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Buen Vivir Fund Interested Investors webinar

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Earlier this month, Regenerative Finance hosted a webinar call on the Buen Vivir Fund for interested investors. What follows is an audio version as well as notes from the webinar.  If any of this is of interest to you, we’d love to be in deeper conversation with you! Please send me an email at ari@regenerativefinance.org.

Scaling impact through telling our story

We’re telling a different story than what’s happening in the impact investing sector, and controlling this narrative is powerful.  We’re intentionally using this storytelling to scale the project rather than scaling initially through growing the monetary value of the fund.  We see this as a key role for investors: to share this story with your network and use it as a way to deepen the impact of your involvement and the fund itself.  We’re excited to work in this way with you!

History of IDEX/Thousand Currents

IDEX, soon to be renamed Thousand Currents/Miles de Afluentes has a 30 year track-record of challenging dominant philanthropy.  Much of philanthropy looks like paternalistic relationships that maintain power dynamics, and IDEX offers itself as an alternative to this method of international development.  Specifically one way they do this is to build deep relationships with partners and offer long-term general operating grants — that is, grants that go toward anything in the organization rather than to a specific and limited program which is the vast majority of grantmaking.

IDEX broadly supports partners in their movements and centers the work and ideas of their partners in their own work.   This means supporting solidarity economy work as a movement, in addition to supporting their partners as well as realizing the ideas of the partners in moving the work forward.  The idea of the Buen Vivir Fund came from partners who asked IDEX to move past challenging philanthropy to also challenging loan capital financing and impact investing.

The Buen Vivir Fund

The idea of IDEX starting a revolving loan fund came from a request from several partners who are looking for a different kind of financing than grants.  The name “buen vivir” comes from a complex concept that’s difficult to define, but generally translates to “living well.” It encompasses well being at individual and community levels and centers relationships (rather than entities).  It often expands to include the entire universe in thinking about “buen vivir” – a scale that is huge and, personally, way beyond what I normally find myself cognizant of.  (For more information, check out IDEX partner’s María Estela Barco Huerta’s Masterclass on Buen Vivir.)

Many of IDEX partners have been doing alternative economic work for decades and bring this knowledge in co-developing the terms of the fund. The founding investor circle includes 7-8 members and are each bringing $125,000 in investing capital loan funds. While the exact terms are still being developed, we know it will require new approach to being involved: investor involvement will be more than signing money away. Thinking more broadly about what investors are getting out of the process, beyond a financial return, and more about a knowledge exchange that could be brought back to our communities.

We know from our movement hero Gopal at Movement Generation that the global south has been ahead of the U.S. in coming up with solutions or alternatives to extractive capitalism.  We in the U.S. can learn deeply from this work and bring it back to incorporate into our communities.

First convening in Mexico City, October 2016

The first gathering happened earlier this year in Mexico City: partners from Mexico, Nepal, Guatemala, India and South Africa and investors from U.S.  (Listen to my podcast on it!) It was our first learning exchange together. We investors thought we’d be coming out with terms, but we welcomed the surprise of building strong relationships and leading with love. Who are you, who am I, and how can I relate to you?  We asked questions like how the fund can serve us, as well as digging into some brainstorming around structures and terms of the fund.  We continue to do this work remotely.

My political analysis of this is that it’s inherently anti-colonial to center love and relationship building in this work (of co-creating a revolving loan fund), and it upends the power dynamics of traditional investing.  I am humbled and grateful to be a part of it.

Decolonization

We’ve decided within Regenerative Finance to add a core value to our original 10 that proclaims our solidarity with decolonization and indigenous sovereignty.  Adding this brought up several questions about what this meant for us, and we continue to sit with these. We ran an internal praxis group and are putting together a curriculum to share broadly. We are figuring out what it means to commit to decolonization in these sorts of finance campaigns.

