Category Archives: Regenerative Principles

Stand with Standing Rock: Moving from Divestment to Reinvestment

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On December 15th, Regenerative Finance hosted a webinar to discuss how to stand in solidarity with Standing Rock as we move from divestment to reinvestment. The powerful #DefundDAPL movement has divested over $37 Million dollars, and this remarkable shift embodies an opportunity to redeploy capital in service of indigenous economic sovereignty. We discussed why a commitment to continuous learning about decolonization is crucial, different strategies for reinvestment, and our collective plans for ongoing learning as we work towards being invested in indigenous economies and movements for liberation. One form that learning will take is a praxis group of interested investors who will be supporting each other in moving money and deepening their commitment to decolonization work through a series of six video calls over the next few months.

You can explore the themes from the webinar through these slides: 

And you can listen to our conversations through this recording:

If you have more questions about our work deepening our commitment to decolonization or being invested in the Buen Vivir Fund, I encourage you to read this detailed overview and follow the paths of engagement described in this post by Ari.

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What it means to “trust the process” (& why we do it)

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This post is a cross-post from one I wrote for IDEX before attending the first convening of the Buen Vivir Fund in Mexico City — it ended last week (10/8), so stay tuned for updates.  For now, here are some introductory thoughts:
Version en español aquí.

Ari Sahagún

Ari Sahagún

 

First, let me introduce myself. I’m part of the founding circle of the Buen Vivir Fund on behalf of an organization called Regenerative Finance. Our official statement of purpose is to shift the economy by transferring control of capital to communities most affected by racial, economic, and environmental injustices. We do this in 3 ways: by moving capital, providing political education to investors, and shifting the impact/socially responsible investing fields.

What is the Buen Vivir Fund?

The Buen Vivir Fund is a process-driven, decolonizing project that’s trying to challenge narratives of international development at its core. This project is composed of a mixed group of people coming from a lot of perspectives in three categories: a set of individual investors and foundations in the U.S.; a group of grassroots lending, credit, and enterprises created for and by communities in the Global South; and a cadre of alternative economy advocates and practitioners from around the world.

So far our involvement in the Buen Vivir Fund has been in a two-month long co-design process. So far, our founding circle has not yet met. Though it might seem like “we haven’t done anything,” I’d like to share some reflections on taking these two months for design, supported by the time and dedication of Joanna Levitt Cea to collect all of our thoughts. From the perspective of my organization, we’ve been hesitant to share out what we’re doing, because sometimes we don’t know what to share that feels “substantial.”  So I wanted to write something and reaffirm us, myself, and you readers, that there’s actually a very powerful substance being co-incubated here.

Why does “trusting the process” matter to Buen Vivir founders?

1) Dedication to good process can be decolonizing, anti-oppressive, and liberatory.

Power is created and reinforced by making decisions and planning. Who gets to be at the table or in the room (metaphorically or not) affects the outcomes of plans, how successful they are, and what success even means.

biowatch-biodiversity-wheel

BioWatch, South Africa

Here’s an example: Get a handful of people in the room, plan out the project, maybe even make a Gantt chart. Later, do some “user testing” or “market research” – that is, see how your potential audience responds. This super simplified process is the modus operandi of a lot of business, non-profit, and government projects. Some groups are now realizing that these processes are…well, I could say biased…and are wanting to be more inclusive in their work.

I don’t think inclusivity is the solution. In a nutshell, inclusivity at its heart never aims to shift the status quo. Bringing underrepresented voices into a previously constructed process that was never designed by or for them simply does not work. The power dynamics set up by the premise of inclusion don’t welcome new ideas. Think about it: who is being included? And by whom? And most importantly: why?

A different way of approaching the Buen Vivir Fund involves affected parties from the beginning of the project, gathering advice from all of them, and working together from this perspective. Putting attention on the process, who is involved, and what success/impact means will result in an outcome that benefits more people.

2) We must overcome the capitalist tendency to ignore process for efficiency’s sake.

Our socio-economic reality promotes a tendency to be efficient, to get things done, to deliver products, to hack it together.

I live across a bay from San Francisco, California, one of capitalism’s global hubs. San Francisco was built by colonization and exploited labor: the City’s oldest building was built by native Ohlone slave labor, la Missión Dolores. Today there’s SO much coffee consumed here and so many things produced – these days in the form of apps and technology: google, facebook, uber, apple.

Nowadays labor is best harnessed through continuous self-improvement. In other words, you should always be reflecting on how you can become your most optimal, most productive. The same applies to your work product.

