As a perhaps typical young woman, my first foray into socially responsible investing took place just last summer with my first Kiva loan, made to a Keyan woman named Nancy Khatsembuli, whose age and story resonated with me. When I learned about peer to peer lending I expanded to Lending Club, where I made my first interest bearing loan to an individual borrower for green home improvements. Thanks to SOCAP11, I have just been introduced to another lending platform that blends my two interests – socially responsible investing with return on investment.
MicroPlace, a subsidiary of Ebay is an online platform that permits unaccredited investors with small amounts of disposable income to purchase securities. Funds generated by the sale of these securities are then invested in microfinance institutions worldwide. The platform differs from Kiva in that Kiva lenders select individual entrepreneurs to fund and do not receive interest on their loans, whereas MicroPlace investors fund institutions and get financial returns on their investments. MicroPlace investors can filter investments similarly to the way Kiva lenders can filter potential borrowers – by geographic region and type of investment such as “green.”
MicroPlace is SOCAP11’s marquee sponsor. MicroPlace team members Giles Cassel and Art spoke during the SOCAP11 afternoon plenary yesterday. They announced the California FreshWorks Fund, established in partnership with the Calvert Foundation and support from First Lady Michelle Obama. It was created to “increase access to healthy food in underserved communities, spur economic development that supports healthy communities, and inspire innovation in healthy food retailing.” It also provides Californians with a way to invest in and participate in their own communities – by purchasing Calvert Foundation California FreshWorks Fund notes on the MicroPlace website. The goal is to raise $100,000. The minimum investment is $20, and anyone – not just Californians! – can participate via the California Freshworks Fund listing’s page on the MicroPlace website.
In addition to announcing the California FreshWorks Fund listing Giles introduced MicroPlace’s goal of engaging more people in socially responsible investing to the SOCAP11 crowd. Giles said that “humans can’t live alone … with collective rebellion comes meaning.” In order to create meaning and grow the community Art said that those at SOCAP11 need to bring the unconverted into the movement – such as “your in-laws who wonder when you’re going to get a real job”. He said that “we need a broader public that starts to think differently.”
I got to talk with MicroPlace General Manager Ashwini Navayan this afternoon. She explained that people either see themselves as investors who receive financial benefit, or as philanthropists who give money away to support a cause. They are used to community experiences associated with donating money, but not with investing money. That’s the challenge that MicroPlace is taking on, with the goal of building a people powered social investment community based on the human impulses of generosity and compassion. Ashwini said MicroPlace’s work is “about action and participation and then transformation of consciousness. Tranforming people about who they are, because otherwise you’re divided between investing and donating.” Very exciting and inspiring stuff!
MicroPlace is keeping the entry cost to joining this community and people powered movement low – the minimum investment is $20 – and the website is easy to use. I encourage you to become a MicroPlace investor, if you are not already!