Since we published the first edition of this report in 2018, there has been a widespread increase in the general public’s awareness about structural racism and the many ways people of color have been systematically denied access to social and economic opportunity since the earliest days of European arrival to what is now the United States.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed alarming weaknesses in the systems we depend on upon in everyday life in the U.S. – healthcare, education, and economic systems, to name just a few. It has cast a harsh light on the disproportionate impacts of these weaknesses on people of color, whose health and wealth have been decimated at far greater rates than those experienced by whites.
Moreover, there has been a dramatic growth in awareness of how the financial system has functionally been closed off to people of color, starting with the largest companies, most of which pay lip-service (at best) to racial equity and many of which do not address the issue at all.
Investors can contribute to the narrowing of economic disparities by investing in communities of color. In this report, we update the findings of our original work in 2018. We also offer fresh insights into how both the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have galvanized shareholder engagement initiatives, with investors increasingly pressing companies to be more transparent and accountable regarding their policies, practices and cultures. We have added a section as well regarding support for diverse asset managers with strong track records who are often overlooked. Lastly, we are pleased to note that over the past two years there has been growth in the number of investment solutions that seek to address racial and ethnic economic disparities.
Download Investing to Advance Racial Equity.
Cornerstone Capital Group Founder and CEO Erika Karp addresses the state of impact investing, offering a clear distinction between impact investing, ESG analysis, and sustainability. No matter what labels are used, someday this will all simply be called “investing.” Note: This video originally appeared on cornerstonecapitalfunds.com.
SDG 1: No Poverty highlights the manifestations of poverty: hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.1 While global poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 2000, one in ten people in developing regions are still living on less than the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day, and millions more make little more than this daily amount. Economic growth must be inclusive to provide sustainable jobs and promote equality. Social protection systems need to be implemented to help alleviate suffering and provide support in the face of economic disruption. These systems will help to end extreme poverty.2 SDG 1 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: For example, strategies to achieve No Poverty are intertwined with those that address SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that work toward No Poverty.
Access to Fair Treatment and Equal Opportunity
Global economic relationships keep power and influence in the hands of the few rather than the many.3 For the global economy to serve the greatest number of people, nations must prioritize reducing economic inequality.4 Similarly, corporations and small businesses that do not value and treat everyone fairly perpetuate inequality and poverty. The inequality that is often built into government and corporate systems and structures creates systemic barriers to opportunity that keep families and communities trapped in a perpetual and often inter-generational cycle of poverty.5
Access to Financial Services
Those in poverty often lack the funds to warrant a traditional account, transportation to a physical bank, the right personal documentation, or trust in financial institutions. To combat poverty, unbanked and underbanked people must have access to tools including consumer protections; financial literacy training; and basic access to technology.6 Such tools must be accessible, reliable, and superior to cash. Further, increased access to financial services by women boosts their labor force participation, promoting independence, self-sufficiency, and economic stability.7 The same is true regarding greater access to capital for previously unbanked entrepreneurs.8
Access to Healthcare Services
Communities that experience a health-poverty gap have higher levels of disease and infections.9 The inability to access health care services deeply affects human productivity and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Diseases can arise from poor nutrition, overcrowding and lack of clean water, as well as other environmental issues. Overall health is helped or hindered depending on four major factors: geographic accessibility, availability, acceptance by the given society an individual lives in, and cost of healthcare services.10 These four factors contribute to the cycle of poverty and illness.
Access to Telecommunication Systems
Improving access to technology increases economic growth by improving human capital, facilitating entrepreneurship, increasing information flow, and encouraging innovative business practices.11 People in poverty are more likely to experience hurdles in accessing technology, which exacerbates opportunity gaps and lowers chances for economic gains. For example, for students to tap into the future job market, they must have access to technology, yet in many rural and low-income communities access to the internet is limited.12 Moreover, expensive data plans are an additional barrier to entry for low-income individuals.13
Access to Education
Communities, societies, and governments that receive quality education benefit from increased economic growth and prosperity.14,15 Geography and proximity are barriers that prevent access to education; also, access to quality education can be overlooked when there are materials or programs missing in the educational process.16 Moreover, impoverished young people may have to drop out of school to provide additional financial support to their families.17
Access to Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
Water is not just needed for sustenance, it is vital to the growth of food, the development of infrastructure and to personal health.18 Water is also used in manufacturing, including many water-intensive agricultural products such as cotton and coffee.19 Improved water management services can have a positive effect on economies in various ways including reducing healthcare costs that can result from unsanitary practices.20 As water grows scarcer in areas where it is needed most, it will become more expensive and more difficult to procure. Not only will the price of water be affected but also prices for products that use water in production. This will inevitably increase the cost of living for those who are already struggling.21
Access to Adequate Housing and Living Conditions
If housing is unaffordable, priority is given to other necessities such as food and education,22 further worsening living conditions. Those enduring poor living conditions are trapped in communities where there is little economic stimulation or production.23 Inadequate housing can lead to illness and the inability to contribute to society.
