Author: Alex Ando
The discussion about the role of the banking system in today's society is one that has been at the forefront of many people's minds in recent years. Banks have, in general, become impersonal behemoths. Long gone are those days when the bank manager would come out of your wardrobe or from under the stairs, because he was part of the family, to listen to your projects, advise you and if convinced by your ideas, provide the finance and support you to the end– anyone remember the Barclays advert (I think!)? A sort of venture debt rather than venture capital?!
The idea that the bank was part of the community was an important one. Making money was obviously the driving factor, but it was with a keen eye on establishing relationships with the community, which was also, in a way, part of the guarantee. The local bank manager would be atune with what was going on in his or her community and could pick up early warning signs if companies and individuals needed support. Of course globalisation has partly changed that business model, but it has swung far too far. A healthy local economic environment is partly promoted by a healthy, local banking network, in my humble opinion. Currently this is not the favoured approach, which is a great pity. But there are alternatives that involve niche or non-mainstream banks and individuals and I find these fascinating – here are three I really like and with which I am directly involved (and no prizes for guessing which the third one will involve!!)
“A hand up not a hand out” is one of the oft-quoted mantras of micro-finance. Micro-finance is where I spend most of my volunteering effort. The support given to a nascent entrepreneur, who is prepared to engage in her or his project with dedication and commitment but without guarantees, is based on a sound business plan, adequate training, active mentoring and, above all, trust. Such access to finance for those who do not have much except for a promising idea and great deal of drive, is one of the keys to development throughout the world. In those countries which have functioning welfare states, it is even used as an alternative instrument to support the unemployed, which is farsighted. Nonetheless micro-finance is an example of courage, co-operation and a small amount of cash coming together for the benefit of those whose status in society excludes them from the mainstream banking system, with (hopefully) a decent return for the providers of the cash. It requires courage from those on both sides of the transaction, courage which is fostered by trust, commitment and a shared sense responsibility.
The “Community Land Initiative” (CLI) is another wonderful example of courage and co-operation. I came across it in an article about Fordhall farm nearly 10 years ago. In 2005 the Hollins siblings, sister and brother (24 and 21 at the time) were faced with eviction from the farm they were brought up on, following the death of their father and the expiry of the lease. They did not have the money to buy the property but desperately wanted to continue farming the(ir) land. So they started a campaign to raise funds to put the land into community ownership with the objective of leasing the farm back from the community. After some nationwide publicity, the landowner agreed to sell the farm for £800,000 to the Fordhall Community Land Initiative albeit with a tight deadline. The money was raised just in time by selling £50 non-dividend bearing shares to anyone who wanted to provide support to this courageous couple of youngsters. Over 7,500 people from across the world “co-operated” by buying one or more £50 shares, raising £600,000, with £100,000 interest free loans from supporters and a £100,000 loan from one of the few ethical banks, Triodos. There are now 8,000 shareholders and shares are still for sale. The farm is flourishing and is now giving back to the community a huge amount in many ways. I would strongly encourage you to look at their website. It is an inspirational story, where courage, vision, trust and cash are intertwined in an unusual way.
And now to my third example – INNOVO. Here the story is again one of courage, commitment and co-operation as a substitute for 99% of the cash. The initial cash requirements were replaced by intense individual faith in the idea . Micro-finance involves single individual taking responsibility for their lives with the help of micro-finance institutions, the CLI concerns a very large number of individuals making small contributions to a cause they feel strongly about with the help of an environmentally friendly bank to promote a viable economic and social enterprise and INNOVO sees courageous professionals and major suppliers committing to the development of a ground breaking idea with their talent, time and co-operation. INNOVO has grown to what it is with very little cash and has now reached the stage where it is revenue generating and has a rapidly growing commercial pipeline. Executives and suppliers invested £30m of resources and current cash burn is less than £1,000 per month. The executives and suppliers who have invested in INNOVO are now at a point where they are offering a small proportion of their equity to cash investors. As an equity investor you are buying into the demonstrable commercial results of the collective thought and engagement of a significant number of top business minds. They have brought with them a variety of expertise and skills along the way, and they remain committed to the idea. Their networks are far reaching and they are always available to foster the growth of INNOVO. Unlike conventional investments in which shares are acquired to bolster growth, with INNOVO investment can be made as results are seen! One can invest now as revenues start to be generated or one can wait and invest when the company becomes profitable (but shares will be more expensive...!). It has now proved to be a very viable and disruptive idea, and investors can acquire a stake in the explosive growth that is foreseen with the new and cutting edge technology now being introduced through exciting new partnerships. INNOVO is offering its co-operative model of individuals and companies investing their time and resources in great ideas to entrepreneurs. No cash is actually needed! Cash only appears in the equation when investors want to buy into this commercial success.
Three examples of courage, commitment and co-operation within a framework of trust.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net