It seems every investor that I encounter is obsessed with achieving 10x returns for social enterprise investing, by leveraging the power of technology. The thinking is that if we only throw some innovative technology at the problem, we can restore the social and environmental balance and achieve a high return on investment. The idea of just throwing more technology at problems and flipping a switch will fix the problem and generate high returns, seems out of touch with reality. I have another idea. Why not investing in social enterprises that target the soul?
We have more than enough technology. Another widget or software alone is not enough. There is far too much focus on this strategy and the “quick fix”. Hunting vs. farming. Ribbon cutting vs digging holes. What we lack is compassion.
I was thinking of my father, who was a tailor. He made custom made clothes for women and had a small store on the Madison Ave and E. 77th street in Manhattan, NY. He worked very hard and loved his work, as well as life. When the rent was increased by 400%, he saw that the financial model didn’t work, so he closed the store and worked from home. I would see him cutting material on the floor at home and working at the sewing machine, late into the night. I told him he was charging too little for the quality he was providing. “Raise the price”, I said. He said “If I do that I might have less work and more money, but I like what I am doing and don’t want to work less”. When I looked at him working and the passion and quality that he put into his work, you could see that the end product was soulful.
When I look at my wife and what she is doing in turning the hospitality concept on its head with her focus on “conscious travel”. She combines cultural authenticity and sustainability by establishing a chain of Eco Lodges, in Bhutan. To support that and develop the hospitality sector, she created a hotel school (Bongde Insitute for Hospitality and Tourism) with Lausanne Hotel School alumni. Her focus was not technology, but the basics and values. It is working extremely well and was up and running in less than 4 months and generating revenue in less than 6 months. If you look at the video of the students learning how to make bread, pasta, taste tatin, set tables, making beds, etc. you see the soul in their eyes. This was not achieved with an iPad and an ap but through love, dedication, and commitment.
Technology can be helpful in some situations but it has become the end all and be all. Why don’t we focus on supporting soulful enterprises and give them the wings to fly.
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”
We recently held TBLI CONFERENCE NORDIC 2015 in Copenhagen. I thoroughly enjoyed the event. I want to thank all the great speakers, moderators, and attendees. Very inspiring. Hear two very inspiring ideas:
–Arthur Wood of Total Impact Advisors gave a fantastic talk about how to unlock $1 trillion in money for Impact Investing. He gave us a reality check saying that most of the endowments are not investing in ESG or Impact, but communicating about Impact Investing. He gave a passionate, clear, understandable analysis of the present situation and how we can create a moon shot program to unlock and allocate investment towards impact. Arthur is always brilliant and funny. Thank you Arthur for your inspiring contribution an actually explaining it in a way that even I understood.
-Years ago, I proposed to the pension funds to offer an opt-out or opt-in option to pensioners regarding ESG commitment. During TBLI in Copenhagen, that idea was being floated around by a private bank as an offering to their HNW client. This would lead to increased money flows into Impact Investing. Fantastic. Perhaps the opt-out or opt-in model will catch on.
Since the financial crisis, it seems that no one wants to compensate anyone for services provided. TBLI is inundated with requests for introductions to investors, advice on ESG and Impact Investing, requests for management briefings, strategic partners, job openings, etc. It has reached epic proportions and it is not limited to us. Nearly everyone I speak to confirms they experience the same epidemic of requests for free advice or payment for success.
Why does it seem that anything related to sustainability is not valued and should be given away for free. Other traditional advisors (lawyers, accountants, strategy consultants) are compensated. Do people believe that sustainable investment (ESG and Impact) doesn’t offer any value, so doesn’t need to be compensated? There doesn’t seem to be any difference between asset owners (family offices, HNW, pension funds), asset managers, social entrepreneurs, etc. All ask the same? “Let’s meet to share experiences”. ” Do you have time for coffee so I can pick your brain?” “I would like to talk to you about a great investment opportunity and would like to access your network and knowledge”.
Some of the Strategy Consultants are a bit more subtle by reaching out at a cocktail party or through an introduction. Then the seduction starts with the ultimate goal of sucking power point slides out of your brain to cut and paste later and sell to clients.
Recently I was approached by a large company asking for help meeting Impact Investors for a large water investment in Europe. I said we could help and would know who they should meet and asked for our time and knowledge to be compensated. They said “We don’t do that. We would be willing to compensate should something happen.” I told him “if you have a backache and you go to a massage therapist, do you say, if my back pain doesn’t come back in 6 months I will pay you.” He laughed and got the message. Still wouldn’t compensate but he got the message.
Sustainable Investment advice has value and needs to be compensated, particularly if you want someone to commit their time and energy.
Recently at our TBLI CONFERENCE Asia in Singapore I was approached by Pak Suwardi, owner of PT. Selo Kencana Energi, a private company focused on developing Hydro Electric Power plants in Indonesia.
His business story caught me off guard. During the TBLI CONFERENCE held in Amsterdam in 2009 he saw the keynote speaker who spoke of the devastating effects of climate change to the Arctic melting glaciers.
At that time, Pak Suwardi had investments in coal energy but none in renewable energy because he believed the return would be lower than that of coal fire and the development stages to be more complicated with renewable energy.
Following TBLI Amsterdam, he sold his coal fire portfolio to another company and decided to make their renewable pipeline (hydro power plants) a real project by signing a power purchase agreement with the local authority in 2010.
With his own capital and loans from a local bank, they have completed construction and started to deliver the electricity to the grid in Spring 2014.
“During one year of operation I saw several positive impacts such as reducing national fuel subsidy, an increase in economic activity among the communities in the area and a reduction in poverty and deforestation. We are now doing our own research on social impact measurement,” says Pak Suwardi.
What a testament. Thank you Pak Suwardi for sharing your story of inspiration and how TBLI impacted your life. I imagine there to be so many great ones like this over the years. If you have a story we would love to hear it.