Definitely a belated note, but as of August 2013 I’ve moved to San Francisco! Below is a bit of the journey as to why this move happened after 8+ years in NYC. I’m so grateful for my time there, filled with people who I hope to stay connected to for life (I currently still am there 25% of the time). I currently live and work in the Presidio, picture above.
The reason for the move was multidimensional. First, to be closer to noble friend community in bay area as well as parents in Arizona. Second, to shift out of a pace of life/lifestyle in NYC that did not feel healthy or sustainable to me long-term. Third, and most relevant for this post, is the ongoing shift in my life’s work.
For the last 4ish years, I’ve been involved in the field of investing for social/environmental benefit. Another way to look at it is that I was looking for an ‘organizational container’ in which to practice the values I was looking to cultivate. Coming from the management consulting world, the idea of melding capitalism with bettering the world sounded powerful. Armonia has been the primary container for this and I am eternally grateful for both the relationships and opportunity to delve deeper within, which the group continues to support today.
In that period, my own approach has evolved, and I’d frame it as 3 distinct frames of thought. First was the idea of ‘impact.’ Impact Investing as a term was coined by the Rockefeller folks a few years back and speaks to the broad importance of using the engine of finance to contribute towards ‘the good.’ This field has grown considerably in the last few years and includes some amazing people who have helped shape me. However, as time went on, I started to see the limitations of impact – in effect, that impact still needed to follow the rules of the financial system, which is infinite financial growth at any cost. Inevitably, this leads to destruction of non-financial wealth to keep up with growth (eg clearcutting, longer work hours, etc). In regular investing, this means we chop down forests to keep growing consumption. In impact investing, we may still chop down forests, but we’re doing so to build ‘sustainable’ housing. Better than otherwise, but in some ways we are simply slowing down the rate at which we’re running off the cliff.
Based off this understanding, the second frame we started to implement was that of ‘regeneration.’ What does it take to use financial wealth to build non-financial wealth? We started looking at the roots of non-financial wealth and found soil-building and community-building to be key. A few of the investments this led to was in the field of Holistic Management along with ecosystem regeneration. Of course, to make this work, we still needed to keep the projects financially viable, hence the investment approach was of value. As time went on, I kept feeling that there was a glass ceiling here as well. I was becoming more and more aware of the crises facing the world and was trying to understand why regeneration as we had framed it wasn’t scratching the itch.
In the last year+, the frame that has guided my thinking has been around ‘transformation,’ specifically inner transformation. In an attempt to ‘do our part’ in serving the greater good, it became more and more clear that entrenched systems (financial, educational, healthcare, etc) were in place to reinforce a way of thinking that was the root cause of our global crises. Tweaking the system wouldn’t fix the fatal flaw, and forcing the system to change wasn’t an option. So I/we started to look into understanding how systems change and found that it starts within each of us and follows non-linear paths. Helping facilitate a shift in personal-orientation, from ‘me’ to ‘we’ (starting with ourselves) thus became a heavy focus.
The interest in transformation has led to development of practices to bring generosity/mindfulness/compassion into the business environment through consistent action and reflection practice. I’m now piloting with the help and support of both Armonia and RSF Social Finance (along with ServiceSpace, which has been holding this worldview for some time now). We are even using the gift economy model as an approach to experiment on this and in investments as a whole, talk about a leading edge investment approach! With RSF and ServiceSpace being based in SF and having experimented with these approaches for many years, it became clear that having more time in these spaces was important in the next stage of the unfolding (hence the move).
As we’ve played with these pilots, the stories coming out of the process have been amazingly inspiring and in some cases stunning. Entire strategies have been shifted, companies have incorporated ‘gift culture’ into their beyond profit business models, families have shifted their relationships, and we’re at the tip of iceberg. Funnily enough, this all is catalyzed through simple group practices such as a 21 day kindness challenge, which actually has some powerful research behind its effectiveness.
To be clear, I do believe that impact investing and regenerative investing are needed in this world, and these approaches to social enterprise are the places where I’m connecting today as well. However, to develop products/services ONLY at that level, without addressing inner transformation as mission critical to a social enterprise is leaving something on the table in my estimation. In the coming years, I hope we come to see ‘inner impact’ as the deepest form of impact there is, and something that can be offered and practiced by any business. I plan to step up in my own authenticity as best I can in an effort to create the conditions for this.