Catholic Impact Profile: Catholic Relief Services


The stories of Catholic Impact page is designed to help readers better understand how to implement Catholic Impact Investment in their own portfolio by learning from those institutions or individuals that are that have committed to exploring, implementing, or are actively deploying Catholic Impact Investments. In addition to profiles of different Catholic Institutions, we will also feature relevant stories and updates that give insight to the broader field of Catholic Impact Investment.”

The following story details the Impact Investment Journey of Catholic Relief Services (“CRS”) as told by Beth Collins, Director of Impact Investing at CRS and Pat Dinneen, a Board Member of CRS and a long-time advocate for impact investing globally. In its role as a humanitarian aid organization with investment assets, CRS is uniquely positioned both to source and invest in Catholic-Values aligned Impact Investment initiatives. In addition to direct efforts, CRS has been able to leverage its status as a prominent organization in the Catholic community to galvanize broader conversation about the role of Catholic Impact Investing, including through co-hosting two conferences at the Vatican. Read more about CRS’s story below.


Catholic Relief Service's Journey

Catholic Relief Services (“CRS”) recognizes that Impact Investing presents an incredible opportunity to bring further innovation, scale and sustainable solutions to programs that lift the poor out of poverty. Since its founding in 1943, CRS has evolved into an international humanitarian organization of more than 5,000 people, that alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries. CRS serves over 100 million people annually, focusing especially on Agricultural Livelihoods, Health, and Emergency Response and Recovery. CRS is the official humanitarian aid agency of the USCCB. For more information, go to:

In 2013, the President of CRS initiated a dialogue about Impact Investing. Ideas were invited from multiple sources, internally and externally, with the objective of determining the relevance of Impact Investing for the mission of CRS (and the Catholic Church) and to explore possible roles for CRS. At the suggestion of Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace (now the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development), CRS and the PCJP convened the first Vatican Impact Investing Conference in 2014, in partnership with the University of Notre Dame (UND). The meeting brought together Impact Investing leaders from around the world to engage leaders of Catholic institutions on how private capital could be catalyzed to advance integral human development, especially for the poorest of the poor. CRS’ impact investing work is guided by Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (2014) and his words from the conference, “It is important that ethics once again play its due part in the world of finance and that markets serve the interests of peoples and the common good of humanity.”

Following the 2014 Vatican Conference, CRS engaged in multiple activities to advance Impact Investing within CRS and the Catholic Church. As an initial step, we created a 4-person team led by the CFO and dedicated to Impact Investing, and established internal and external advisory committees to bring critical expertise as we built out our strategy in this area. To put impact investing into action, CRS obtained Board approval to commit five percent of its reserves to invest in established impact funds, while also committing unrestricted resources to make mission-aligned investments in enterprises that link directly to CRS programs. In late 2015 we made our first impact fund investment in Ascension Investment Management’s Impact Strategy and we recently made our first mission-aligned investment with a loan to Lafaza, a provider of premium vanilla products sourced from small holder farmers in Madagascar for retail, wholesale and export channels. By supporting the work of Lafaza, this loan will create sustainable livelihoods for small holder farmers in Madagascar, people we have been working with for years in grant-funded programs. While we expect a financial return from this and other mission-aligned investments, we are led by the impact our investments will have on the poorest and most vulnerable. Therefore, capital preservation at the portfolio level is really our priority and any returns we receive will be re-invested to support future investment opportunities and other programming focused on serving the poor and vulnerable around the world. For more information on Lafaza, see

Smallholder vanilla bean farmers at work. These individuals will sell their product to Lafaza. 

Smallholder vanilla bean farmers at work. These individuals will sell their product to Lafaza. 

Reflecting progress since the first Vatican Conference while recognizing remaining gaps and challenges, CRS once again co-hosted a Vatican Impact Investing Conference in 2016 with the PCJP, along with a 2-day pre-conference workshop bringing together global Church leaders to explore when and how the Catholic Church could employ a market-based model utilizing private capital and new partnerships to attain and sustain its social mission. The Conference itself enabled these leaders and institutions, at an early stage of their deliberation and visioning, to interact with and learn from successful social entrepreneurs and impact investors. Specifically, the group comprised of Church leaders, social enterprises, investors and sector leaders deliberated about opportunities for the Church to transform some of its programs that are dependent on grants/philanthropy into sustainable social enterprises to lift the poor out of poverty for the long-term. For more information about the first and second Vatican Conferences, please see the website at

Participants from the 2nd Annual Vatican Impact Investment Conference

Participants from the 2nd Annual Vatican Impact Investment Conference

Early on and still today, CRS faces the challenge of shifting the culture and mindset of a nonprofit toward the use of private capital to solve large scale social problems through investment in social enterprises or businesses. As with other large INGOs entering the sector, but perhaps more pronounced with a Catholic organization, there is a perceived conflict between our mission and making investments in private enterprises. In order to a   ddress this cultural dynamic, it was critical to begin our work with staff education activities. We developed and rolled out a series of webinars introducing impact investing, enterprise sourcing and due diligence while also engaging directly with CRS staff at select conferences/meetings. We also led two learning tours bringing together CRS leadership and staff, Board members, and external advisors to visit local enterprises, impact investors and staff. These trips were structured to enable open dialogue on how investing in enterprises can advance the scale and sustainability of our traditional program activities.

Building on these educational activities, we have – through our field staff – developed a strong pipeline of mission-aligned investment opportunities and partnerships, primarily focused on agriculture value chains, that we will continue to expand moving forward. Additionally, we are looking to make our 2nd impact fund investment in early 2017.

Among the lessons learned thus far, we recognize the need for CRS and other Catholic Institutions to help move the Impact Investing sector towards supporting the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Many of the Impact Funds we have researched focus on lower and middle income beneficiaries, but not the “bottom of the pyramid” primarily because it is much more difficult to generate attractive financial returns in the latter segment. However, we believe that it is possible for enterprises and investors to serve this segment with high quality, affordable goods and services that are attractive to the poor and worthy of their dignity.