Tag Archives: wealth redistribution

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.

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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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COCAP 2016: Redistributing wealth through impact investing

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cocap

Community Capital
Radical Redistribution of wealth through Impact Investing
Impact Hub Oakland  9/12/16

Kate and Ari from Regenerative Finance went to COCAP yesterday – the theme was “radical wealth redistribution through impact investing,” which was so exciting, because that’s what Regenerative Finance is all about!  COCAP was filled with many brilliant people and ideas–and, wonderfully surprisingly, for an event focused on impact investing, organizers Konda Mason and Jenny Kassan gracefully grounded the whole day in discussions of race, equity, and reparations.

Nwamaka Agbo (Movement Strategy Center‘s Next Economy Fellow) had one of the morning’s first keynotes, speaking about her family’s experience as Nigerian immigrants, and how to create an economy free of racism we need to create space for healing and wholeness.

Reparations are about making a community whole again.

She cited Bryan Stevenson: “People are hurt. You want to make them whole.”

2 questions she asked the audience:
What practices can we embody to unearth racism?
How do you see habits from the old economy showing up in the new economic movement and what can we do to shift that?

nwamakaNwamaka Agbo talking about how the new economy is being disproportionately shaped by wealth white folks who have the leisure time, disposable income, and risk tolerance. And these folks are repackaging indigenous societal structure in an extractive way. #notesontheneweconomy #cocap2016

Michelle Long (BALLE) gave a warm playful talk on changing how we relate to each other in order to create real economic change. She talked about love as expansion of the self to include the other (an idea from Charles Eisenstein).

Transformation is not like moving from vanilla to vanilla bean, or even vanilla to chocolate.  It’s like moving from vanilla to music.

She also shared that in order to move into a love-centered economy BALLE is creating a movement of “connection circles.” You can sign-up here and we were moved and inspired by Michelle’s warmth and are going to try out a connection circle here at Regenerative Finance.

PANELS

It was so special and sweet for Regenerative Finance to be a part of an all-woman panel, an incredibly powerful all-woman panel, on impact investing. Investors should check out all of these women and the organizations they’re a part of!


Kristen Hull, of Nia Community Foundation, talked about Marie Kondo (who wrote The Life‑Changing Magic of Tidying Up) and tidying up our money. She shared a quote “Money is like manure–when you spread it around it’s wonderful, when it’s piled up in one place it stinks.” Kristen shared her strategy of supporting projects through loan guarantees as a way to leverage wealth and privilege, essentially taking a risk and signing up to cover losses in order to help businesses access more capital. Regenerative Finance is excited to learn more about that!

Dana Lanza talked about how we assume that rich investors are finance experts, but she has seen time and time again, with billionaires even, that there’s no rich-person-DNA-magically-making-us-financially-savvy. That wealthy people, along with everybody, need to learn to speak the language of finance. She asked women especially to challenge the patriarchy by building the “financial knowledge to be able to contend with the current power structure.”

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Nina Robinson spoke about the importance of helping entrepreneurs of color build wealth. She broadened the debate on reasonable rates of return and grounded it in the experience the entrepreneur. How can we support entrepreneurs as they succeed and build wealth for themselves, their employees, and their communities. She also spoke on the investing methodology of funding good jobs–how as businesses reach new benchmarks they incentivize certain business practices–like offering a lower interest rate on a loan if the business provides healthcare to their employees.

graphic-recordingMore from the graphic recording of #COCAP2016 by Jenny Seiler.

After lunch, there was a panel of entrepreneurs speaking about their experiences seeking funding, and different definitions of success. These women entrepreneurs shared that success might mean not opening a second restaurant, so the owners can travel to Mexico and visit family for the months a year.  It might mean having the agency to decide what to do with your life.  It could mean taking care of yourself or your family.  It doesn’t necessarily look like measures of success that are typically used to evaluate startups, like ability to scale, ROI, or an anticipated buy-out.

For investors that want to be in authentic relationship with the businesses they’re invested in, asking about an entrepreneurs’ definition of success is a great way to understand what kinds of investment terms are appropriate.

LAND

At Regenerative Finance we are asking more and more questions about land. Ari has led our collective in a decolonization study group, and we are continuing to ask questions about how to be in right relationship to land, as settlers and as investors. We were grateful to meet Brenda Salgado at COCAP, and learn more about her work connecting spirit, indigenous cultural reclamation, and movement strategy. At the end of the day Ari asked COCAP organizers to bring land into the conversation–you can read more about land as investment and regenerative finance in this blog post by Ari.

CLOSING

The closing panel, focusing on solutions that are actively radically redistributing wealth through impact investing. Rodney Foxworth of Invested Impact, talked about the importance of investing in African American entrepreneurs, especially at the friends and family earliest stages of growing a business. Jessica Norwood, of Emerging Changemakers network, spoke about the Runway Project, a new fund to support African American businesses in the early stage, and she pointed out how ridiculous it was to ask African American entrepreneurs who are coming from poor families to seek funding from their friends and family first. Rodney Foxworth pointed out that these early loans are given at a time and at terms that prove the investors care about success. He pointedly asked what it means when white wealthy investors only take a chance on their friends and family, asking “who do you think we should take a chance on?”

Much of the work we’re doing in Regenerative Finance is figuring out how to build organizational and personal relationships, so that we can invest in and trust in community-controlled loan funds. So that we can transfer power and capital to historically looted communities of color so that they can make decisions about how to allocate resources, so they can support emerging businesses of their friends, their family, their community.

Kate is headed to SOCAP tomorrow, so shoot her an email if you want to connect!

