THE BLOG

How the LGBT Community Gets Down to Business

09/12/2012 05:04 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST

Living while being gay still gets you killed in many parts of the world.

Pulsing with hate, powered by bigotry, mobs have brutally attacked and killed fellow citizens solely because the sexual orientation of their victims differed from that of the majority. Though it can happen anywhere, media reports suggest that the worst of this violence is perpetrated in certain in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

This is an extreme violation of fundamental human rights that the international community must address, with speed and vigor. But is it only an issue for the west, the Global North?

It's true that the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens are most advanced and visible in North America and Western Europe (though there is still a long way to go even there). However, countries from Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia are also starting to step forward.

In early 2011, for example, when 85 countries delivered a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council on ending acts of violence and other forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the list of signatories included a dozen nations from the Americas, three countries from Africa and three from Asia.

As these states continue their efforts, what else can be done? As a US president once said: "It's the economy, stupid." Like all of us, LGBT citizens need livelihoods, jobs and income to sustain their households and enable them to live lives of dignity and fulfilment.

In hostile settings it makes sense for minority groups to join together in common businesses, networks and programs. There is some safety in numbers. There is also economic leverage.

It also makes sense then that social enterprises -- non-profit, for-profit or cooperative businesses with social or environmental objectives -- are becoming a popular option for LGBT groups in emerging and advanced markets alike. A leading catalyst that provides training and advice in this effort is NESsT, itself a non-profit, with operations in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

In October of this year, NESsT will convene a World Forum on Social Enterprise in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Among an array of innovative businesses, the event will profile inspiring LGBT social enterprises from both the global North and South.

Like all business ventures, LGBT enterprises require capital to start up or expand. A few years ago, Lee Davis, NESsT co-founder and social entrepreneur, set up Galeforce Capital to respond to this need. A philanthropic investment fund, Galeforce provides financial and business development support to LGBT social enterprises around the world. Davis is the author of End of the Rainbow: Increasing the Sustainability of LGBT Organizations Through Social Enterprise.

Last year, Galeforce Capital joined LGBT Capital to form what they term the world's "first global LGBT impact investing alliance." A unit of Galileo Capital with special expertise in the LGBT sector, LGBT Capital provides corporate advisory and investment management services and has operations in the United Kingdom and Greater China. The first vehicle created by LGBT Capital was a private equity investment fund promoting social media connections with LGBT consumers. The overall goal of the Galeforce-LGBT Capital alliance is to generate both attractive financial returns as well as positive social impact.

But gays, lesbians and others with sexual orientation and gender identity that differ from the mainstream should not be seen solely as consumers. Indeed, from Rio to Vancouver, San Francisco to London, middle-class and high net-worth members of the LGBT community, especially those in the Global North, possess the means to become active "impact investors" at a significant scale. What they need are precisely the accessible financial products and a track record of solid returns that Galeforce Capital and LGBT Capital are building.

There is also crowdfunding. A new law in the United States enables equity funds to be raised via social-media platforms that mobilize small investments by many individual investors. Globally, there are nearly 500 crowdfunding platforms expected to raise close to $3 billion this year. This strategy, too, can be used to finance LGBT businesses around the world.

From mob violence to crowdfunding -- a transformation that can save lives and improve livelihoods. We can all do more to make this happen.