Local Investing Puts Money to Work in Our Communities

When most people consider investments, they usually think of financial assets such as stocks and bonds, Treasury bills and real estate. People grow wealth, or build a nest egg for retirement or their children, by putting their surplus funds into broker accounts, mutual funds, hedge funds and similar vehicles.

These are well established, standard practices, facilitated by a huge financial industry. In recent years, however, those of us troubled by global environmental, social and economic problems have started to raise questions about the Wall Street economy and to explore alternative ways to manage wealth.

The concept of “socially responsible investing” has spread rapidly as concerned investors become more selective, refusing to support companies or industries they believe are causing harm. For example, the strategy of divesting from fossil fuel companies attempts to shift capital out of these highly polluting industries into more sustainable ones.

Investors have begun seeking ways to put their money to work building a more just and sustainable world. A range of alternatives is now available, from community development funds to microloan programs to mutual funds specializing in renewable energy, and many other creative approaches.

Recently, concepts such as “slow money” and local investment clubs have started to catch on. These are promising new ways of thinking about how wealth can have more positive, and fewer negative, impacts on the planet and our communities

Slow Money was first described in a 2008 book by Woody Tasch, a visionary foundation executive and investment manager. He launched a national organization that has attracted thousands of investors. A Vermont chapter of Slow Money was formed recently and held an event last week in White River Junction at which about 80 entrepreneurs, investors and state and nonprofit officials explored ways of building a sustainable food system.

The Slow Money philosophy asserts that business enterprise should work in harmony with, not against, the ecological systems that support life. Making a quick buck by exploiting the soil, water, and landscape for maximum return ultimately undermines the essential basis for human survival. Slow Money emphasizes “nurture capital,” more real relationships to people and places, and care of the commons.

Slow Money investments are often local and small scale, helping farmers, food producers, and community-rooted businesses get established or grow. Returns may not be as high, or rapid, as conventional investors usually expect, but those who have adopted this philosophy find great satisfaction in seeing their money make a positive difference.

The investments do grow—this isn’t simply charitable giving—but the “nest egg” they are building has as much to do with a healthy environment and strong community as with a personal stash of dollars.

Similarly, local investment clubs, such as the one currently being established by BALE (Building a Local Economy) in South Royalton, bring neighbors together to pool their resources to launch and grow businesses that enhance the lives of their communities.

If Woodstock area investors would put even a small percentage of their assets into local enterprises, we would have many thousands of dollars available to provide jobs, support a stronger local food network, and revitalize the local economy. Some folks here have started talking about this possibility. Contact me at rmiller9@sover.net to join the conversation.

This is an idea whose time has come.

We’ve posted a list of background readings and online resources on our site here

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