Donna Morton explains how a stint with the Unreasonable Institute inspired a new paradigm for finance – one that meets the needs of all social entrepreneurs
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy
Business and economics are powerful forces in the world, but even they both bow to finance. Finance is shockingly powerful, a fast moving global force that can either harm or be harnessed to heal the world. If we are going to stop climate change, end extreme poverty, create more meaning work, honour Indigenous wisdom and create ways for women’s leadership to emerge we need to make finance serve life, culture and dignity. We need to BE finance.
After decades as an activist and social entrepreneur it hit me that the economy is not the root system – the economy feeds at the feet of finance. Finance might not be a licence to print money though you can get mighty rich holding it, moving it and controlling its flows. But finance drives almost anything in which money is a part.
Adam Kahane, who helped South Africa transition out of apartheid told us that if we are serious about systems change, we need to harness the mother of all other systems – love. At 47-years-old I’m setting a course to bring my power to love to the new and high seas of finance.
The shift was catalyzed by the Unreasonable Institute. One of 26 disruptive social entrepreneurs from 17 countries, I lived with the others in a frat house in Boulder, CO for six weeks. Coached by some of the best media, marketing and finance innovators globally, I saw the world reinventing itself in that house.
Finance was new to many of us. One mentor, Elnor Rosenrot, repeated daily, “Yes, you protect whales and shoot rainbows but ARE YOU A BUSINESS?”. Good question. Even a non-profit model needed earned revenues and real world customers or we were blood and guts and vision with no oxygen. Lack of access to capital is a massive block to innovation globally.
The deal makers and deal receivers were mostly white guys from the U.S. When I asked how many of the “deals” went to women, to people of colour, and on which continents, the question created a buzz and made some people uncomfortable. I was more uncomfortable with the pattern that was emerging, a story of gender and race and geography that pretended that innovation only comes from frat houses in Silicon Valley.
Many fellows in the house liked my questions, the team at Unreasonable liked my “unreasonable” take. Mentors, like Kevin Jones and Rosa-lee Harden, Joy Anderson, Morgan Simon and Hunter Lovins answered me straight up and invited me in to solve the problems. They told me that, regrettably, only 4% or less of the impact investing deals went to women!
Wow. If 50% of the social entrepreneurs in the world are women, if some of the most innovative, integrative and substantial change-the-world ideas were led by women and only 4% got investment, I – we – need to fix this. Fortunately, Unreasonable has given me a rolodex that now includes some of the most innovative funders, thinkers and investors on the globe. I left shaken and stirred and in need of a more global, scaled-wide and deep mega-mission. I left in love with the world, asking bigger questions.
How can “we” become finance? How do “we” drag the most corrupt, white-male centered global power base and flip it on its head so that it serves life? The most disruptive players in the world are systematically left out of the economy. Women, Indigenous and the poorest people on earth hold the biggest, radical most essential ideas. How does one climb the fence into the old boys club with enough power to have impact? How do we move money from brutality to the beautiful world we all whisper about?
I got it, I got mad and I knew this was my next career. A handful of the amazing people I met through Unreasonable, became the backbone of my new team. We are Wall Street and Edge, entrepreneurs and money wizards. We build stories and services to transform finance and catalyze billions to serve the world we want. We strive to scale deep and wide and localize our model through a series of hubs globally. Starting in the US in Boulder and then Canada, we serve individuals (no minimums) and institutions (foundations, pensions, First Nations) to move money from risky and harmful investments (public and private) to healing enterprises and opportunities.
We protect our client’s assets while protecting the people of the world and the planet. Most radically, we will use our profits, aligned in purpose, to directly invest in, and therefore de-risk, women, Indigenous and emerging market entrepreneurs globally. The world needs a new story of finance. It needs a story of economies that grow through creating meaningful jobs. We need a new story in which people collectively harness their bits and pieces and pensions and redirect the power of the market economy to solve our greatest challenges.
We need to unstick people invested in the old economy: It’s failing and risky. We need to unite high net worth investors with innovators on the margins, dumpster divers, folks living on the reservations and in favelas who know resilience in the form of survival. People on the edges see what is broken because it tried to break them too. The disruptives are women, Indigenous, the global poor, biomimicry and clean tech innovators; we need to back their play and invest in local intelligence and global creativity.
When women claim academia the curriculum shifts; when we claim politics and policy, carbon taxes, community energy and maternity leaves becomes a reality. When women claim finance and line it up with love, empathy and creativity everything broken can mend. The truly radical job, the unfinished work of “Occupy” is to move money from harm to healing. We can create what my mentor Hunter Lovins calls “an economy in service to life”.
The Scale Deep Blog Series is an initiative led by The Carold Institute, Ashoka Canada and Timeraiser, with the goal of strengthening efforts for change and building wisdom in social change leadership. A unique collaboration, Scale Deep is designed to harness collective insight and wisdom in emerging systems that advance civic engagement. Each of the blogs will be written by Scale Deep collaborators, offering first-hand accounts of their unique learnings, insights and perspectives.
Read past stories in the Scale Deep series:
Scaling Deep into Grantmaking: Toward greater impact
Canada’s First Nations: finding opportunities for dialogue and democracy in the resource boom
Scaling Deep Into Civic Engagement
Donna Morton, Ashoka, Ogunte and Unreasonable fellow is the Managing Partner, Business Development of Principium, an ethical asset management and impact investing company based in Boulder CO and Vancouver, BC.