Day #0: Bolivia brings to mind Bowler Hats…

Day #0: Bolivia brings to mind Bowler Hats…

6 May 2014 at 16:39 - by Monica Middleton - 2 comments

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…And at present, for me, specific words. Lots of them… 

…Fairtrade, cooperatives, microfinance, social enterprise, impact investment, responsible investment, positive investment, social investment, ethical investment, socially responsible investment, sustainable investment, mixed motive investment. Arrgh. All of these words - broadly belonging to the same business sector - seem to me to be imbued with deep meaning yet, at the same time, they are confusing. At least perhaps to the layperson, which I suspect I am.

So I’ve done some homework. And for the sake of simplicity I’d like to imagine that all the aforementioned words mean the ‘same, same, but different’ in principle.

That is, I’ve loosely interpreted them all as having something to do with the imaginative, responsible use of investment capital to deliver joint financial, social and/or environmental returns to beneficiaries and investors alike.

This idea is usually referenced in terms of double or triple bottom lines since it runs counter to the single ‘profit-making’ bottom-line imperative that has so dominated the business and financial thinking of our times.

But for me this whole area of financial services cues the potential for a 'win/win' scenario. Offering an alternative to international Aid and individual Giving for those who need our help the most. Positioned somewhere in between traditional charity and conventional business, and being neither too ‘giving’ nor too ‘taking’ in ethos.

Its purpose, however, is clear.

This innovative sector of finance sets out to alleviate the challenges we face as a civilisation, and the pressures that these increasingly put on our collective social, economic and environmental boundaries.

It also seems to be not only about funding ‘here and now’ emergencies, nor only about the plight of certain groups, social/environmental issues or countries. Poignantly, it is also about making economic ‘self-reliance’ a potential reality for many more people, their households, their communities and their ecosystems.

Perhaps, therefore, it offers just one practical, proven model for serving the future of all of our children, grandchildren and indeed our planet?

So I’m engaged and curious as I contemplate my flight to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where I’ll rendezvous with my study tour group to visit grass-roots projects which benefit from this type of investment and partnership.

I’m traveling with Oikocredit UK, a subsidiary of an international Dutch financial services organisation with a 38-year track record in this field. Specifically, Oikocredit generates and measures joint financial, social and (increasingly) environmental returns on investment - for individual investors (like you and me), organisational investors (charities, institutions, corporates), business partners (Fairtrade, cooperatives, microfinance institutions), and the 28 million people in developing countries who, to date, have received on-the-ground loans and practical help to run their own ventures and support themselves, their families and others.

Finally, I’m going to Bolivia to learn; to look beyond these words and theories, to understand what makes for good practice in this sphere, to appreciate the complexities and obstacles faced, and to report back on what I find.

Please feel free to join me on my seven-day trip, here on the Oikocredit UK website or via


  1. Michael LloydMichael Lloyd Wrote on 11 May 2014 at 18:51:18

    Good luck in Bolivia.
    My business experience in Spain is that you can't do anything unless you are the Mayor. or the Mayor's brother.
    My suggestion is to take with you a model of an English Local Authority website, and compare that with one from Bolivia.
    I am not saying the English LA is perfect, but it is answerable to the public, and that will create a starting point for discussion.
    Oh, and please don't ask to see the LA accounts, don't go out at night, or drink the water.
    Buena viaje.

  2. Monica MiddletonMonica Middleton Wrote on 22 May 2014 at 16:47:59

    Mike, many thanks for your comment. I followed your sage advice about not drinking the water and managed to stave off all potential ailments only to catch a cold on my return flight thanks to the excellent air quality (not)!

    As you say, the British Local Authority Model is a good public sector example of how local public funds are distributed back into the local community to cover all manner of needs from health, education, business, minority groups etc.

    In some ways this can be compared to the aims of the positive impact investment sector, with organisations such as Oikocredit. The main difference of course is that the funds derive not from public sector via taxes but from individuals (like you and me) and organisations (charities, corporates etc.) wishing to invest in those who most need our help, whilst receiving a modest return on their share capital in a sort of win/win scenario.

    In terms of “getting things done” in Bolivia, the most salient issue seems to me to be that of regulatory issues. These are highly complex and in constant flux in Bolivia, such that positive investment organisations such as Fair Trade, Cooperatives and Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) find themselves in a continuous juggling act, navigating the changes in regulations whilst trying to remain “on mission”. And in this, they seem to do an admirable job.

    On a final note, I did go out at night in Santa Cruz and fortunately I found the city and Bolivians to be delightful, buzzing, friendly and extremely entrepreneurial...

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