The concepts of local and impact investing are easy for most people to embrace: what’s not to like about investing in places you love and businesses who are doing good in the world? But the methods of doing so require specialized knowledge of securities laws.
That’s why lawyers may be the unsung heroes of impact investing and community capital.
Attorneys play a crucial role in supporting impact investing and social entrepreneurship. From Benefit Corp. legislation to regulations facilitating place-based investing, these developments would not have happened without some very committed lawyers.
And while we don’t often think of law as a creative field, lawyers can be every bit as innovative as the typical hoodie-wearing Silicon Valley entrepreneur. A growing number of sympathetic attorneys are actively and vigorously using existing tools and structures to find creative ways to make a wide variety of initiatives possible. (Hello, Sustainable Economies Law Center!)
These unsung innovators were the focus of a recent conference in New York. Called Legal Issues in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing—in the US and Beyond and hosted by New York University School of Law’s Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship, the two-day proceedings investigated topics ranging from ensuring that communities benefit from Opportunity Zones to embedding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into deals and blending capital sources to scale impact.
More Lawyers, Please
“Behind every pioneering social enterprise and new impact investment structure is a creative lawyer, often a whole team of creative lawyers,” says Deborah Burand, faculty co-director at the NYU School of Law. “If the fields of social entrepreneurship and impact investing are to grow to their full potential, so too must the number of lawyers who are dedicated to applying their skills and talents to drive positive change and advance entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
With that in mind, Grunin also awarded its second Grunin Prize, which aims to highlight lawyers, legal teams, policymakers and others who’ve made significant contributions to the world of impact investing using existing tools or developing new ones.
Related: Impact Investing Platform SVX.US Debuts With Offering by TechSoup
Out of six finalists, the prize went to “pay for success” organization Social Finance, for its Veterans CARE social impact bond, or SIB (pictured above: Leslie Cornell,Social Finance associate general counsel (third from left) and Navjeet K. Bal, managing director and general counsel). SIBs aren’t really bonds, but mechanisms for addressing social problems through which investors commit to pay for improved outcomes resulting in public sector savings.
Launched in 2018, Vets Care was the first such bond to bring together multiple layers of government—federal, state and local—and the first to focus on veterans. Its goal: expanding a workforce development program serving up to 480 veterans in Massachusetts, Boston and New York City. Investors will be repaid by up to $6 million in public funding from the Veterans’ Administration, the state of Massachusetts and the cities of Boston and New York.
The pay for success idea sounds simple, but addressing the various payment obligations of all the many government payors, each beholden to its own legal and financial structures, and doing so for a single project with uniform metrics, was extremely complex. Social Finance ended up turning the standard SIB contract into two parts, one tailored to each payor’s obligations and the other a uniform document with metrics and other features for the project as a whole. The team also created a new corporate structure to accommodate it all.
Other finalists included LeapFrog Investments, which pioneered an insurance product to protect fund investors wary of Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) participation by giving them preferential treatment in case of poor performance, and Cutting Edge Capital, a community capital-focused law firm, for its work on a direct public offering for the nonprofit TechSoup. The offering, on Cutting Edge Capital’s sister site, SVX.US, marked the first time a nonprofit has raised funds through a Regulation A, tier II offering, allowing TechSoup to raise money from regular investors as well as institutions and wealthy individuals.
Here’s more about all the finalists.
Photo at top: @SAMHOLLENSHEAD
Anne Field is a New York-based journalist who writes about social enterprise and impact investing. A version of this article originally appeared on her Not Only For Profit blog on Forbes.com.