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Rebuilding economic systems

Impact investing: It’s celebrated. It’s hyped. It’s up for debate.

What’s it all about? Loosely defined, it’s an investment approach seeking to create both financial return and positive social impact. That may sound all well and good, but at Thousand Currents we’ve been seeing shortcomings in this growing trend.

Why aren’t grassroots groups included in impact investments’ design? (They can be.)

Why is there undue pressure on revenue generation? (There doesn’t need to be.)

Why are the investment models and terms so limited? (They don’t need to be.)

Flipping the traditional approach

The Buen Vivir Fund, launched in 2016, is the collective response of Thousand Currents and our partners to the need for a transformative brand of impact investing.

Instead of imposing terms and models designed by investors, we’re flipping around this traditional approach: the fund is built on effective lending practices already used by Thousand Currents partners.

The model is based on our grantmaking approach: trust-based, flexible, and recognizing that social change is a long-term investment.  

Our pilot cohort of investors, allies, and investees (our partners) are already at work co-designing how the fund will work.

Soon the first round of investments will reach 10 partner organizations from Guatemala, India, Mexico, Nepal and South Africa. The funding will go towards initiatives that are working in harmony with the earth: advancing food sovereignty, building climate resilience, and creating alternative economies.

Creating new models to build wealth and wellbeing

The communities where Thousand Currents partners work have long histories of building sustainable and self-sufficient local economies.

However, the current global market-based system has encroached on these traditional economies with devastating effect.

But our partners aren’t waiting around for the system to repair itself: they’re developing and expanding upon new models for locally-led and community-centered economies.

Through fair and equitable practices—including skill building, education, income generation, financial planning, savings and asset building—our partners are creating alternative economies where those most often left behind are brought to the forefront.

Drawing on our partners’ solutions

Thousand Currents with Women’s Awareness Center Nepal (WACN)

One example is the solidarity economy which functions on the principles of respect for nature and human beings, the right to work, education, health, rest, and a dignified life, the importance of cultural values as a people, mutual support, and the construction of democracy.

Our partner DESMI in Mexico is one of the originators and leading practitioners of this model.

Another example is the Self-Help Group model, which is practiced by many of our partners, including Ubunye Foundation in South Africa and WACN in Nepal. The model, where the grassroots organizes and supports itself, is sustainable and replicable.

Indeed, Thousand Currents partners have fostered hundreds of these small, mutually supportive groups which in turn have created thousands of small enterprises and served tens of thousands of family members using resources from and for the community.

Seeing the world beyond the current system

The name of the fund itself is inspired by a concept we’ve learned from our partners.

Buen vivir comes from Latin American indigenous movements. It’s a concept that signifies “right living” or life in balance with community, the environment, and future generations.

María Estela Barco Huerta

María Estela Barco Huerta, General Coordinator of our partner DESMI in Mexico, explains that buen vivir is another way of seeing the world outside of the current system. When everything becomes commoditized under capitalism, the system can become destructive, focused only on reproducing itself.

María Estela likens this harmony with nature and with each other to “a little plant. It’s a life you have to take care of over its whole journey.”

“This is the same with people. When communities can develop health, education, self-governance, agroecology and food sovereignty without aggravating nature and the environment, then we have the complete panorama about what ‘buen vivir’ is all about.”

It’s not easy starting an investment fund from scratch. Neither is our partners’ work building alternative local economies that truly work for people and the planet. But as María Estela reminds us:

“Chains of solidarity can reach around the world and generate change within communities, where ALL people can be people, living with dignity.”

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