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Centering Racial Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty in the New Economy

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Reflections from CommonBound

I’m moved by the organizing that’s happened in the New Economy space, led by people of color, to center racial justice and the work of wealth redistribution and economic sovereignty in all facets of the New Economy. The New Economy Coalition provided buses for folks to go to the local Black Lives Matter protest, and they opened the CommonBound conference with a panel on decolonization, racial justice, and sovereignty. Racial justice was at the center of every single plenary, and many of the panels. You can feel the strong shift–it’s visceral, it’s immediate, it’s powerfull.

Transferring power

I was grateful to attend the Reinvest in our Power peer network gathering. The Reinvest in Our Power Network are powerful innovative allies doing grounded earth-shaking economy-shifting work. Regenerative Finance has been growing in partnership with the Reinvest in Our Power Network over the past two years. Organizers that have been instrumental in shaping and guiding us, including Sha Grogan-Brown of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation, and Ed Whitfield and Marnie Thompson of Fund 4 Democratic Communities, are leaders of the network and are doing powerful work to draw down resources and sink divestment capital into community-controlled radically inclusive funds. You should fund them.

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I was lucky to be a part of the panel on Democratizing Finance with Ed Whitfield, Brendan Martin, and Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan. You can watch it here, our panel starts at 6:46:57:

Resourcing community sovereignty

A highlight of the Reinvest gathering was that communities need funding to resource their economic development work. They need funding for infrastructure and building capacity, and usually they need this funding in the form of gifts and grants.

Where is this money going to come from? One answer is through impact investors, like the Regenerative Finance community. If impact investors stop extracting from the communities they believe they’re positively impacting, and instead return profit to community control, then we can fund community capacity.  If I want to help a poor black youth-led business in Philadelphia, and they’re running a granola bar company with very low margins, I don’t want to lend them money at 6% if they can’t afford it. They end up taking their profits and sending them to me, a white rich person, instead of paying themselves a living wage.

A second answer, highlighted in the powerful workshop on the Ujima Fund in Boston, is investment can be democratized by adding “need” as a component when assessing who gets what level of return. So that poor, working class and middle class investors can receive higher returns, while rich investors can take higher risk and receive lower returns. The panel on their transformation work starts at around the 30 minute mark.


A third powerful answer is reparations. Individuals, corporations, and governments paying reparations.

Reparations

I went to an incredible workshop on reparations led by Ed Whitfield and Aisha Shillingford of Intelligent Mischief and Beautiful Solutions. After Ed briefly and forcefully made the case for reparations, Aisha offered a design methodology and we broke into 8 small groups by sector (land/housing, finance, justice system, education, art and culture, philanthropy, international development, and business). The prompt was:

What are the ways the harms of slavery shaped this sector? How are the harms of slavery continuing today in this sector?

There are lots of photos of beautiful solutions for reparations that emerged, and here’s a snapshot of some of our finance post-its about how to work on the harm of predatory lending. I was particularly surprised and taken by the idea of creating a racial justice harm reduction assessment tool for financial institutions.

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Check out Intelligent Mischief’s Instagram for more of the collaboratively generated ideas for reparations. #intelligentmischief #beautifulsolutions #commonbound

Thinking critically about wealth accumulation

In closing, I wanted to share one neat activity that was part of the Divestment Student Network’s session on the Reinvest Network. We took an assumption that we come up against in our reinvestment work and flip it around. I ended up choosing “it’s normal to accumulate wealth,” and flipped it to “it’s violent and extractive to accumulate wealth.”

As we work to shift the narratives in the mainstream economy, and question it’s assumptions, it’s crucial for the new economy field to focus on the leadership of communities of color who are powerfully fighting for justice. I’m grateful I was able to attend Commonbound, and that the conference organizers centered racial justice and indigenous sovereignty. Until next time!

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Regenerative Finance goes to Confluence Philanthropy

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Last week Margot Seigle and I attended Confluence Philanthropy’s Democracy and Finance conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were honored and delighted to be moderating a panel on Regenerative Finance. Panelists explored how investors can directly support community-controlled economic development through non-extractive finance.

Ed Whitfield, of Fund for Democratic Communities, talked about the history of wealth accumulation in this country and what reparations could look like.  Aaron Tanaka, of Center for Economic Democracy and Boston Impact Initiative, spoke about concrete examples of non-extractive finance and how participatory budgeting can democratize local government spending.  (Video and audio coming soon!)

margotconfluenceMargot Seigle shared her own experiences as a regenerative investor redistributing her wealth. She also stood up in the community forum to question the dominant discourse of wealth accumulation. Chris Lindstrom spoke about the philosophical need to see ourselves as a part of the collective rather than just as individuals, and shift wealth accordingly.

Attending the conference was a wonderful learning experience for Margot and I–we met really interesting folks doing all kinds of impact investing all across the spectrum. There were a lot of keynotes and panels talking about maximizing your impact  while maintaining market-rate returns. The panel on Regenerative Finance was a break from that framework, where we were able to reconsider where wealth comes from and how wealth can be returned to the communities it has been historically extracted from. Margot and I also asked lots of questions and were able to connect with dozens of powerful organizations working with institutions and wealth individuals to invest in a just transition and redistribute wealth to communities fighting for racial and economic justice.

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As I said at the end of this comic–our experience at this impact investing conference is making me excited to build community and start cohorts of folks interested in organizing for wealth redistribution and radical investing in impact investing and socially-responsible investing spaces. Want to join us? Email kate@regenerativefinance.org.

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