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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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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?
- 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: email@example.com 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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