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A decade of positive change

Ethex CEO Lisa Ashford looks back over 10 years of positive investments – and the future of impact investing
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Ethex's Lisa Ashford at her desk

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 08 March 2024. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Lisa Ashford, CEO of impact investing platforms Ethex and Energise Africa, isn’t one to shy away from change or challenging behaviours – they’re two things she has spent most of her career championing.

This year Lisa’s looking back on 10 years of Ethex, celebrating its achievements but also looking at the changes in the financial landscape over the last decade.

Changing the investment landscape

Ethex was launched in 2013 as a direct impact investment platform that matches everyday investors with extraordinary organisations and projects.

At that time it had a unique purpose: to create a greener, fairer and more ethical future by offering positive investment opportunities.

Back then ethical investing was a fairly novel concept, with the backdrop of a fairly male-dominated traditional finance sector.

Ethex took up the challenge along with a mission not just to promote it, but also to educate and to make positive investments more accessible to everyone.

A decade later Lisa and her team have overseen more than 200 ethical projects that have been funded on the platform, covering sectors such as community renewables, sustainable farming, greener transport and affordable homes.

More than 26,000 people are currently registered to invest and more than £120 million has been raised from the community in the past decade.

These are figures Lisa is immensely proud of – but perhaps more than that, she’s proud of how they were achieved.

Funding tangible change

When it comes to sourcing investment opportunities to list on Ethex, the change they create is just as important as the potential for financial return.

Careful checks are applied to ascertain how investment-worthy a business is, but the organisation must also demonstrate how it is creating positive change, and this will need to align with one or more of Ethex’s key investment themes.

Organisations raising finance through Ethex need to be actively taking steps to combat climate change, the breakdown of communities and/or social inequality.

These are often grassroots community organisations creating global change at a local level, but equally, they can be national profit-for-good businesses that are tackling some of the biggest issues we face as a society.

LATCH and solar for schools

Lisa gives the example of LATCH (Leeds Action to Create Homes), which completed two successful share offers with Ethex.

LATCH was set up to address the twin problems of derelict properties around Leeds and the homelessness that affects local families; a Community Benefit Society was established to buy these properties, renovate them to a high and environmentally friendly standard and rent them at affordable rates to people at risk of homelessness.

That’s not all; LATCH provides on-the-job training opportunities for unemployed people and ongoing support services for tenants. ‘Our investors got right behind this simple but genius idea that’s solving a number of social and environmental issues’, Lisa tells us, ‘and they can see how their investment is making a difference.’

On a bigger scale, Ethex investors have supported nine bond offers from Solar for Schools, investing over £6.5 million to help put solar panels on schools across the UK.

As with LATCH, the investors’ impact runs deep; Solar for Schools also provides education programmes that encourage future generations to live more sustainably, and help to create a future where we’re much more likely to reach net zero.

‘While the impact of Solar for Schools investors’ money is felt nationally, people can still see exactly what they’re funding and the difference their pounds are making’, Lisa explains. ‘And the pioneering education they’re supporting means thousands more kids will be inspired to join the fight against climate change.’

Empowering a change in thinking

One of the biggest changes Lisa has witnessed in the investment landscape over the last 10 years is a shift in awareness among people about exactly where their money is going.

‘People were used to trusting their banks and investment providers to put their money in the best places, and they didn’t think to ask questions’, Lisa shares. ‘Now ethical options have become more widespread, everyday people are starting to think about what their savings, investments or pensions are funding, and that’s putting pressure on the big banks to stop financing harmful or unethical industries.’

For Lisa, this is one of the biggest ways in which Ethex is able to effect change. ‘As a direct impact investing platform, Ethex gives people complete transparency as to what their money is doing’, she tells us. ‘You’re choosing a specific project or business to support, so there’s no smoke and mirrors or greenwash. I think that’s a very exciting concept for investors.’

The next decade

The publication of Ethex’s 10 Years of Impact Report is a cause for celebration for Lisa and her small but dedicated team, and it’s driving them to keep pushing forward.

‘Our 10 year celebrations are a rallying cry from Ethex to encourage thousands of likeminded people who may not be aware of us to join us in creating a decade of even bigger impact!’, Lisa says. ‘We believe in making direct impact investing accessible to all, including more female investors, whether you have £100 or £10,000 to invest.’

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