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Putting the economy to work for the poor


Sean Callahan 

President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) recognises that impact investing presents an important opportunity to bring further innovation, scale and sustainable solutions to programmes that can lift the poor out of poverty. 

Since its founding in 1943, CRS has evolved into an international humanitarian and development organisation that alleviates suffering and provides assistance to communities most in need. In 2017, CRS reached over 130 million people across more than 110 countries. 

CRS is uniquely positioned to both source and invest in initiatives that serve the poor and vulnerable worldwide. We invest a percentage of our reserve in established impact funds and commit funds to make mission-aligned investments that enhance the scale and sustainability of CRS development programmes. While we expect a financial return from these and other mission-aligned investments, we are led by the impact our investments will have. 

We also recognise the need to help move the impact investing sector towards supporting the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

Improving water and sanitation in El Salvador

This past July, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (IDB/MIF), we launched Azure, a new blended finance facility that has catalysed both investment and grant capital to improve water and sanitation services for under-served communities in El Salvador. This type of blended finance vehicle enables us to expand our impact by bringing philanthropic and investment capital together to achieve development outcomes. This is particularly necessary as significant gaps ($2-3 trillion) in financing must be filled to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which cannot be met solely through philanthropy, development assistance or even public budgets. New resources must be deployed, and blended finance solutions are a critical piece in enabling civil society and the private sector to play a role in driving capital toward the poorest and most vulnerable. 

At CRS, we also recognise the need to help move the impact investing sector towards supporting the poorest and most vulnerable among us. We have leveraged our voice in the faith community to galvanise broader conversation about the critical role of impact investing, including co-hosting three conferences at the Vatican. We see these conferences as a vital, long-term global platform around Pope Francis’ vision of ‘putting the economy at the service of peoples.’

In July 2018, we co-convened, with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the latest in this series of conferences – a results-oriented meeting that catalysed collaboration and generated commitments to drive more money and action to target the most poor and vulnerable. To date, we have received over 100 commitments, from volunteer mentors to institutional investors committing to moving more of their money to impact.  

It’s an exciting time in impact investing. But it is important that we all remember that the point is not to make investors feel good, it is to catalyse resources to empower those in need – to have an impact on the lives of others. In the words of Pope Paul VI, our joint work of development “cannot be limited to mere economic growth. “In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every person and of the whole person.” 

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

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