What Does It Mean To Invest In Communities?

This week’s blog is written by Dion McGill, SCY Communications and Community Outreach Manager. The most he knows about investing is that the Wutang Clan once told him to diversify his stocks and bonds. 

Spoiler Alert!

There is no right or wrong answer to the above question…just perspectives.

However, yesterday Operations Coordinator Kirstin Grabski and I had a conversation on the topic…and it got me wondering.

I started by looking up the definition of investing on Google, and I got back:

expend money with the expectation of achieving a profit or material result by putting it into financial schemes, shares, or property, or by using it to develop a commercial venture

Well, that felt like a very narrow definition for investment.  However, upon further investigation, I also came up with,

provide or endow someone or something with (a particular quality or attribute)

So what does it mean to invest in communities?  Certainly we don’t mean putting money in with the expectation of achieving a profit…right?

Next, I Googled “What is community investment?” and got some of the following:

  • Green America: Community investing is using your investments to create resources and opportunities for disadvantaged people who are under-served by traditional financial institutions. Your participation in community investing could help people attain home ownership, start small businesses, or address other community needs.
  • Investopedia: Community investing refers to direct investments into poor communities via community development banks, credit unions, loan fund and microfinance institutions. Community investing is closely tied to socially responsible investing and focuses on economically improving disadvantaged communities by offering banking services and small loans to fund businesses, non-profit groups and affordable housing initiatives.
  • The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (USSIF): Community investing channels public and private investment to low income and other underserved communities in order to provide capital, credit and training that these communities would otherwise lack. While community investing spans a wide range of initiatives, some of the areas it helps to finance are:
    • Needed services (healthy communities, food access, education, child care, access to transit, access to jobs, affordable housing)
    • Economic development (quality job creation, infrastructure development)
    • Sustainable communities (mixed use/income smart growth, environmentally focused community investment)

I was slightly reassured by the line on the USSIF site about “needed services” such as food access, education, child care and access to jobs, but otherwise, all of these definitions and resources seemed very banking heavy.

Is community investment all about dollars and cents?

These explorations stem from the conversation between Kirstin and I, in which we were discussing the options for our March training on Community Investment.  While our quarterly meetings are a chance for SCY partners to hear from leaders and influencers on a given topic, as well as network and discuss critical issues with peers and colleagues on that topic, SCY trainings are designed to offer more skill building.  We want attendees to walk away with a newly inquired skill, or set of skills.  So we found ourselves asking “of these options, which of them fit within the purview of investment in community?

And that of course got me thinking, and Googling, and here we are.

Now, I’ll be the first person to say that Chicago communities definitely need economic investment, particularly those areas and communities of the city that have been neglected for decades.  However, I feel the above explanations feel a little limited in their scope, and the fact that the first page of my Google search contained nothing but similar explanations rubbed me the wrong way.

I live in Woodlawn.  If I connect with a group of youth in my community, and engage them in a conversation and perhaps show them some mindfulness techniques they can use when they feel angry or stressed; show them a simple meditation…isn’t that community investment? Also, it wouldn’t cost me a dime.  In fact, the person who taught me to effectively meditate and share my practice with others didn’t charge me a dime either.  Shout out to Acharya Gaylon Ferguson and Shambhala Chicago for the free knowledge.

And occasionally some neighbors and I will walk around the neighborhood picking up trash and bagging it up, and engaging and conversation with the neighbors we see, and discussing with them potential strategies to keep the trash from accumulating on the block in the first place…isn’t that community investment also?

While there is no right or wrong answer to the posed question, I definitely think that we as stakeholders in the upliftment and strengthening of Chicago’s youth (see what I did there?) need to definitely open our purview, and offer an alternative narrative, when appropriate, about what it means to invest in communities.  I definitely don’t think it’s all dollars and cents.

Investors!  That doesn’t mean we don’t need your money.  We do!  However, I would also love some of your time to mentor adults and youth in those communities.  As a former teacher, I’m a firm believer that knowledge sharing is one of the greatest community investments we can offer.  Coincidentally, that makes schools one of our most important community investments…so maybe we should stop closing them.

But that’s a topic for another time.

What training topics would you like to see SCY provide on the topic of investment in communities?  Let us know down in the comments, or feel free to send us an email. 


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