social finance and impact investing


Identification with ‘the lake’ was the number one response across the board across all demographics, but especially millennials. The connection to the sense of place is resonating with millennials.


                      — Jim Paine, Mayor, Superior, Wisconsin

Lost in Translation:
New Capital for the Common Good

Helping Great Lakes States Chart a Course for More Capital


The Brief:

Lost in Translation: New Capital for the Common Good is designed to greatly increase the amount and the diversity of funding for organizations in the Great Lakes states. We want more new money–grants, donations,  and investments–flowing quickly to high performance nonprofit organizations and foundation-led initiatives.

Threats to establishing and maintaining “environmentally sustainable, resilient, and just communities” throughout the Great Lakes states are substantial. They intersect at the nexus issues of water, climate, food, and economic justice. 

  • Economic opportunity and justice: If the region surrounding the Great Lakes were its own country, it would be the third largest economy in the world with a GDP of $6 trillion.But while some benefit from the vibrant economy, others struggle to survive. The US Census finds nearly 10 million residents in the Great Lakes states are poor. People of color represent 37 percent of those living in poverty and an estimated 3.5 million children are poor.ii  

  • Healthy, affordable, just food: Bread basket for some; food desert for others. Over
    4 million people are food insecure, missing meals and going hungry.iii

  • Clean, fresh water: The Great Lakes Commission reports that “Nearly $10 billion is needed annually over the next two decades to maintain and upgrade drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure in Great Lakes states.”i Flint, Michigan’s lead catastrophe is a microcosm of the problem of aging infrastructure.

  • Climate action: The Great Lakes is one of the top three hotspots in the world witnessing rapid climate change among large lakes. The impacts are sobering–increased frequency and intensity of severe winter storms causing an increase erosion, sewage overflow, and flood damage combined with summer months of more frequent droughts affecting water supplies for human, wildlife, agriculture and commercial uses and an increase of heat-related deaths and illnesses.

Time for Action:

The financial and knowledge resources of philanthropy, academia, public and financial sectors offer an immense opportunity for leverage and focus on these threats. Moreover, a convergence of factors can accelerate new partnerships and new funding resources:

  • The numerous Great Lakes-oriented funder and investor collaboratives already in place.

  • The millennials with their soon-to-inherit $41 trillion wanting their investments to express their social, political, and environmental value.

  • The growing number of financial institutions in the eight Great Lakes states beginning to support investments with social, environmental, and financial returns.

  • The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focus global resources on an ambitious social change agenda. With an annual $2.5 trillion unmet need, the SDGs need the private sector’s participation including in the Great Lakes states. A few Great Lakes cities have stepped up -- Madison ranks in the top five US cities meeting SDG goals and New York City is the first city to develop a city plan with equal emphasis on environmental and social sustainability and explicit links to the SDGs—OneNYC.i,ii

How to Make it Work:

pfc’s approach to addressing the threats and working with the convergence of interest is simple–support navigators and translators for change between the investors and nonprofits and social enterprises. Our tools–online tools and platforms, training and coaching; convenings and research as shown in Figure 1. The results–more new money to nonprofits and social enterprises, and more informed, active investors, donors and nonprofits engaged in the nexus issues of water, climate, food, and economic justice.

Figure 1. Lost in Translation: Capital for the Common Good


















ii US Census Bureau,

iii USDA, Economic Research Service, using data from the December 2015, 2016, and 2017 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplements.

iv The Great Lakes Commission, “Investing in a National Asset”,

v Jessica Espey, Hayden Dahmm and Laurie Manderino, “Leaving No U.S. City Behind: The U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index”, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2018,

vi Onecity NYC: Building A Strong And Fair City, April 2019,