Catalyzing Impact Investing in Idaho

Something catalytic happened at the end of May at Boise’s Trailhead.  Change occurred.

In a chemical reaction, for change to occur, elements that do not normally react come into contact with a catalyst, which facilitates the change, often speeding up the reaction.

In Boise, the catalyst was Philanthropy Northwest, who hosted LOCALMATTERS15 on May 27, 2015.  The elements were private, nonprofit and public leaders.  What emerged was the type of tri-sector leadership that is required for our times.

Further, what was catalyzed, or speeded, seems to be the rate at which impact investment deals will occur in the state, not just in the Boise area, but in rural areas.

The rest of this commentary will not focus on a chronological account, but rather focus on each of the underlying elements: private sector participants, public leaders and the nonprofit sector.  I’ll close with some thoughts on the blending of these elements and reflect on our own aspirations for what’s next.

For a pictorial review of the day, check out this summary from philanthropy Northwest as well as this Storify.

Public Leadership

Through the lens of public leadership, my highlight was Jeffery Sayer, Idaho’s Director of Commerce.  As someone who appreciates aphorisms, he opened with a couple great ones to set the stage for challenges Idaho faces prior to outlining Commerce’s response.  Describing the state:

Idaho is the only state with three state capitals: Salt Lake City, Utah; Spokane, Washington; and Boise.

With the focus on Boise, those who live elsewhere might call the metro area the “Great State of Ada” of which Boise is the county seat.

Besides regional differences, Sayer focused on four challenges that Idaho faces

  • Income levels
  • Education outcomes
  • Infrastructure Investment
  • Tax Rates

The state’s response is Accelerate Idaho that has three key themes:

  1. Advance Infrastructure
  2. Inspire Community Vitality
  3. Galvanize Regional Collaboration

At a more local level, the City of Boise is pursuing a Pay-for-Success arrangement to reduce homelessness.  These transactions were described as “government pricing an outcome” by Jeremy Keele is Executive Director of the Policy Innovation Lab at the Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center at the University of Utah. 

Private Sector Leadership

Private Sector participants were not less insightful.  Through the lens of impact investing, it’s hard to find two better practitioners than Jennifer Leonard of the CAPROCK Group and Kiki Tidwell.

Leonard, Vice President of Impact Investing has been deploying client capital for social and financial returns for years.  Among trends she cited one that struck me is her observation of clients having “one bucket of wealth” that is also an expression of their values.  This model contrasts with a more orthodox approach of “one bucket for financial gain and one for giving.”

Leonard sees impact investing’s next leap forward as the democratization of capital. That is more access to impact opportunities for all investors.

Tidwell offers one such example of blended value. She is excited about the risk-return profile, yield and social benefit to come from Solar Bonds by Solar City

Two private enterprises with social impact based in Boise also intrigued. One was Vyykn Water that is committed to distributed the world’s best drinking water, while eliminating plastic water bottles.  Another is One4All founded by Jason Hausske.  This social giving platform has the potential to revolutionize giving.

Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership

What was exciting about the whole day is the simple fact that Philanthropy hosted it. Foundations created an environment for rich conversations about how to invest in Idaho across sectors, organizational types, but all for impact.

Natalie Camacho Mendoza talked about how Northwest Area Foundation has been more intentional about impact.  While their financial returns are not as hoped, they have seen amazing impact. Results are driving the foundation to allocate millions more to impact.

Summary

The day was very encouraging for me personally and the vision we have for impact investing in rural areas.  We see partnership opportunities for impact investing in Idaho.  Our plan is actual deployment examples in Idaho very soon.