Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What are we doing?

I have been investing a lot of time over the last while surfing the Web and learning about the thought leaders and early adopters who are driving what I have come to talk about as the "money, plus..." movement.

The ellipse in the "money, plus..." moniker is intentional and important.  It points to the idea that whatever particular agenda, in addition to making money, any given investor wants to pursue is, and should be, individual to that investor.  It may be everything from a generalized desire to invest in a way that encourages a more sustainable prosperity (see CALPERS, for example), to something more programmatically specific, like farming local (see Slow Money, as a "for instance").

As I get more familiar with the themes and players in this movement, however, an opinion is forming that this movement is still rather poorly defined in its goals and objectives.  Like Occupy Wall Street, it seems to be unified by a widely shared sense that things are not working right, and something has to be done.  But there is less of a consensus on what, exactly, is not working, which means we cannot even begin to agree on what can and should be done to fix it.

Yesterday, for example, I came upon a blog post on by Jim Epstein and Alicia Epstein Korten.  They make the point that there are too many labels floating around this space, and proposed "Common Good Enterprise" as a single label that could encompass all these different nuances. Common Good to me sounds too much like Common Wealth -- or public governance. Instead, I suggested the term Blended Value Enterprise.  To me, this is a combination of Jed Emerson's theme of blended value investing, and my own idea of repurposing tax partnerships, aka Special Purpose Entities, as a more generalized tool for aligning the interests of Enterprise and Investment along multiple points of value: money, plus...  Alicia thinks this label is too investment-y.  Which caused me to ask, what is it, really that this movement is all about?  Who is the audience?  What is the message?

Are we working to re-invent finance?
Or, are we working to re-invent philanthropy?

If the former, then I have something to contribute to the conversation, especially when the discussion turns to the topic of how we need to move beyond 19th Century technologies of corporate finance and Exchange-traded capital that are fundamentally incompatible with the emerging ethos of sustainability in the 21st Century.

If the latter, that is a very different conversation.

What do you think?

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