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Global investing program having an impact

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 10 2013 9:19 a.m. MDT

Elizabeth Jarpeh, left, and Miatta Chea sew tee shirts at Liberty & Justice apparel company in Liberia. The company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon) Elizabeth Jarpeh, left, and Miatta Chea sew tee shirts at Liberty & Justice apparel company in Liberia. The company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon)

SALT LAKE CITY — When Chid Liberty co-founded Liberty & Justice, he wanted to create a company that would help women in Africa find work and extricate themselves from the bonds of poverty and social inequality.

Born in Liberia, West Africa, Liberty left as an infant when his father became the nation’s ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, with residence in Bonn. His family was later exiled in the United States.

Liberty, now 34, returned to Africa in 2009, embarking on a campaign to make a difference in the lives of the people of his birthplace, particularly women.

Liberty & Justice is the first fair-trade certified apparel manufacturing company in Africa with operations in Liberia and Ghana. And it was among the first companies to receive financial support from the James Lee Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, in partnership with the Sorenson Impact Foundation.

Employees exit the Liberty & Justice apparel company factory in Liberia during a morning break. The company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon) Employees exit the Liberty & Justice apparel company factory in Liberia during a morning break. The company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon)

After obtaining $250,000, the company has generated $500,000 in revenue in just three months of operation while providing employment to scores of people and bringing economic hope to a nation in desperate need of optimism.

"These funds will prove instrumental in advancing our mission to transform the apparel supply chain in Africa," Liberty said. "With this show of faith by (the Sorenson Impact Foundation), we can continue to train and employ more women in the garment industry and help them work toward self-sufficiency while beginning to set the standard for proper manufacturing in western Africa."

Today, the clothing company employs 90 people in Ghana and 100 in Liberia, with plans to grow to 330 over the next 18 months. Liberty said growth is so high that the company is hiring 45 new employees each month.

“We make tote bags and T-shirts in Liberia and pants in Ghana,” he explained.

Employee hold hands around a table during morning prayer at Liberty & Justice apparel company factory in Liberia. The women pictured are mostly Christians and Muslims and meet daily to promote workplace unity. The company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon) Employee hold hands around a table during morning prayer at Liberty & Justice apparel company factory in Liberia. The women pictured are mostly Christians and Muslims and meet daily to promote workplace unity. The company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon)

The wages paid to workers at Liberty & Justice are on par or higher than prevailing wages in each of the countries, Liberty said.

Last week, the Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center announced results from its partnership with the Sorenson Impact Foundation to facilitate five early stage investments totaling approximately $2 million.

Completed in the first half of the year, the targeted impact investments are aimed at helping early stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in industries such as solar energy, small and medium enterprise financing, affordable housing and fair-trade clothing manufacturing.

"We are pleased with the progress the foundation has made in making program-related investments," said Jim Sorenson, founder and chairman of the Sorenson Impact Foundation.

"For a variety of reasons, there are limited amounts of risk capital going to support companies of social impact to bridge the gap between purely philanthropic and commercially oriented capital. The SGII Center has played a catalytic role in helping to address such issues and facilitate these investments," Sorenson said.

Chid Liberty, co-founder of Liberty & Justice apparel company conducts a training workshop at a manufacturing facility in Liberia. His company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon) Chid Liberty, co-founder of Liberty & Justice apparel company conducts a training workshop at a manufacturing facility in Liberia. His company was among the first to receive impact investing funding from a program run through the University of Utah's Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises in impoverished countries. (Glenna Gordon)

Created in January 2013, the SGII Center helps facilitate participation in the growing field of impact investing by training students through experiential learning to work directly with clients that include social enterprises, corporations, family offices, impact funds and private family foundations.

The center engages students in creating sustainable change on regional and global levels through high-impact social investment, innovative curriculum and research. Impact investments are made into companies, organizations and funds with the express intention of generating measurable social and environmental impacts in addition to a financial return.

Recent impact investments selected by SIF were sourced, screened, vetted and structured by teams of students focusing on each of the companies' potential to produce sustainable and scalable social impact.

The issues addressed through the center run the social gamut from poverty to health care to the environment, education, housing, sustainable and green energy, and agriculture.

The goal of the Sorenson Center is to serve as a growth platform for the University Impact Fund — a joint venture launched in 2010 by the David Eccles School of Business, the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance at BYU, Sorenson and fellow global impact investor Geoff Woolley.

The center is designed to accelerate the work of the University Impact Fund, which cultivates impact investment expertise in students through real-world experience while providing consulting and advisory services in the social entrepreneurship and impact investment sectors.

"These investments will serve to close funding gaps, helping social enterprises to prove out their businesses, with the additional benefit of cultivating impact investing expertise in students," Sorenson said. "I hope that our efforts will accelerate the growth of the sector at-large and help lead to improved societal change on a global scale."

Along with Liberty & Justice, other companies receiving SIF investments include Copia, a Kenya-based consumer catalog and rural distribution company; as well as three India-based entities — Kinara Capital, ­a financing company for micro and small enterprises; Simpa Networks, a pay-as-you-go solar financing company; and World Haus, an affordable housing construction company.

At the SGII Center, students work to address both the supply and demand barriers to impact investing through a broad range of services offered. Students often travel to locations around the world to help prepare businesses for capital infusion by providing early stage services, as well as continued post-investment support and assistance in measurement and monitoring of social impact.

"The opportunity to play an active role in combating these crucial societal issues is very rewarding," said Brandon Koch, a finance and computer science student at the David Eccles School of Business who spent three months in India working for Kinara Capital. "The hands-on experience I gained at the SGII Center has been invaluable, and I look forward to continuing to apply these skills in the real world to create sustainable change."

The number of impact investing funds is on the rise and has grown the past five years. A 2009 report from the Monitor Group research firm estimated the impact investing industry could grow from approximately $50 billion in assets to $500 billion over the next decade.

Since its inception, the SGII Center has facilitated approximately $5 million in investments, according to director Lewis Hower.

"Our key focus as a center is to increase the engagement of foundations and early stage impact investors to facilitate scalable and sustainable impact investments in promising social enterprises while providing students a unique and rewarding experiential education and career path," Hower said.

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