There’s no disputing the fact that Oikocredit International is one of the ‘big beasts’ of the impact investment jungle. It’s earned that accolade partly by its sheer longevity – it was first set up in 1975 – but also because it has such scale, with €1 billion- plus in total assets.
But above all, perhaps, is Oikocredit’s status as a symbol of what can be achieved by carefully considered and targeted social impact investment, and its example as a model of transparent reporting on what it does. You can read Oikocredit’s detailed Impact Report on the Social Stock Exchange website, here.
Oikocredit, a cooperative with its HQ in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, grew out of the World Council of Churches. This ecumenical movement early on grasped the idea that the lasting way to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life among developing low-income countries was to mobilise investment, to help people help themselves.
Even today, as many as two billion people around the world do not have the most basic financial services, such as bank accounts and credit lines. Meanwhile, the developed world has constructed a vast market in esoteric financial instruments that few understand, moving money around the world that rarely – if ever – is actually invested. US banks alone have more than $200 trillion in derivatives (paper financial instruments) sitting on their balance sheets.
It’s truly a lop-sided world: but Oikocredit is doing its bit to help redress this imbalance.
In one sense, Oikocredit’s mission can be seen as a global redistribution of capital, from wealthy nations to poor. Two Oikocredit graphics demonstrate the overall operation of the company. The first shows that its capital-raising activity is focused in North America and Europe:
The second illustrates how its capital disbursement and capacity-building activities are focused on low-income & developing markets:
Oikocredit’s impact investing and capacity building activities support 16 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The only exception is SDG #14 (life below water), which falls outside of its central mission.
We spoke to Monica Middleton, the National Director of Oikocredit for the UK and Ireland, to find out where Oikocredit is headed. First off we wanted to know why the company decided to become a Social Stock Exchange member.
“We benefit by sharing a similar mission. That is, while each of us is focused on our own business imperatives, we also recognise the need to build awareness of the impact investing sector per se. Oikocredit actively invests in partner organisations that support the UN’s sustainable development goals in emerging markets, and the SSX provides a platform which brings a variety of impact investing opportunities to the attention of everyday investors,” says Middleton. “On a practical level, SSX membership is therefore an excellent channel through which Oikocredit UK & Ireland can megaphone its own investment opportunity to institutions and individuals. Furthermore, by working with the SSX on thought leadership, marketing and networking activities, we jointly raise awareness of the value of the impact investing sector in helping to overcome some of the many of the challenges we face in the world,” she adds.
As it grows, Oikocredit International’s decentralised organisation is evolving into a multi-regional structure “to ensure appropriate economies of scale across the 71 countries in which we operate” says Middleton. In 2015, its reach embraced 809 partners across 69 developing countries, with especial emphasis on rural agricultural communities and women. Through its primary investments and the microfinance institutions (MFIs) in which it invests, Oikocredit reached 46 million end beneficiaries worldwide. Its capital is certainly put to work: more than 80% reaches its partners in developing countries, with 15% held by statute in reserve.
Middleton highlights two examples of Oikocredit’s recent successes. The first is providing affordable renewable domestic energy supply in West Africa. “This November, Oikocredit confirmed its new partnership with PEG Ghana, a provider of solar home systems to low-income and rural communities in West Africa. Oikocredit; the asset manager, ResponsAbility; and the solar finance specialist, SunFunder, are each lending $500,000 to support the growth of PEG Ghana, which provides solar home systems on a pay-as-you-go basis. PEG Ghana will use the $1,500,000 loan to support its goal of providing off-grid solar to half a million households in West Africa by 2020,” says Middleton.
The second is in Bolivia, where (again in November) Oikocredit more than doubled its investment in Banco Fie, a leading microfinance bank with a strong commitment to financial inclusion in Bolivia. “Banco Fie has been a partner of Oikocredit’s since 2002. During their 14-year relationship Oikocredit has supported Banco Fie in becoming one of Latin America’s most well-respected financial inclusion institutions,” says Middleton.
According to Middleton, Oikocredit is “focused both on maintaining our world-wide leadership position in funding microfinance and growing our investment activity in smallholder agriculture, renewable energy and infrastructure projects. Integral to our choice of sectors is that we are guided first and foremost by our development mission in low-income and developing countries, targeting many of the UN’s sustainable development goals while ensuring that we measure the impact of our activities. We take a ‘managed’ growth perspective, targeting 10% growth per annum for our development portfolio over the next five years. This steady approach to growth enables us to focus and build on our sector and geographical expertise, while ensuring that we do not spread ourselves too thinly.”
Controlled, managed, focused and delivering – Oikocredit is a fine example of the power of impact investment, thriving for more than 40 years of topsy-turvy shifts in the global economy. It’s a real power, for real good.
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