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IDEX with Women’s Awareness Center Nepal

You can see this trend signified by the word “hack.” It might be otherwise read as “improvise,” to quickly make something that is useful but not perfect, to make something with what you have, even though it’s not ideal (which, by the way is what most people in the Global South do all the time).

In the San Francisco area, you can “hack” anything. Seriously. There are “hack-a-thons” – marathon hacking events where people get together for a weekend or longer and make stuff, usually apps or some other tech thing as quickly as they can. You can “growth hack” your business, or “hack consciousness.” You can hack your bike. And yes, you can definitely hack your life, there’s a huge website dedicated to it).

All of this is to say you can hack together – or, in other words, bypass the details of the process – just about anything to find the quick fixes.

I suggest we stop this.

The question is: Who bears the burden of responding, rebuilding, etc. when the quick fix fails?

3) Having a different relationship to process is possible.

Perhaps not surprisingly, coming to value process is a process in and of itself. We have to be mindful of the tension between: distance/objectivity/thinking-mind & myopia/urgency/action-orientation. Let me explain that and give a little disclaimer.

IDEX with Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty, Guatemala

IDEX with Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty, Guatemala

Getting stuck in the process, stuck in a thinking-only phase, can keep privilege in its place and look a lot like apathy. The objectivity, the “stepping back” from somewhere in order to engage in a process-oriented phase, inherently represents privilege. So if you’re in a position of privilege or several like I am, it’s also important to be wary about the comfort you may feel in the thinking phase of things. There are some ways that it benefits me not to act; living in an economically well-off country that benefits from exploiting labor definitely has its perks.

On the other hand, if we are aware of these power imbalances, there might be a large, ominous sense of urgency that accompanies them. And rightfully so! (Stop the destruction of nature! Stop killing black people! Stop … a lot of things!) Sometimes, though, this urgency can cloud our thinking and lead to short-term outcomes that aren’t deeply connected to our vision, or might bypass important process-work.

5 tips to help you embrace “the process.” 

For me it helps to regularly remind myself of the long-term vision for a particular project. I find this to be a grounding, affirming activity that can help me feel balanced between thinking and doing. How can I develop a healthy relationship between these two? How do I benefit from non-action or from urgent action? Here’s five tips that have helped me grapple with these questions:

  1. Give yourself permission to be inarticulate as you try and communicate thoughts that aren’t fully formed.
  2. Notice as your feelings arise. They are likely very related to the content. Feeling unsettled? Maybe it’s because you’re decolonizing. Feeling vulnerable? That’s probably where your most authentic work comes from.
  3. Find and commit to an accountability buddy. Learn how to support each other in the process.
  4. Read! Write! Draw! Meditate! Walk! Do whatever you do to integrate emotions and new understandings, and try new things.
  5. I find the Five Wisdoms of Buddhism to be helpful here, particularly richness and spaciousness. Right now, I’m making spaces for each in my life.

I am so grateful to the Buen Vivir Fund for giving me a chance to reflect on the deep, restorative, revolutionary power of process. It’s inherently connected to world-sized vision this project embodies: to usher in a healthier way of relating to ourselves, each other, and the planet — the true definition of buen vivir. I’m excited to continue in this process together, through the smooth…and the rough parts.

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Land as investment

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Take-away points

  • Remember to broaden frame of investment/wealth beyond cash assets
    • SRI and impact investing will tend to focus on cash.  Continuing to ignore other types of assets is colonial.
  • Investment in land seen as “safe.”
    • Doesn’t depreciate, doesn’t require maintenance, tangible asset
  • Investing in land is reliant on historical and continued genocide, forced assimilation, colonization.

Commodification of nature

Capitalism rooted in colonialism erases or downplays the importance of land and “natural resources” as foundational to growth.  One of the major ways to turn land into a natural resource is called commodification — or the process of turning something into a commodity by converting it from its original form to a value that can be measured in dollars.

Take a tree for example, a complex living being that can do many amazing things: turn what we breathe out into oxygen; produce a huge variety of delicious tasting fruits, nuts, syrup, and berries; provide a home for birds, mammals, and other animals; can induce a sense of awe in us if we pay attention (see: redwoods, live oaks in the south of the U.S., bristlecone pines that are 5,000 years old); I could go on.  In his book Cradle to Cradle, architect William McDonough illustrates this point too:

“Imagine this design assignment: design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates microclimates, changes colors with the seasons, and self-replicates.

Why don’t we knock that down and write on it?”

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that trees are – for a variety of reasons – magical.

Capitalism takes these magical beings and turns them into something that can be traded on a market – paper, lumber.  Occasionally, economics can understand “environmental services” – more of the things that McDonough was getting at – the valuing of sequestering carbon, and then complicate the tree’s value, as well as make a stronger economic argument to keep it alive and healthy.

