I’m excited by the possibilities of the marketplace to unleash economic creativity that can work for the public good as well as for personal enrichment. “Impact investing” – which seeks out people and companies whose goal is to make a positive social and environmental impact as well as a good return – is a still-small but growing movement. It operates at all levels, from large corporations to small garages, and it is predicated on the belief that the best long-term investments will be those that are driven by more than money. For me the excitement comes from someone like Shiv Rajendran, who is converting used electric-car batteries into sources of power for India’s rural schools; from a company like Oliberte in Addis Ababa, the world’s first fair-trade-certified shoe company, creating “a sustainable brand supporting workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa”; a community lender like the Contact Fund, “built on a vision that private capital can be leveraged to make high-impact community investments in New York City” – and the hundreds of mostly young people now in Detroit (which is trying to become “the Silicon Valley for entrepreneurs”) who are teeming with ideas that will help revitalize the city. Some of these ideas will flourish. Most will fail. But the real question is whether collectively they can build a more inclusive and less exploitive system of capitalism. It’s a long shot. But I’m betting they can.
(Full disclosure: I’m a very small investor in Oliberte and Contact Fund.)
Correction: Friday’s post inadvertently listed the Koch Brothers’ net worth as $85.8 million. It is, of course, $85.8 billion. I apologize for the three-zeros rounding error.