SDG 1: References
On May 20, we hosted a video webinar with Cornerstone’s Katherine Pease and Craig Metrick, who provided an overview of our new impact measurement framework, the Access Impact Framework. Katherine and Craig provided background on why Cornerstone created the framework, our rationale for basing our framework on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and described our methodology.
Rising income and wealth inequality is a widely recognized social concern in the United States. This is a multi-faceted issue, with root causes that vary according to demographics, and one that impact investors have shown strong interest in addressing.
Since the 1990s, there has been a growing disparity in economic opportunity for rural Americans. This demographic issue has gained public awareness in mainstream social discourse in the recent past. In this report, we lay out the key challenges faced by rural America, highlight approaches to revitalization that have proven effective, and describe existing investment strategies.
The decline of manufacturing and shift to a knowledge- and service-based economy left many rural communities unable to recover adequately from the Great Recession of the late ’00s. The resulting challenges can be summarized as:
- Lack of jobs, or a mismatch in skills with available jobs.
- Poor infrastructure: Rural communities often lack high speed internet, access to quality healthcare, and local banking services.
- Drug addiction, specifically opioids, which compounds the effect of limited health care access.
Effective strategies for revitalization
Asset-based community development (ABCD) is a “self-help” strategy that sets the stage to attract private loans and investments by taking advantage of a community’s existing strengths. Initially a community might use government or foundation funding to develop community assets, e.g. supporting existing local entrepreneurs or developing local natural resources to offer an attractive quality of life. Once an initiative proves viable it may be possible to attract private investment.
Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) and other local intermediaries can help aggregate capital to support local investment. Aggregators attract capital to an investment theme and allocate sums to projects that need funding.
Real estate development is another possible path to revitalization, with Opportunity Zones potentially attracting investment that might not otherwise be economically feasible.
We highlight several initiatives that are under way related to broadband projects in small communities that may finally begin to deploy this critical infrastructure.
Lastly, we highlight how some communities are making a concerted effort to attract a younger population and stem the “brain drain” of rural youth to urban areas.
For investors interested in promoting capital investment in infrastructure and businesses that create jobs in rural America, there are various strategies one can consider across asset classes. We describe these strategies in this report; some are general categories of investment, and in other cases we refer to specific strategies available to our clients.
This article originally appeared in Investment News on December 13, 2018.
Sustainable and impact investors are set to intensify their decades-long support for action on climate change on the heels of a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued by the U.S. government.
The U.S. government notes that unless urgent action is taken, climate change could shrink the U.S. economy by hundreds of billions of dollars every year in direct costs. Consistent with these findings, the IPCC’s alarming (and unsurprising) conclusions are that urgent global economic transformation is needed to head off catastrophic damage to ecosystems, communities and economies beginning within a quarter century.
Many investors now understand that climate change is not merely an environmental issue but a material economic risk for long-term portfolios. However, investors should avoid a single-minded focus on climate change that ignores the relationship between ecosystems and human development.
The IPCC report stresses that an effective fight against climate change must include efforts to achieve sustainable development goals such as gender equality, the eradication of poverty, and food security.
In other words, how we fight climate change matters. Even the most optimistic scenarios will require substantial human adaptation to changed ecosystems, which will be especially challenging for poor or marginalized communities. Achieving sustainable development goals will strengthen the ability of poor communities to adapt to inevitable change and complement more direct efforts to mitigate climate change. However, these climate mitigation efforts by themselves may either help or hinder progress towards the sustainable development goals.
For example, mitigation strategies such as reforestation or biofuel development may reduce the land available for agriculture at a time when crop yields are already declining because of rising temperatures and water stress. The resulting increases in food prices have the effect of reducing buying power and possibly destabilizing civic and political cultures in developing countries.
Conversely, sustainable agricultural strategies, conducted with attention to social equity, can increase food security and counteract some of the negative effects of climate change on drinking water, biodiversity and income inequality, while reducing greenhouse gases associated with intensive farming practices.
The empowerment of women can also support and reinforce both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Improving the quality of cookstoves available to poor women has the direct effect of reducing fuel use and deforestation. It also reduces asthma rates, which improves educational outcomes, and empowers women by freeing them from the labor-intensive “drudgery” of traditional cooking methods.
