Goldman Sachs made a big splash when it announced several months ago that it would begin an impact investment program, kicked off through a social bond commitment for New York City jails.
The unique social bond offering, back by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is aimed at fostering private-public investment partnerships that help the common good and inure financial returns.
Goldman’s success would prove a model for other municipal programs struggling under current economic conditions. Moreover, the social benefits are profound.
The four-year program has Goldman investing in education, training and counseling to reduce the recidivism rate. If it beats the rate by 10%, Goldman recoups its investment plus about 20%. If it doesn’t beat the goal, it could lose about 25% of its investment.
It’s obviously too soon to predict how effective the investment program is, or will be. But the ethos of the entire project is one that can and should be duplicated throughout the country, if not the world. (Note: The U.K. originated this investment idea through social impact bonds -- and they work.)
Enlisting the private markets to do what the public markets have failed at is the future, be it with education, utilities or criminal prevention.
A riff on these hardened direct investment projects are community development notes, whereby local programs (usually real estate related) get funded and small investment returns are offered (typically no more than 3 percent).
The genius of the Goldman program is the hedge fund-like possibility for financial return. And, as much as we all would like to believe otherwise, monetary returns matter a lot.
I can’t tell you the number of conversations I have had with financial advisors who say that no matter how well-intentioned the client, the bottom line is money.
“Everybody talks a good game [about social investing],” one advisor told me, “but they won’t invest unless I can show them at least a market rate of return.”