This piece by Philanthropy Northwest’s CEO Jeff Clarke is the featured foreword to Canopy’s latest research paper, Canopy: Committed to Investing in Our Region, which delves into the structural and legal considerations behind Canopy’s collaborative model. You can read the full paper here.
“We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.”
—Preamble of the Constitution
In ratifying their Constitution in 1972, Montanans affirmed what we know to be true: people care deeply about and are inspired by their place. Here in the Pacific Northwest – Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming – our sense of place results from an incredibly rich, diverse and unique set of characteristics rooted in our cultures, experiences and learning over time as related to the environment. Regardless of whether in a rural or urban setting, sense of place is a layered concept that, once peeled to its core, reveals that local matters. We see this reflected in many ways including Farm to Table, the Slow movement and networks like Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
As the Preamble attests, our aspirations for the local places that inspire us are modest: freedom, equality of opportunity and a good quality of life. As modest as those aspirations are, they have become increasingly elusive for too many. This institutional disconnect helps explain why only 1% of venture capital flows to black or Hispanic entrepreneurs and only 3% of venture capital flows to women entrepreneurs, who comprise 36% of our nation’s small business owners. Today, as a key strategy to building vibrant, equitable and inclusive communities, many investors like foundations, corporations, government and individuals are seeking to directly allocate investment capital to the places where they work and live. Call it place-based investing.
Were it only that simple. The health of a given “local economy” is frequently tied to that of a regional economic ecosystem. At times, navigating the most treacherous sections of either the Rogue or Snake Rivers is easier than getting different investor types to work together. There is also a demand – supply equation.
For those committed to place-based investing, reestablishing the connection between financial capital and local economies is job number one. Fortunately, here in the Pacific Northwest, our cultures are characterized by the values inherent in innovation, entrepreneurship, generosity and stewardship. Those values led a small group of place-based foundations to experiment together to create Canopy, a mission-driven company focused on evolving a replicable model of place-based investing. Appropriately, Canopy frames its journey by observing the world is awash in capital but, due to its primary values of scale and security, that capital rarely makes it to where it can have its greatest impact. It’s the kind of compelling framing that we expect here in the Pacific Northwest and I’m proud that Canopy embodies our cultural commitment to doing well and doing good at the same time.
Farmer, author and scholar Wendell Berry once observed, “if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” While that is certainly true, “where you are” must also afford freedom, opportunity and a good life. In that regard, this paper lays out why Canopy may ultimately be one of the most hopeful innovations in our ongoing work of building vibrant, equitable and inclusive communities here in this place we call home.
CEO, Philanthropy Northwest