Numerous studies have also shown that as women gain education and empowerment, they earn more income and often choose to have fewer children, which is associated with reduced poverty and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The introduction of modern technologies such as cookstoves into poor households would have an undeniably positive effect on quality of life for the poor and the resilience of their communities. However, the resulting increase in the demand for energy could undermine the intended climate benefits unless these strategies are accompanied by investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency — both of which come with additional benefits for income and energy access.
These and many other examples demonstrate the need for a holistic understanding of the connection between issues of climate and human development. Yet much of the financial capital flowing into climate mitigation today is motivated solely by opportunities for financial return arising from new public policies and the dramatic improvement in renewable energy technology.
These flows are important for achieving global scale for environmental solutions. However, a lack of attention to the social dimension of investment decisions may create a blind spot for unintended consequences that counteract environmental benefits.
The insights of sustainable and impact investment offer an essential complement to mainstream financial analysis. Integrating environmental, social and economic concerns into investment analyses can yield a more nuanced understanding of the complex interactions between climate and society. As part of this analysis, a commitment to stakeholder engagement will help investors incorporate the perspectives of local communities who will be impacted by investment decisions — because, as the IPCC report notes, climate change will impact people differently depending on geography, income and culture.
So what can investors who are concerned about climate change do? First, their investment policy statements should explicitly incorporate both climate change and key related social issues, such as gender equity, poverty, food security, and health. Second, the evaluation of investments or investment strategies intended to address climate change should integrate an analysis of their impact on broader sustainable development goals. Third, investors should use their voice to ask companies, governments and financial markets how climate change and sustainable development is incorporated into policy, planning and performance measurement.
An effective response to climate change will require the mobilization of every resource available to society, including governments, business, and civil society. Given the unique power of financial markets, investors can contribute to a long-term solution or exacerbate existing problems. Sustainable and impact investors have an opportunity to influence the outcome, if they choose to take it.
We recently hosted a live video webinar to discuss ways in which investors can contribute to the narrowing of economic disparities through a dedicated emphasis on investing in underserved minority communities. Our panel, moderated by Randall Strickland, Cornerstone’s Director of Client Relationship Management, featured Pat Miguel Tomaino, Director of Socially Responsible Investing for Zevin Asset Management, and Julianne Zimmerman, Managing Director of Reinventure Capital.
“Creativity & The Arts” is a relatively new theme for impact investors to consider, despite being embedded in every cultural and technological advancement that has occurred since the dawn of civilization. As illustrated in this report, many impact-focused development initiatives integrate arts and creative endeavors, even when not defined as such. This highlights the importance of establishing common frameworks of understanding when considering impact investing.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), though not originally designed for investment or philanthropic applications, have become an important frame of reference for sustainable and impact investors. We at Cornerstone Capital Group have been developing our own framework for supporting investors to incorporate SDGs into their investment process. Our efforts have focused on:
- identifying key SDG areas of interest for investors to target for their investment policy statements;
- developing an investment strategy due diligence process that assesses how proposed asset managers address various SDGs in their analyses and security selection; and, ultimately,
- creating a framework to measure and report on progress towards achieving the SDGs.
One challenge we face in considering the SDGs in an investment context is their interrelated nature. Performance or improvement in any one SDG will likely be highly correlated with performance across a range of SDGs. Similarly, one can make a case that “arts and creativity” are intertwined with almost every SDG.
Of particular relevance to this report are SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities. Several of our contributors specifically reference the ways in which artists and creatives who are women and/or people of color and/or LGBTQ can be nourished and supported through affordable live/work art spaces. These are tangible examples of how art and creativity can be considered in the context of the SDGs – and specific investment opportunities.
As an example of the interrelated nature of the SDGs, affordable housing in a broader sense is responsive to SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. One can target SDG 11 as a matter of personal interest, while simultaneously considering SDG 5 and SDG 10, using art and creativity to connect the three.
In addition to creative culture serving to connect various impact investment goals—and more important—it is a bridge-builder between and among cultures. The arts can help communicate shared human experience in ways that transcend language and other societal structures and social norms. The arts offer amazing ingenuity, fresh and unique perspectives, and uses of media and tools from across every corner of the globe and every culture.
With this report, we hope to convey the numerous ways in which a focus on the arts and creativity can reveal meaningful and impactful investment opportunities. We can readily identify opportunities not only to support artists and creatives themselves, but also the spaces in which they live and work, the positive effects that they can bring to the communities in which their work is made and shown, shared experiences and bridging of cultures and communities, and improvements in the overall human condition.
At Cornerstone, we think of impact investment in a total portfolio context. This report shares perspectives from asset owners who are interested to find a fiduciary-level investment perspective on this issue. We hear from entrepreneurs using art and creativity as a driver of value in their business models. We also feature several managers currently offering diversified managed investment strategies in the private equity and fixed income asset classes, as examples of the creative thinking occurring in the finance arena. As the landscape of such opportunities continues to develop, Cornerstone will thoughtfully review the investment and impact goals of all such strategies.