Specifically, we don’t think of decolonization as a metaphor.  When we talk about decolonization, we literally mean relinquishing settler control of land and re-locating this control to people indigenous to that place.  For more information, check out the article Decolonization is not a metaphor (and/or my summary of it) as well as this extensive primer that Ari and Jay put together.  For even more information, get in touch with us 🙂

How the Buen Vivir Fund is Decolonial

Several partners specifically work on indigenous sovereignty – a network of indigenous people defining the terms of ecotourism on their lands in Mexico; empowering displaced women in South Africa and learning what place means for displaced people; a women-led cooperative of artisans relocating value in their ancestral homelands – to name a few.

We spent a day to visit one of the partners – Ñepi Behña – in central Mexico, just north of the megalopolis that is Mexico City.  After a 5 hour bus ride we arrived at a very arid region with lots of varieties of cactus, big and small, chubby and skinny, some bearing fruit and some hosting nets – all covered in spines.  During the ride, we learned about how this particular community was affected when many of the men left to go to the United States looking for economic security for their families, leaving women and children behind, and how these women learned to become economically self-sufficient by starting a cooperative.  One of their main products is knit sponges made from the fibers of the giant maguey cactuses.  They walked us through a sped-up version of the process, cutting the maguey leaves (or arms more like), softening the skins with fire, fermenting them, a tool they developed to extract the fibers, and finally the several steps required to process the fiber into something that is knit-able.  This whole lengthy process is one that their ancestors have been practicing for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.  This cooperative – now of over 250 women – is a reclaiming of traditions on their ancestral lands.

Making maguey into knit sponges: Represents indigenous sovereignty, women's empowerment, community determination, and other general badassery
Making maguey into knit sponges: Represents indigenous sovereignty, women’s empowerment, community determination, and other general badassery

One of the amazing moments was a seed exchange that happened.  Another partner from Rajastan, a similarly arid region of Northern India, was curious about whether or not these same plants could be grown there and help to restore value to land and people through this process.  The thousands of miles that the seeds have since traveled represent a genetic and knowledge exchange to share practices on the other side of the world.

The Buen Vivir Fund has been co-designed from its inception.  (Read more on this process in my other blog post.)  For some partners and/or investors it may have had a few slow moments, but this co-design process is anti-colonial in that it blurs the boundaries of hierarchy and the partners and investors have equal impact in the designing of the fund.

Q & A from the Webinar

Are we talking about philanthropy, a revolving loan fund, or traditional investment with returns on investment?

Currently the details are unclear. It looks like a revolving loan fund, seeded by investment capital from investors and there has been a gift capital component of 10% as well to support the work to get the fund off the ground. When we talk about shifting the terms: Regenerative Finance does 0% interest loans, as we see interest as a tax on not having capital. We are changing the words to think that a “0% return” is actually a 100% return of capital.  Additionally, the Buen Vivir Fund offers us a chance to broaden the definition of “return” beyond the financial.  Finally, we also see investors as sharing in the “impact” by sharing the story, concept, and shifting narratives within the sector.

Who would be receiving money from the loan fund? The partners, or other organizations in the network? Who makes decisions about who receives money?

The partner projects that IDEX has selected are the initial recipients of the funds, and eventually we hope to include additional partners as funds are returned to the revolving fund.  However, most of the focus so far has been on starting the fund and the current round. The current proposal is that there will be advisory council made up of partners and investors that will decide which projects get financed.

What lessons have you learned already?

Many!

