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New & Next: Investing in Denver's Equitable Growth

Denver's Knotty Tie Co. is one of 420 Colorado businesses that have received support from Ours to Own.

Beth Bafford of Calvert Foundation and Luis Duarte of Gary Community Investments discuss the Ours to Own investment program in Denver.
June marked the two-year anniversary of Ours To Own, a local investment campaign in Denver. The campaign, which pools small investments from Denver residents to invest in local community and economic development, is a partnership of national and local organizations including Calvert Social Investment FoundationUrban Land ConservancyColorado Enterprise Fund and Community Reinvestment Fund, USA, and is supported by Gary Community Investments, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Denver Foundation and the Colorado Trust.

Over these 24 months, hundreds of locals have invested more than $5 million through the Denver-targeted Community Investment Note, which has been leveraged 15 to one to preserve affordable real estate for nonprofits and finance under-banked small businesses. Thanks to the work of Ours To Own partners, more than 420 Denver area businesses and nonprofits have been supported through a loan or affordable space and more than 5,000 jobs have been created or retained. 

Local residents have invested anywhere from $20 through the online platform Vested.org to thousands through their brokerage or retirement accounts and have been receiving annual interest on their investment. As participation from local investors grows, the partners will continue to put additional capital to work to ensure that Denver's growth benefits all of its diverse communities. 

Ours To Own was built to localize and democratize the practice of impact investing, a concept that has been getting its fair share of buzz. The field of impact investing is asking individuals, organizations and institutions to examine their investments -- whether they have $10,000 in a savings account or $10 billion in a pension fund -- to see what impact those investments are having. It is challenging asset owners to shift their mindset from pursuing profit at any cost to pursuing transparent and sustainable economic value across global communities.

This call for financial reflection is not new. The first modern example of financial activism dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when individuals used their savings and retirement account assets to boycott companies associated with the Vietnam War, unfair labor practices and apartheid in South Africa. These "screening" practices have matured over the years from excluding companies with bad behaviors to actively investing in companies with strong environmental, social and governance practices (ESG investing). Over the last decade, these strategies have provided strong financial, environmental and social returns.

What we find exciting is the recent translation of these global practices into local communities. Since the Great Recession, investors have been wary about placing their money into something that they do not understand, given the economic destruction caused by the growth of "synthetic" financial products. These investors -- individual and institutional -- are demanding ways to keep their money circulating within their local economy where the impact of that investment is tangible and real. This demand is causing many in the impact investing space to explore "place-based" strategies.

Ours To Own is just one example. Another easy way to invest locally is to shift your savings or checking accounts to a local bank or credit union. These institutions take deposits and use them to lend money to local businesses or provide affordable mortgages to Denver homebuyers. Thus, your savings dollars, while sitting idle, are providing jobs, homes and opportunities to your neighbors.

Denver is a city with many strengths -- it's one of the most desirable places for young people to live, it has wonderful natural amenities and it's home to a pretty darn good football team -- but what many don't see is the effects of this growth on low-income communities and the organizations built to serve them. The long-term resiliency of the city will depend on its ability to lift all boats. We will all be stronger if we invest in ourselves, leveraging all of the assets at our disposal: our time, our compassion, our giving, and our investments. 

Learn more about investing locally through Ours to Own Denver.

Beth Bafford is a director of investments at Calvert Foundation, a nonprofit financial intermediary. Luis Duarte is an investment director at Gary Community Investments, which invests in for-profit and philanthropic solutions for Colorado's low-income children and their families.
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