Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Investing in Transition

Hello everyone, on this rainy day! I hope you stayed mostly dry!

Over the last few months we've heard about the Occupy movement, which has given many, varied examples of how one percent of people control most of the money around the planet. Right here in London, Ontario a large corporation is trying its bully tactics against its workers: locking them out after they refused to have their wages cut by 1/3.

I'm generally pretty ignorant about money and economy ... not unlike a majority of people. And it's this ignorance that the corporations make their money from. Banks, manufacturers, retailers, speculators, mortgage holders ... they all count on me being rather dumb. This is the year I want to start to get smarter.

As ever, I turn to books!

The following is an excerpt from the new book, The Transition Companion:* making your community more resilient in uncertain times, by Rob Hopkins and hundreds of others. I don't know how many of the examples below apply to Canadian banking and investment situations, but the ideas sure are neat. I hope you are sparked. And there's more information about the Transition Network at http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ or Transition London Ontario at http://transitionlondon.ning.com/

Best regards, as always,

Why's Woman


Investing in Transition with input from Fiona Ward and Peter Lipman

Money isn’t a neutral thing. The decisions we make with our investment choices can either prop up and reinforce an economic model rooted in a past of cheap energy oil prices and climate irresponsibility, or they can help to bring forth a new, revitalised and more appropriate way of doing things.

Making the kind of transition that this book has argued for in the time that we have remaining will be an enormous, as well as a historic, venture. As we saw, successful localisation will require meaningful investment to make it happen. We have already looked at a range of ways of ‘plugging the leaks’ of our local economy (see Tools for Transition No.19), but this final ingredient explores how investment on that scale might happen, and looks at a range of possible mechanisms for enabling Transition to scale up sufficiently.

OVESCO raises a quarter mil for community solar via people-power finance. If we replicate many times, we can begin to dream. Jeremy Leggett on Twitter, 1 May 2011

For those of us fortunate enough to have investments, we do have some degree of control over choosing to invest in supporting local enterprises that actually work to strengthen the resilience of our local communities by providing renewable energy, food, transport, building materials and other essential goods and services for which there will always be a demand. Many of these opportunities may already exist.

It is early days, but there are many enticing opportunities that feel worth exploring, and could ultimately offer more security that the global financial markets, as well as furthering the aims of Transition.

Local Enterprise investment opportunities:

Self Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs): many people now have pension schemes which allow them to choose where it is invested. You can also transfer traditional pensions funds into a SIPP, which then allows more flexible investment, including into local companies, land, etc. (the rules of SIPPs set out the things that can, and can’t, be invested in). Transition offers the exciting possibility that such investment could be done collectively, i.e. a number of people might invest their SIPP funds in a large piece of local land, which is then used to set up a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, or in a community renewable energy project.

Local community-owned energy companies: For example, TRESOC in Totnes, OVESCO in Lewes, Bath Community Energy and others. These offer the opportunity for investments the results of which are highly visible in, and beneficial to, the community. One model for this would be to raise £100,000 (e.g. find 100 people willing to loan £1,000) then use this to raise more equity (e.g. from a bank) and then buy and install a wind turbine. The profits can be used to pay a reasonable return or interest rate to each investor, while also generating significant funding for local Transition projects.

Community shares and bonds: Have your Transition initiative issue community bonds, which raise funds for investing in local enterprises for a defined return, or participation bonds, which also give you some equity in the enterprise. Some examples of this have already been seen in Tools for Transition No.20, in so far as they are used to underpin new businesses, but they can also be used for larger projects. The Development Trust Association has a long experience of supporting and informing community bonds or share launches and has some excellent tools available to support you with this (see also Resources, below).

A ‘Transition Social Investors Fund’: This, currently under consideration, would be a very exciting approach. At the moment most large philanthropic funders have a substantial endowment invested somewhere and then distribute as grants the interest that is generated. However, what might it look like if a significant part of their endowment were invested in local Transition infrastructure, still generating a good return, but enabling Transition at the local level? It could also invest in a range of Transition social enterprises that have to meet social and environmental criteria to be eligible, as well as a viable business case of course. This is a model that Transition Network is currently actively exploring.

Urban/rural Transition twinnings: It might also be worth exploring the ‘twinning’ of two (or more) Transition initiatives. For example, it might be that a rural Transition community has a great renewable energy asset, for example a powerful local river, or a very windy site, but can’t, on its own, raise the revenue to exploit it. At the same time there may well be an urban Transition initiative (or several) who don’t have such an opportunity but who would like to invest in community renewables and in supporting Transition. Bringing the two together could be hugely mutually beneficial. This is already being modelled in the River Cottage / British Gas ‘Energyshare’ initiative,[i] which enables the attraction of investment from a broader ‘community’ of people interested in investing in community renewables. The same model could also be applied to food, development and construction, or a range of other Transition projects.

Transition revolving loan funds: Here’s an evolving idea. Perhaps large investors and businesses out there who want to invest in a way that yields a good social return on their investment (i.e. they can see tangible social benefits arising from those investments) might invest in a ‘Transition revolving loan fund’. This would be part of a larger process (such as REconomy) of nurturing new Transition social enterprises and bringing them forward to a point of being investment-ready. The revolving loan fund would lend at below-commercial rates and would create a link between investment and the enabling of a new, resilience-focused economy.

While ultimately it may be the case that ‘social returns’ of such models may be lower than can be obtained in the markets, through traditional investments (although this is not necessarily so), this book is based on the premise that the current global economic system cannot continue, and that when it ends, so will much of the financial system that many of us rely on to keep our savings safe and growing, especially our pensions.


The Transition Companion:* making your community more resilient in uncertain times, by Rob Hopkins. Chelsea Green Publishers, 2011. http://chelseagreen.com Available in Canada from your favorite independent retail bookstore, which can order it in even it doesn't have it on the shelf. Don't be afraid to wait an extra week or two for this or any other book.

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