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Imperium Watch: Occupy Your Investment Future

As little as $20 can get you a stake in a new kind of economy.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

This may be the year more people break away from the Wall Street economic paradigm and give their investment money, large or small, a new life helping the 99 percent. It’s possible—and only small sums are needed to get a start. A thousand dollars and even less—as low as $20—can buy an investment anywhere in the world, from Asia and Africa to one’s own region or home community.

Far be it from us to minimize the value of the services of a good financial planner. But you come to realize after a while that what many of them offer is just permutations of the same thing: investments in corporations that may be enriching their top layers without behaving in responsible ways that benefit the world and lower the risk for you (think BP). Various planners shuffle and deal in various ways, but the pack of cards has a way of being the same.

Some planners, however, will help you find—or at least support you if you find for yourself—investments that envision a different kind of economy.

One example is the Calvert Foundation’s Community Investment Note (CIN), which for a very small amount of money—as little as $20—can get you a share of a very small business in an undeveloped country, or in the United States (www.calvertfoundation.org/invest/how-to-invest/community-investment-note). Calvert invests millions in small businesses in the U.S., and in affordable housing and health, to mention two areas of investment that help lift people out of homelessness and poverty.

If you want your investment targeted to New England, you can invest in the Cooperative Fund of New England (www.cooperativefund.org; 1-800-818-7833). This takes a minimum of $1,000 that has to be left in the fund for a year. Cooperative Fund of New England helps finance cooperative businesses throughout the region, including businesses and co-ops in the Valley; among its past and present borrowers are Brattleboro Food Co-op; Brattleboro Holistic Health Center; Collective Copies in Amherst; Real Pickles in Greenfield; Energia, LLC in Holyoke; and HAP, Inc. (Hampden Hampshire Housing Partnership) in Springfield.

So why would you go for zero to 2 percent interest (your choice) from CFNE instead of looking for a bigger return on the stock market? For one thing, though your money may not be multiplying as fast with CFNE, it’s safer. “No investor’s ever lost money” with CFNE, says the group’s executive director, Rebecca Dunn. Borrowers replay their loans at a rate of 99.2 percent, and CFNE has a loan loss reserve that it’s built up from grants and from its earnings.

Investors can expect pretty much the same return—rates more or less comparable to bank CDs, but secured with strong reserves—from the Vermont Community Loan Fund (www.investinvermont.org). With a 25-year track record, this fund specializes in lending for down-to-earth constituent needs like housing and day care. Check out its investment offerings and borrower profiles at http://www.investinvermont.org/.

And in Holyoke, for a minimum investment of $2,500, investors can sign on with Common Capital (www.common-capital.org/, formerly Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund) to help channel money to small businesses in the Valley. On CC’s list of current and former borrowers: River Valley Coop in Northampton, Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, Cubit Wire and Cable in Holyoke.

It’s not beyond the ability of the 99 percent to attack the problems caused by tight business credit and too-big-to-fail financial service organizations, if the conventional ideas about what investment means can be replaced by a different vision. Even small investors can help create jobs close to home, making the 1 percent less powerful and the 99 percent better off.

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