Impact investing, the practice of leveraging private capital for social and environmental gains by making investments that produce social and environmental returns in addition to financial returns, has gained significant steam in the last several years. It has also begun to make inroads into the investment and mission strategies of faith-based institutions and investors.
For millennia, faith traditions have been innovating, adapting worship, theology, and social engagement to bring God to the people of different eras in a changing world and to meet the social needs of the times. Yet how rarely we talk about innovation as faith communities. We tend to consider it a value and expertise of the business or technology sectors, sectors we also tend to view with some skepticism. But the world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and the challenges driving social needs today are becoming more complex. We can’t afford not to talk about this. And, well, innovate accordingly.
Burke’s movement went viral last year when #metoo caught fire on social media. Few may know or suspect that like many social movements before it, this one, too, emerges from the vision of a faith-rooted leader. Few may also be aware of the systemic change work at its core - empowering survivors to lead change in ending sexual violence. Burke calls it “empowerment through empathy.” When the hashtag becomes an artifact in social media memory, that hard work will continue as it started, quietly and powerfully in the efforts of survivor leaders to eradicate sexual violence.
We are living through a tectonic shift in power dynamics. With the evolution of digital technology and globalization, people all over the world have access to information and opportunity at an unprecedented scale. The promise and potential of a world where power can no longer be monopolized by an elite few is thrilling for the possibilities it creates for greater equality. But what might be lost in the process? In the era of networks, do institutions still have a role to play? Greg Jones at Duke Divinity School has been exploring the potential of Christian social innovation and the questions it surfaces.
Understanding available assets is the first step to opening up new opportunities for innovation. Technology continually makes mapping of such assets easier at scale, putting critical data at our fingertips. And speaking of scale, the Catholic Church is one of the largest private landowners in the world. Recognizing the latent potential in this massive resource, Molly Burhans is leveraging new technology to map the land assets of the Catholic Church and create new ways to channel them for social good. Read more about her bold work in this article from The Boston Globe.
Baltimore pastor Rev. Heber Brown is sparking a movement with his Black Church Security Network, an initiative he started after seeking to do "something beyond prayer" to support his community members wrestling with health and diet issues. Rev. Brown is engaging churches in planting fresh produce on their own land as well as connecting them to black farmers, ultimately seeking to position churches to further equity in the food system.
Faith communities have often stepped in when government welfare systems fail to support people in need. The role and responsibility of government in social welfare is a worthy and critical debate. But what happens if we engage faith communities to collectively create a solution rather than just react to system failures. In the case of Safe Families for Children, you get an alternative to the perpetually troubled foster care system for temporary family separation situations. Read this story from Forbes.com to learn more.
Crisis migration caused by violence and persecution has sparked a wave of new ideas and approaches as the world seeks to respond to the challenge of a growing global population of forcibly displaced persons and refugees - over 65 million persons according to UNHCR. This story from the National Catholic Reporter discusses a recent report released by FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), which looks at how Catholic groups are using social innovation approaches to address this challenge. The report illustrates how a 2,000-year-old institution like the Catholic Church can connect tradition with innovation to bring new ideas to bear on today's global challenges. Spoiler alert: Catholic sisters are driving much of the innovation.
Urban faith institutions often find themselves on the front lines of issues of homelessness and affordable housing in their communities. This story from Faith and Leadership about the innovative work of a congregation in Detroit shows how an asset-based perspective can change the focus from reacting to a need to creating a transformative solution. Stay tuned for more stories of how faith institutions are reimagining their role in the housing sector.