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ANNA SMITH: Invest in progress: A new era of community impact investments

Bakersfield in the 1950s

This image of 1950s-era Bakersfield graced a postcard at the time.

What if you could invest in a local cause that also had solid returns? What if you could grow your wealth while also helping to promote positive change in your own community?

Well, you can.

Historically, there has been little overlap between the concepts of charitable giving, where contributions are fully oriented directly toward the impact, and mainstream business investments, where there is often less consideration of the impact. But this is all changing.

In today’s world, we are constantly forced to de-compartmentalize the way we’ve traditionally thought of the business world. Technological advancements, generational shifts and fundamental changes in the way we do business have helped create a whole new work environment. So, too, have lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, flexible work hours, co-working spaces and collaboration. There is increasingly more overlap between career and community, charity and profit, work and home, business partners and friends.

My own work and personal life bleed into one another so much that it’s not even possible most days to discern when my work day begins and ends. I find immense joy and purpose in the work that I do; a paycheck is far from enough. I may have resisted this mingling of public and private as I first began my career. I now embrace it, relishing moments when I engage with friends and the conversation moves from personal to business and back with ease.

Related to these changes, there is a growing movement in business towards social impact investing. And these investments can be global or local.

The “local” trend is growing. You may have heard the term “locavore”; it’s a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food. There are powerful, real-time impacts when people support local businesses and local causes. Local politics are often more engaging, and many people feel that their vote in local races can have a bigger impact.

Authors Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak talk about a powerful new model of collaborative urban leadership, led by and for local communities, in their book “The New Localism." Early insight from U.K. Labour politician Matthew Taylor stuck with the authors as they began to research new models of growth, governance and finance that were emerging in cities like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Copenhagen, Denmark. As Taylor said, “A city must think like a system and act like an entrepreneur.”

Katz and Nowak tell the stories of the cities that are on the vanguard of problem-solving. Pittsburgh is assembling inclusive growth by inventing and deploying new industries and technologies. Indianapolis is governing its city and metropolis through a network of public, private and civic leaders. Copenhagen is using publicly owned assets like its waterfront to spur large-scale redevelopment and finance infrastructure from land sales.

While the world is getting more global because of incredible advances in this information age (“the world is flat”, as author Thomas Friedman writes), the relationships we value and causes we connect with most strongly are still likely local. It may seem counterintuitive, but while the world feels smaller in some ways — faraway countries feel ever closer as technology advances — truly local becomes more important and valuable.

I cherish local connections and experiences even more after I travel. You can probably relate to this phenomenon. I notice the friendly mailman who brings our packages and letters to the slot at our door with a smile each day. It’s comforting to work from a familiar desk with a view of buildings we’ve been dreaming about for years now. After a Memorial Day weekend trip across the country, I felt at ease observing neighbors going about their typical routines as we pulled into the driveway.

Dozens of globally focused social impact investment programs and companies have popped up, like the startup based in San Francisco called Kiva (, which offers lenders a chance to invest in small businesses around the world, and Swell Investing, a platform that helps private individuals invest in high-growth companies solving global challenges (

These programs are wonderful, but I firmly believe that we can make the biggest impact through work on a local level. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to invest locally with financial gain and generate positive local community effects, such as through angel investing, venture capital investing, crowdfunding, accelerators and business training programs, entrepreneur ecosystems, or simply by investing in private local businesses or projects. These investments do not have to be charity; they can yield good returns. It is possible to make sound business investments without checking your values at the door.

One of my primary goals in writing this column is to provide inspiration and connection between entrepreneurs with cutting-edge ideas, and potential local investors looking to make a difference in their community by using their business acumen and capital to invest more strategically. In the four short years since I returned to Bakersfield, I have witnessed great strides in the attraction and retention of local entrepreneurs and the willingness of local investors to “think outside the box” as they explore investment opportunities.

I would welcome reader feedback about how local investment might help change our community for the better.

Local challenges are not often met in the course of daily business. They include the need for industry diversification, attraction and retention of educated professionals, progress to ending homelessness and urban renewal. All of these can be tackled, in part, through private investment opportunities.

In “The New Localism”, Katz and Nowak explain that “Power belongs to the problem solvers.” I’d like to help be a part of the solutions. Wouldn’t you?


Summer Nights Downtown: The next Second Saturday is set for Saturday in  downtown's Eastchester neighborhood. There will be a special “after dark” version for the summer.

Four Decades Covering the Valley: Valley Public Radio’s 40th Anniversary Open House will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. June 13 at Cafe Smitten, 909 18th St.

Higher Ed Dreams: March Consulting is hosting Apply Yourself!, a summer college application workshop for students starting at 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Purchase tickets at In just four weeks, attendees will learn what makes a stand-out application and essay, ways to cut the cost of college and how to take their SAT/ACT score to the next level.

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