m attached to measurable results, and managing my foundation has at times been a struggle for me. I believe in accountability – down to how I spend my own personal time, I see how a lack of accountability leads to a lack of focus. Tim talks about how doing investing with non-profits instead of just gifting can give them an accountability that can be helpful. With my grant making, I’ve been trying to figure out what appropriate accountability is. One limitation is that I have to invest some of myself and my time to hold someone accountable, and there’s been a limit to that. A second challenge is trying to figure out how to be compassionate but still have some kind of standards.
I found an example in coffee growing. In the December 2007 issue of Tea & Coffee, there’s an article about work illycaffé is doing in Brazil. They’re doing it outside the Fair Trade system so it’s not exactly Fair Trade but it’s similar. Most people have only a vague idea that Fair Trade means workers get fair wages. It’s actually a complicated setup where specific Fair Trade price mark-ups are paid into specific funds that are then allocated by worker cooperatives. It’s also more than that – Fair Trade means working to help supplier-partners develop their own businesses, growing capacity and quality. What illycaffé is doing mirrors that.
The key components of what they’re doing are: 1) they have a clear standard of success – they are able to set a quality bar for coffee and measure whether or not a bag of coffee meets that bar. 2) there’s a clear reward for meeting that standard – they will buy at a premium every bag of coffee that meets their standard. 3) The provide opportunities for local farmers to learn how to meet their standard, via the illy University of Coffee and the illy Coffee Club, which teach management, environmental stewardship and technical training. Finally, They achieve visibility for these programs via an annual competition (Prêmio Brasil De Qualidade Do Café Para Espresso) where the winners receive prizes and illy gets preferential rights to buy the coffees submitted. Another nice summary of their work is here.
This to me seems like an excellent model – it establishes a well-understood, transparent system that the farmers can choose to participate in or not. Should farmers choose to participate at least some of the costs and rewards are clear, and a path to successful participation is provided. This is community economic development – here’s what success looks like, here are the tools, though in the US we tend to fall down on the “and here’s some(ideally free) help in understanding and using the tools” for true accessibility. That first step in the ladder is what Washington CASH provides locally.
The whole chain is what I would like to provide with my foundation, but it takes a well resourced leader to set all that up and manage it, and I have to admit The Massena Foundation is not that. Larger organizations, and particularly corporations like illy, DO have that kind of capacity, which leads me to believe that this kind of work is what corporate philanthropy should be. At the Corporation 20/20 conference last November in Boston, one of the speakers focused on the need to get corporate money out of politics, and for him also out of communities. It’s too easy with their relatively more significant resources for corporations to drive community decision-making. I thought that was interesting and I agree there’s a fuzzy line between corporate grant-making and marketing. But in Community Economic Development – large, stable, well organized corporations have a completely unique value to offer – access to markets and access to well-developed systems and training. Sharing that access would be worth more than any dollar grant they could make.