The Case for “Civic Ventures”

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The following blog post was written by Ross Baird, Executive Director of Village Capital.

Last week, we announced the  “Civic Accelerator”, a joint venture between Village Capital and Points of Light.  The program is focused on “civic ventures” across the U.S.: ventures that inspire, equip, and mobilize people to create positive change in the world.  From human capital-focused ventures (volunteerism-focused ventures such as Sparked or employment-focused ventures such as ReWork) to people-driven innovation improving communities (for example, collaborative consumption enterprises VilCap alum ViaCycle, a “ZipCar for bikes”) to enterprises powering civic engagement (such as VilCap alums LoudSauce and DemDash), we’re looking to put people first in the U.S. and the world.  The Civic Accelerator is made possible through founding partners PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc,., and the Starbucks Foundation.

This sector-themed program is a break from our previous Village Capital programs, which have been focused on a city (e.g. Atlanta) or region (e.g. Brazil).  And the biggest question we’ve been getting as we’ve been discussing the program informally is “why this sector?  Why ‘civic ventures’?”  The focus on civic ventures is part incredible opportunity, part critical focus for the impact investing industry moving forward.  We’re pursuing these enterprises, and this program, for three reasons:

 

1. Civic ventures focus on doing the most possible with scarce resources, a serious need in the global economy in the next ten years.  Households and governments across the U.S. face stretched budgets, with an uncertain economic future in sight.  From a global sustainability standpoint, as the population grows, we’re going to have to share more resources, whether it be energy or physical space.  And people are going to have to drive this change–government-mandated policies often face difficult implementation without popular support, and the sustainability of nonprofit solutions face questions in light of increasingly scarce funds.  Our society is going to have to figure out innovative platforms (such as the commercially prominent example of AirBnB) and people-powered funding mechanisms (prominent examples include Kickstarter and Kiva) if we’re going to survive in the 21st century and beyond.
2. There is a crisis in civic engagement in the U.S. today, and the promise of impact investing is that innovative enterprises can directly address the largest problems we face.  Citizens feel disempowered by the growing role of big money and special interests on both sides of the party spectrum, and the average American no longer believes that their community or their government belongs to them.  In the past, impact investing has been most successful with major government and private sector failures (e.g. microfinance and mobile payments replacing pervasive predatory lending and financial services for the unbanked in informal markets; the Calvert Group’s securitization of SBA loans in the 1980s dramatically expanding access to capital for small business owners in the U.S.)  Platforms and solutions that enable people to take control are critical to addressing these failures.
3. We have an outstanding partner in Points of Light.  Points of Light, the world’s largest nonprofit focused on civic engagement, gets how to make a difference in communities.  Last year, Points of Light mobilized 4.3 million volunteers over 260,000 projects in 20 countries; their relentless focus on their mission has made them one of the most effective impact-oriented organizations in the world.  Moreover, Points of Light is developing an increased focus on social entrepreneurship and social enterprise with a tremendous team.  Points of Light has also been incredibly effective engaging with great corporate partners throughout its history, and in the case of the Civic Accelerator, Points of Light has developed incredible partnerships with PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc., and the Starbucks Foundation to support these world-changing entrepreneurs.
We believe developing “civic ventures” is critical to our economy and our democracy, and we’re excited to work with Points of Light on finding, developing, and investing in the best.

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