By the way, this is all reliant on a lot of separations within nature.  Trees are separate from birds that live in them, separate from the soil and water and fungal networks that nourish them.  We are separate from them.

So…commodification turns parts of nature into things that can be traded on markets, and made money from the sale of, based on an agreed upon value.  “Raw materials.”

This relies on separating us from nature, from our other ways of relating, and the interrelatedness of its parts.

Other related ideas include water investment and privatization, carbon trading and treating land itself as property.

If you’re interested in any of these things, I highly recommend watch Tom B.K. Goldtooth’s video on Youtube:

History of the land under the United States

United States history is different than the history of the land that the U.S. currently occupies.  Who was here before the “start”?  How is their deep history erased by current narratives that start history at 1776?  How does our understanding of the U.S. as one nation erase the hundreds of other sovereign nations that also currently inhabit this land?

histories-of-the-land
Here’s a quick timeline to illustrate the 1.5% of history since European settlement of the land as contrasted with a conservative under-estimate of total human habitation of the land, 20,000 years ago. It also includes what our current timeline calls “0.”

“Counter to the western stories that we’ve been here 12,000 years, we’ve been here over 60,000 years, likely over 100,000 years, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that,” says Paulette Steeves, director of the Native American Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A more complicated understanding of history that many of us did not receive in school is necessary to understand the depth of relationship that indigenous people have had and many continue to have with this land currently called the United States for thousands of years.  In contrast, the colonized period of this land is relatively small, a few percent of total peopled time.

Land as Investment

Investing isn’t just about money.  All capitalism relies on commodification of nature and land and the genocide required to do those things as well as direct investment in land.

Wealth redistribution tends to focus on dollars and donation of money.

International land grabs are kind of a big deal too.  The Oakland Institute has some great resources on that topic.

It’s imperative that our interpretation of investment be broadened to also encompass land.  Investment in land doesn’t have to look like owning a real estate property, there are lots of ways to invest.  And certainly all of capitalism happens on land anyway.

The process of commodification – turning trees into paper, into an abstract commodity that can be bought and sold – is the process of disconnecting ourselves from place, of literally uprooting ourselves and nature and abstracting it into something else.  In its very nature, this is colonial — it is void of a sense of place, a sense of context, history, and connection.

There’s a strong connection to present-day gentrification and displacement – these are not new concepts.  This is also super connected to the gentrification that’s happening around the country (and many parts of the world) as people move around.  The idea that people are movable, easily displaced, that a value connected to a place will drive people out of being able to live there — rooted in racialized colonialism.

Land Reparations

Land is not arbitrary.  Things like “equal redistribution of land” or “land as commons”  are colonial concepts that continue to erase deep relationships of indigenous people to *specific* places.

For a really basic idea of what I mean here, think about a place you call home.  About how it smells, about the plants that live there and how they change over the course of a year.  About all the people you are connected to in that place.  That place can’t be anywhere, it’s a specific place to you with many histories.  Multiply that by 20,000 years and then it might be similar to indigeneity.

One example of a land reparations project I’m familiar with locally is an indigenous women led project called the Sogorea Te Land Trust. It asks settlers on Chocheño Ohlone land to pay a “tax” to fund the purchase of land to be stewarded and used in ceremonial practices.  There are several other indigenous led land trusts around the country.

Finally on a related note, it can’t be left unsaid that this country’s histories of slavery and (forced) immigration complicates our relationship to land in the present.  (For more on this, see my summary of an academic paper called Decolonization is not a Metaphor.)

 

I’m going to leave you here with a few resources, some questions to consider, and let you know some of the questions we’re currently holding as Regenerative Finance.  Want to be in conversation with us?? Far out!  Drop us a line.

Some Resources

Questions to consider

  • Do you have investments in land? What does that look like? REITS, a home you live in, homes you don’t live in, relationships to real estate developers, buildings, infrastructure, …?
  • Do you have investments that are involved in the commodification of land?
  • Whose land are your investments on or in? What’s your relationship to those people? What’s your current relationship and ideal relationship?
  • What has your family’s historical relationship to land been?
  • All of our wealth was extracted from land, what were the steps in that process, and how does that feel? What are you going to do about it?

Questions we’re dealing with as Regen

  • How does land fit into regenerative investing?
  • If a project we work with is not indigenous-led, what would it need to do to be decolonized?
  • Given that so much wealth is accumulated through direct investment in land, what are we doing about that?
  • How do we take this message as settlers to other settlers?  How do we continue to bring this topic up in the impact investing scene?

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