Creativity and the arts are critical elements to finding the solutions to the systemic challenges that we face today. For those ready to participate in creating a better world through impact investing, we welcome the inclusion of arts and creativity as guideposts to our investment process, and an important new tool to creating the more sustainable world we want to build.
Access our full report here.
The US legacy of inequality based on race and ethnicity is rooted in centuries-old policies and practices that were designed to provide greater opportunity and wealth to some people (white people) and less opportunity and wealth to others (people of color). These practices were sometimes promoted at the outset as “race-neutral,” while in actuality they were nothing of the sort. For instance, policies such as the G.I. Bill granted opportunities to build wealth but were implemented to benefit white Americans while suppressing others’ access to those opportunities. Over time, investors have done little to break the economic divide; indeed, in many cases investment practices have only served to reinforce the accumulation of wealth among a small percentage of people.
Investors cannot alter centuries of structural racism that have led to economic inequality on their own, but they can support ways to help build an economy that provides opportunity for everyone. In this report, we look at some ways that investors are attempting to alter the economic paradigm through their investing practices.
People of color in the US earn far less and possess a fraction of the household wealth of white communities. The disparity reflects, in large part, 20th century policies such as the New Deal that set the stage for the emergence of a robust middle class but also embedded discriminatory practices that severely limited the participation of communities of color in that upward mobility. Many decades on, the overhang from these policies persists, and for many households of color were exacerbated by the impact of the 2007-09 recession.
Household wealth underpins financial security, helps families weather difficulties such as health issues or natural disasters, and enables people to maintain their standard of living during periods of unemployment. Family transfers of wealth are key to funding higher education, the formation of businesses, and home ownership for the next generation.
The implications of this wealth disparity go beyond the disadvantages it creates for the people directly affected. People of color will become the majority of the US population as early as 2045, according to a new US census projection. If the current income and wealth gaps between whites and people of color remain static, the overall pool of investment capital for entrepreneurship and home equity will be concentrated in fewer hands and sectors of the economy. This could fuel social instability and create major headwinds for future US economic growth.
Whether motivated by a desire to address racial inequities or concern about the future health of the US economy overall, investors are interested in understanding concrete ways to invest toward a more equitable economic playing field — one that fosters the creation of durable wealth. Investors are increasingly seeking companies, funds, and other assets that address long-term risks resulting from racial inequality and that are positioned for success if society moves to confront the status quo. We have assessed how investors may be able to contribute to solutions to three of the main current components of wealth inequality:
- Income inequality: Lower incomes result in less savings and, over time, less wealth. This leaves fewer resources available for the next generation.
- Home ownership and affordable housing: Less access to affordable home ownership deprives families of an important source of household wealth. Given the lack of family financial transfers that can help with a down payment for a home, lower family income, or other financial impediments, families of color may not have access to low-cost financing to purchase a decent home — or any home at all.
- Access to capital: Less access to affordable loans can diminish household savings. High-cost debt payments for educational loans, car or consumer loans, or mortgages may hinder a family’s ability to build wealth. Less access to reasonably priced commercial loans to start or grow a business may also impair a parent’s ability to pass wealth on to children.
In crafting impact investment strategies, Cornerstone Capital Group evaluates how investments can improve access to resources needed to improve individual, community, and societal outcomes. In considering what investors can do to help break the cycle of racial and ethnic wealth inequality, we look for ways to foster wealth creation by tackling those three challenges.
- Investing in deposits at Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) will help those institutions invest in underserved communities through affordable commercial, consumer and mortgage loans. Access to affordable mortgages helps families build wealth through home ownership. Access to reasonable consumer and educational loans helps families save on finance costs so they can put extra money into savings accounts. The ability to start or build a business with access to reasonable commercial loans is an excellent path to building household and community jobs and wealth.
- Fixed income or alternative funds focused on impact in underserved communities can provide reasonably priced loans to businesses and for commercial properties and owned housing in neighborhoods of color. Again, these funds can help people of color build wealth through home ownership, entrepreneurship or ownership of a property, and can enable a local business to remain in its neighborhood and not be driven off by escalating rents.
- Through crowdfunding, investors can help repair household balance sheets of overleveraged individuals by swapping high-cost consumer, educational or mortgage loans for restructured, affordable, lower-cost loans. These lower-cost loans might substitute for family financial transfers and allow adult children to build wealth.
Fortunately, the scope and number of investment vehicles designed to improve access to housing and capital is broadening along with growing interest in targeting investments for impact.