This post was originally produced for Forbes.
One of the most controversial topics in impact investing is whether it is possible or fair to expect market returns on investments that do good. Gloria Nelund, chairman and CEO of TriLinc Global, says yes.
Nelund says her firm, which manages about $320 million, is designed to prove it. “The whole firm is really dedicated to creating and sponsoring funds that will prove to investors that they don’t have to give up investment returns to do good.”
TriLinc is a private investment fund that lends money to small businesses, including businesses in the developing world. To do business effectively in frontier and emerging markets, the firm partners with local experts.
Nelund explains, “We created a partner model where we went out and found the best private debt fund managers in the world in the countries where we wanted to invest and we developed a partnership with them where they would originate loans for us. We actually co-underwrite and co-structure all of the loans.”
TriLinc typically funds the loans directly to the businesses; local partners do not act as intermediaries. Some of the loans are sufficiently large that TriLinc reaches out to other funds to complete the financing.
Nelund highlights a loan to Corporacion Prodesa, S.R.L., a manufacturer of affordable disposable diapers in Peru, as an example of the firm’s impact. The company’s founder, a Peruvian American who worked at Kimberly Clark identified hygiene problems associated with cloth diapers being used in Peru and utilized abandoned technology to produce diapers low and moderate-income families there could afford.
The company not only solves a social problem in the developing world but also provides jobs that raise the standard of living for the community.
Nelund says, “When they were really struggling at one point and we were working with them to try to restructure everything, his biggest concern was the people in the community losing their jobs because it was so important to them and their families.”
The loan of about $3 million represented about 2.1% of the funds’ assets, according to the 2015 10K filed with the SEC and has an interest rate of 15.5-15.6%. The firm’s loans have interest rates ranging from more than 8% to just less than 18%. The loans are made in Central and South America and in Africa.
Nelund explains the investment strategy. “We have a private debt strategy that makes loans to growth stage companies that meet certain environmental social and governance standards and who are committed to creating impact and then we provide loans to those companies so that they can grow and they can create more jobs and they can pay higher wages.”
While Nelund admits that some projects require non-investment capital—philanthropic or aid forms of capital—she sees market rate impact investing as the key to attracting sufficient capital to solve big problems. She says, “You should hold companies to the same [return] standard regardless of the impact they create.”
Matthew Weatherley-White, co-founder and managing director of The Caprock Group, who has invested in the funds, highlights two features of the TriLinc funds. First, he notes that retail investors have been invited to participate in the funds via public offerings—most impact investments are limited to accredited or institutional investors. The other point he highlights is the firm’s focus on doing things better. “This isn’t about perfect. It is about steadily raising the bar.”
Jeff Shafer, co-founder of CommonGood Capital, praises Tirlinc’s team and procedures for sourcing deals outside the US with an emphasis on impact. He adds, “Since investing today in the US is dominated by the left brain, market rate returns and proof of positive impact are critical to mobilizing large amounts of capital.”
Dr. Patricia Dinneen, senior advisor, EMPEA and chair of Impact Investing Council, agrees with Shafer’s analysis. Like Weatherley-White, Shafer and Nelund, she concludes that impact investing at market rates is possible. “TriLinc Global provides credible and convincing evidence that you can achieve both financial returns and social benefits.”
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!