Cross-sector Collaboration Is Key to Community Development

Recently, investors and entrepreneurs gathered in San Francisco for the 4th Annual Social Capital Markets (SoCAP) Conference, an event dedicated to increasing the flow of capital to social good. It’s part of a new form of capitalism that seeks to harness the power of the private market system to support social/environmental impact.

impact investing, community building, community development,Closer to home, more than 40 people attended a Meetup in Asbury Park, NJ -- Invest in Asbury Park and Monmouth County -- hosted by the Community Investing Network of NJ. This network of investors and related professionals are dedicated to local community-investment opportunities that will provide a financial return and have a positive social impact in their own neighborhoods.

This Meetup, held in collaboration with the Affordable Housing Alliance was a diverse group, with differing points of view and experience: educators, activists, private and nonprofit developers, city officials, artists, entrepreneurs, first-time home buyers, and local clergy. Their focus is figuring out how to build assets and create wealth in low-income communities. Projects could include affordable housing; small business development/entrepreneurship; and community facilities, such as charter schools.

In keeping with the goals of the group, the Meetup was held at Springwood Center, a 27,500-square-foot mixed residential and commercial facility that demonstrates the power of community investing. The complex has eight affordable apartments, a senior center, and a business-development incubator. The center will soon welcome Kula Café, a joint venture between nonprofit affordable-housing developer Interfaith Neighbors and local restaurateur/humanist Marilyn Schlossbach. Scheduled to open in November, Kula Café will serve delicious food at affordable prices while training low-skilled workers for the hospitality industry.

Springwood Center is the first commercial venture in the area in more than 40 years. It is seen as the catalyst for redevelopment of this historic thoroughfare. The Center’s focus on job creation and wealth building in a low-income, distressed urban area -- coupled with its business discipline and ‘blended’ public/private financing structure -- represents the best of private and social sector collaboration to accomplish something that neither could do on its own.

So what can we expect from these local, community-investing gatherings and these innovative efforts to harness private-sector financing for important public initiatives?

The local focus -- the organizations features, the food served, and venues – is a common link, according to Network founder and Meetup organizer Bruce Arbit. He stresses the value of bringing distinct clusters of individuals together for a common purpose, in this case, sustained economic and community development. Such collaboration will be the foundation of the impact investing movement, he says. Several collaborative partnerships are being explored. The Network events allow people to ask questions and learn how they can join the local impact-investing movement.

Arbit, is also founder and principal of Melarbit Partners, a fundraising consulting and community-investing firm. He also is a member of a Collaborative focused on linking social enterprises to capital providers.

The Community Investing Network of NJ illustrates the importance of having both a big picture and a local, bottom-up, community-based approach if we are to tap the potential that impact investing represents.

The next steps, Arbit says, may include:

  • establishing local investment vehicles, such as a ‘community investment fund’ to facilitate participation by people who share a common vision but who may be motivated by different interests
  • engaging intermediaries, such as community foundations and other local funders, to providing early seed capital that can then be leveraged
  • investing in capacity-building at community-development corporations and other key change-agents

“The exchange between prospective investors and the enterprises that are looking for investments is the most valuable part of these gatherings,” said Beth Robinson, a local resident and CEO of Robinson Power Initiative, LLC, a green energy company. “This is the only way we can begin to build relationships and learn what it will take to really satisfy each other’s interests. I’m hoping there will be a sequel to this Meetup where we can review specific plans and concrete investment opportunities.”

Robinson is exploring ways to integrate her interest in alternative energy sources with local affordable/housing, community, and economic development projects.

Stay tuned for continued updates about the Community Investing Network of NJ and related local initiatives. Please contact bruce@melarbit.com to learn more about the Network.

How do you think cross-sector cooperation can help communities?

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