Capital Absorption

In partnership with the Kresge Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the IRI is involved in ground-level research on the ability of places to attract and deploy investment capital effectively for community benefit, and the roles that stakeholders such as foundations and governments can play in increasing capacity. Mainly focusing on urban areas, the development of a theoretical framework for community investment infrastructure will be paired with in-depth case studies on particular cities, issues, and actors to assess the functionality of the model.

The work, which builds on efforts begun at Living Cities, will result in a series of papers, cases, tools and convenings that further our understanding of how communities can strengthen their capacity to use capital to meet social and environmental goals.


Community Investment no border
Community Investment: Focusing on the System (pdf)

March 2015
Focusing on the community investment (CI) system – its functions, boundaries, practices and culture – can help reduce the transaction costs and increase the scale and impact of CI. In this paper, we encourage people to think about the system for organizing CI demand, suggest ways to make the system visible and tractable in a given place, and offer some suggestions based on current and past efforts on how to make the CI system more robust.

For communities that wish to analyze and strengthen their community investment system, we have developed a set of worksheets (available in the report’s index) that can be used by stakeholders to make the existing system visible. (pdf of worksheets only)

  • The “Exemplary Deal Worksheet” asks for information about the actors who participated in a deal, the resources used, milestones achieved, and challenges encountered.  By looking at 2-3 representative or noteworthy examples, stakeholders can identify system boundaries, surface the relationships and networks among actors and begin to think about what could smooth the progress of future transactions.
  • Worksheets on each of the three capital absorption functions—strategic priorities, pipeline and enabling environment—prompt stakeholders to consider the vision and priorities that shape investment, how well deals and projects that are contemplated or in progress help to realize those priorities, and how the context in which the pipeline is developed and executed facilitates or hinders community investment.
  • The “Next Steps Worksheet” can be used to identify short- and medium-term actions that may contribute to strengthening the community investment system.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 1.45.14 PM

What Can Foundations Do to Foster Community Investment? (pdf)
Foundations can magnify their impact by steering private investment toward social goals. They can do this not only in their role as investors, as important as that can be, but also as grantmakers and as advocates, conveners and supporters of research. In this paper, we describe ways in which foundations can shape how capital is used to support positive social outcomes in marginalized communities.

Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco named beta sites for testing new approach to community and economic development
Kresge Foundation
October 2014
Announcing the next phase of the capital absorption work, focusing on equitable transit-oriented development in the Denver, LA, and San Francisco metro areas. 

IFFExpanding the Geographic Reach of Community Investment: The IFF Case Study (pdf)
November 2013
An in depth CDFI case study, building on research around the Capital Absorption Capacity of Places, this work looks at the process of geographic expansion for IFF. Capital absorption is described as “the ability of communities to effectively use [private] investment capital to serve pressing needs” – with a focus on understanding community investment as an ecosystem, with many different kinds of actors – public, private, and nonprofit– doing many different kinds of things. This piece provides a way to describe all those things that, along with investors and projects, were necessary to invest for social benefit in marginalized communities.

5 Guiding Principles to Build Capacity and Attract Capital” by Robin Hacke in Rooflines
October 2013
Five considerations should guide local leaders as they think about how to achieve important public purposes, especially when they are seeking to build the capacity to attract and deploy capital.

Letting the Dollars Land” by Robin Hacke in Shelterforce
October 2013
To realize the promise of community investment, the capacity of specific places to absorb available capital needs to grow.


The Capital Absorption Capacity of Places: A Self-Assessment Tool (pdf)
October 2013
Combining the introduction to our Capital Absorption framework with an assessment worksheet allows interested stakeholders to figure out how their city or metropolitan region performs on each of the functions we’ve laid out.

Putting Dollars to Work in the Community: 9 Things Local Government Can Do to Harness Private Capital for Public Good (pdf)
August 2012
Leadership from the public sector can make an enormous difference in creating the conditions that attract private capital and ensure it is utilized effectively to build sustainable and equitable communities. This paper outlines some key steps for public sector officials to consider and provides examples of places that have implemented these steps.

The Capital Absorption Capacity of Places (pdf)
March 2012

This working paper is a first effort to describe the community investment ecosystem as a way to better evaluate and understand how community investment capital is absorbed and deployed in specific metropolitan regions. Part I describes the functions that must be performed in order to put capital to work in underserved communities. Part II offers an initial diagnostic framework that analysts can use to understand how functions are being performed in a given place and what is missing.