  • This is long-term work and long-term relationships. The worlds we envision probably won’t emerge overnight. This is radical, revolutionary work, and we are undoing the damage of centuries, so we need patience for this work/
  • Trusting the process.  Part of the role of investors in this project is to step back and appreciate the process, not try and control it nor assume we know exactly where we’re going.
  • Centering of love and heart in the work.  I was surprised (and enchanted!) to hear movement leaders in Mexico City speak about romantic love in the context of a revolving loan fund.   This represents and requires a very welcome shift in thinking.
  • I’m working on connecting this amazing article that positions decolonial love at the center of decolonial reparations.  For now, you can read the article, and look forward to some writing on it in the next few months.  (In  the meantime, let’s chat: ari@regenerativefinance.org if you’re interested!)
  • We are challenging our connections to capitalism by going for particular terms that Regenerative Finance has been pushing (eg. 0%/100% returns, no collateral, sharing risk, etc.). This has pushed the other investors in the circle, changed the course of the fund, and built trust and solidarity with movement partners.  We hold the question: to what extent does this fund need to engage in capitalism?

We’re currently raising $125,000 in investment capital and $12,500 in gift capital.  If you are interested in investing and being invested in this fund please reach out to me!

 

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The Buen Vivir Fund / El Fondo Buen Vivir

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Participants in the Buen Vivir Fund, Mexico City, October 2016
Participants in the Buen Vivir Fund, Mexico City, October 2016 from all over the world: India, Nepal, South Africa,  Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States (From Regenerative Finance: Ari Sahagún and Emily Duma)

I’m happy to announce publicly that the Buen Vivir Fund is  Regenerative Finance’s next investment-raising project!

We’re partnering with IDEX, a foundation that has been around for 30 years, dedicated to “investing in initiatives led by the women, youth, and indigenous people who are solving our world’s most pressing problems.”  Recently the took on the task of looking at the impact investment sector as they’ve been relating to the philanthropy sector: how can these giants serve IDEX partners and grassroots work all over the world?

This project is co-designed, which means that  grassroots partners from all over the world and investors from the U.S. are co-developing the terms, governance structure, technical assistance, and measurements/returns.  In other words, a huge undertaking that, so far has been powerfully radical.  (I wrote a different post on that co-design process here.)

Listen to a podcast I created that sums up the week below (woohoo! baby’s first podcast!!) FYI I use some strong language.

For more info, stay tuned here, and also check out:

Buen Vivir Fund Founding Circle

In its pilot phase, the Buen Vivir Fund is bringing together a “founding circle” of investors, grassroots groups, and ally-advisers. IDEX is partnering with Transform Finance on this initiative. IDEX is honored to announce that all of these people and organizations have been selected for their exceptional commitment to, and leadership in, developing forms of investment that support people, communities and the earth to thrive.

Investors:

1. Dietel Partners
2. Libra Foundation, with Pi Investments
3. NoVo Foundation
4. Regenerative Finance
5. Swift Foundation
6. Tan Giving
7. Wallace Global Fund
8. The Whitman Institute

Investees:

  1. Guatemala: AFEDES: Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez
  2. Guatemala: ISMU: Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty
  3. India: GRAVIS
  4. Mexico: CIELO: Federación Indígena Empresarial y Comunidades Locales de México
  5. Mexico: DESMI: Social and Economic Development for Indigenous Mexicans
  6. Mexico: EduPaz
  7. Mexico: Ñepi Behña
  8. Nepal: Women’s Awareness Center Nepal
  9. South Africa: Ubunye Foundation
  10. South Africa: Whole World Women Association

Ally-advisers:

  1. Fred Berkowitz & Sasha Rabsey
  2. Cynthia Jaggi, GatherWell & Living Economy Advisers
  3. Brendan Martin, The Working World
  4. Whitney Mayer, Hershey Company
  5. Movement Generation
  6. Carmen Rojas, The Workers Lab
  7. Jorge Santiago, expert and author on solidarity economy
  8. RSF Social Finance
  9. Joel Solomon, Renewal Funds

What’s next?

The first round of funding for the Buen Vivir Fund is $1 million.  We’re raising $125,000 in investment dollars as well as $12,500 in gift capital to assist in the development of the fund.  (You can think of that as a 90% return if you’d like to contribute to both.)

If you’re interested in learning more or becoming invested, please email ari@regenerativefinace.org!

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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.

IMG_0948

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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