Redefining Investment: Reflections from a Next Gen Investor

I’ve been involved for RG for three years now.  I’m proud to say that over that time I’ve given away far more money than I ever thought I would. I’ve been a part of growing a cross class giving circle and mutual aid funds.  I’ve organized my community to shift resources towards justice work.  It feels important not to see any of that as a small thing, and give my self credit for the work I had to do to get to a place where I was able to begin to move away from feelings of  scarcity around and entitlement over my wealth.  But over the past year it’s began to weigh on me that while I’m working to shift wealth towards grassroots social change, a large sum of money still sits in the stock market, investing in growing injustice.  I’ve also been disappointed with options to move resources to more socially responsible options, which often feel more like traditional investment dressed in new clothing than actually an investment in a radical shift of our economy.  I’m not convinced that any system in which I check my values off on a piece of paper – do I care about investing in sweatshop labor? or oil extraction? or tobacco? or alcohol?- aligns with my vision for a world in which all forms of injustice are unacceptable.
A bit on my story. My great grandpa immigrated to the United States, and settled in an industrial town outside of Chicago that was welcoming to Jews at the time. A generation later my grandpa – because of our ability to assimilate in to being white Jews – was able to access capital to put our family on a path towards upward mobility.  My grandpa worked extremely hard to grow the company, as did my father and uncle who at times worked 7 days a week to keep the business alive.  I deeply appreciate all they have given to create comfort and security for our family. And, there are a lot of people out there working very hard who – because of how systemic racism has played out in our society – are unable to access capital, who are unable to make enough to cover their basic needs.  I want to talk about investing in them and their solutions to how things could be different.
In order for this shift to happen, I see two things needing to happen.
First, we need to redefine our current terms of investment.  Traditional investment strategy says that the best investment has low risk and high return.  If our goal is to maximize profits – to grow our wealth as big as possible – then yes, that makes sense.  But what if those of us who have far beyond our means rejected that assumption?  Because I’m not convinced that the assumed “need” to exponentially grow wealth is actually serving anyone but our egos and fake sense of security.  What would be possible if our bottom line was justice? If instead we sought a sense of security from investing in our communities and building relationships?  What would shift not only in front line communities but also in ourselves if we let go of our addiction to wealth and leaned in to the people around us a little more?
Second, we need options to invest in this alternative economy at a massive scale. Luckily, there are many people besides me thinking through this question and working to create these options. Cutting Edge Capital – who collaborates with visionary, courageous changemakers to bring new capital to the new economy – seems to be thinking about this in some really smart ways.  RSF Finance is a one organization that considers the long-term impact our investments have on the market as a whole, and the people and places affected by our investments in particular.  They also have a great blog unpacking question related to alternative investment, with articles such as this.
Plus, there are hundreds of incredible initiatives happening across the world looking for people who want to invest in their models: models based in a belief that people most impacted by injustice are more equipped to come up with solutions; models based in true democratic practices; models that support communities in building lasting wealth; models that are creating green jobs in resistance to oil corporations destroying indigenous lands.  Here are a few I’ve found, I’m sure there are many more out there.  Working World provides investment capital and technical support for worker cooperatives using an innovative finance model.   Lakota Funds promotes economic sustainability on the Pine Ridge Reservation and geographic service area, through business loans, technical assistance, and wealth building education for families and businesses. Black Mesa Water Coalition and Kentuckians for a Commonwealth are both front line led community organizations creating alternative energy business in the face of the threat of oil extraction. Mosaic connects investors with solar projects in need of financing. The Center for Social Inclusion also has some good examples on their website.
It feels hard to believe something else is actually possible, as we are still living within the confines of a capitalist system build on exploitation.  But there’s too much at stake to not dream of and work towards another answer.  And while I grapple to truly align my investments with my values, I dream of a world in which so many people are demanding community driven, just investment options that our current economic system and society have no option but to transform into a world where we value people over profits so that everyone has enough.