Investing with Indigenous People

Translating indigenous values into finance and enterprise

Venture philanthropy and impact investing are rapidly growing fields blurring traditional lines between philanthropy and for profit investing. Instead of turning a blind eye to applying values to investing, people are increasingly working from a perspective of interconnectedness where the same values that would be applied to grantmaking are applied to investing. While this is a new paradigm for finance, many indigenous societies have never separated commerce from honoring the earth and valuing the well-being of community. This lively panel was convened in October 2014 at the World Summit on Indigenous Philanthropy to share perspectives of indigenous values-driven business, grant makers and impact investors working to foster practical solutions to complex social and environmental challenges including job creation, cultural revitalization and environmental stewardship.

Moderator: Shaun Paul, Reinventure Capital
Amy Fredeen, Cook Inlet Tribal Council
Sonja Swift, Swift Foundation
Donna Morton, Principum
Kevin Jones, Social Capital Markets (SoCap)



It’s time 2 build the kids-led biodiversity bonds par

This is where I will start to put together, thoughts, partners, and the evolving framework of the kids-led riparian justice biodiversity bond. We are basing it on the real world example of biodiversity as the path to justice for indigenous people in Borneo that is told in the movie Rise of the Ecowarriors, with longtime partner in crime Mark White and Cynthia LaGrou of Compathos a film making and distributing foundation. We have parts of the team. We want to build use place-sourcing and pattern recognition to build regenerative communities within a network where peer learning and emergent adaptation thrives.

This bond is part of the  Neighborhood Economics project, which has been given skunk works R&D funding for the past nine months by Good Capital, where I, Kevin Jones, lead portfolio company engagement. We will be talking about the progress toward the bond at SOCAP15, the largest social enterprise meets impact investor, meets development agency, meets foundations conference in the world, the place where people discover unlikely allies as they meet surprising but valuable strangers.

Riding a food fad to an opportunity

A recent article on investigating if rising consumer demand for chia seeds can help farmers in developing countries.  It would be an ironic return for an ancient crop. Chia originated in Mexico and Guatemala some 3,500 years ago, when the seeds were a staple food of the Mayans and Aztecs. The Spanish conquistadors, in attempting to squash the local culture, banned the indigenous peoples from eating it.

Last part of the 1st round of interviews: Deals and Companies

Good Capital, the previous fund, has invested among others in fair trade companies. What can be learnt from the experience so far? Kevin tells us: 

Next, Kevin presents another example of the kind of deals that the fund wants to make in the future.

So, how do these people actually find those potential companies to invest in and based on what criteria? Shaun gives us an answer:

Interview series takes a look at resilience

This post is a follow up to the first highlights from the interviews introduced last week. Before deals and companies next week, let’s take a look at resilience, especially of socio-ecological systems.

Resilience is one of the key constructs that the fund draws on. The Stockholm Resilience Center, one of our partners, offers deep experience measuring holistic impact and their 9 planetary boundaries for resilience inform our selection of investment opportunities and risk analysis.

Kevin tells us how he sees resilience: 

Shaun’s view on resilience and it’s usefulness as a framework: 

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Happy New Year 2014!

How do you fund cutting edge commons technology?

The Caltrope project is really mesmerizing (no surprise, since it’s the brainchild of a Hungarian conceptual installation artist). Let’s jump ahead and assume we could figure out how to produce it cheaply and in volume. To pay for it we move into the world of long term project finance, which I know nothing about. What’s the net present value of the future cash flows enabled by filling in the soil at the edge of a fragile and eroding delta like that of the Mississippi? What are the upstream benefits?

And then how do you sell bleeding edge promising technology, assuming you found enlightened economic development and conservation players who would see its value and the need for its deployment with an agile need for speed and with an entrepreneurial fail-forward attitude, since you are doing alpha tests of technology trying to get to a product that works in a reasonable amount of time? They would need to know they need to fund product development.

It would take someone with a lot of patience to do that, to keep explaining the concept, as you move up the desks from your initial entry into an agency. I’ve done that several times, but it can take, in my case, up to 18 months to get what I wanted even when the value for participating was totally clear.

I don’t have the patience for that today. And I was not as good as it as someone with a more patient temperament would be, someone who can be happy with slogging upward and getting incremental steps forward. That’s a great thing to do. I’ve done it, but am too old and impatient for larger long term change to tie myself down to that kind of process now. But if someone stepped up to do it, to productize Caltrope, I would help.


Infographic shows why Branson’s Virgin formula for branding #biodiversity is so right on

This video by a Vancouver art student group is a good overview of the value of #biodiversity, but seeing it makes me realize how much I like Richard Branson’s method of branding biodiversity.

Richard Branson’s Biodiversity Branding Formula has five elements. Start with A. an at risk animal that’s cute or magnificent (for biodiversity, cute and exotic may trump charismatic megafauna (lions, hippos, etc.) The big animals are usually seen alone; the small animals are believably dependent on context; local habitat, and ecosystem. Then it says B. We are starting to make a difference; we are protecting its habitat, it’s coming back in some places. Next he says C. That it’s safe to give to this country or region; there are fair elections on the way, or some other validator so that people won’t be afraid to give or get involved there. The rule of law is essential for biocultural diversity. That’s why the confluence this September of the UN and International Funders for Indigenous People annual conference and the first ever real time meeting of representatives of indigenous nations and the nation states of the UN is so important and why I plan to be  deeply involved in those September gatherings.

Then there is D. a brief mention of the fact that biodiversity is good for people, too. But you don’t sell that too hard; you don’t lead with it. I’ve learned in seven years of involvement with Fair Trade companies, that the message of linking poverty alleviation is not one you lead with if you want to talk to a broad audience. It doesn’t resonate well with people beyond a core group of justice seekers.

There could be a greater link with faith based people in the U.S. on this, as there is in the UK. The tragic failure of Fair Trade USA to make this a key component of their message has to be overcome. In the UK, 83 % of grocery store buying decisions are positively impacted by fair trade as a factor. In the U.S.  it’s under 10 % largely, I think, in the UK the governing fair trade organization linked faith based people with activists, while in the U.S. the leadership was only about motivating activists. Until the church and the secular justice activists effectively link up, selling justice as a key reason to get important things done will lag behind using environmental motivations.

Finally, when you look the pictures on Branson’s project on Pinterest, E. the money line appears; not in the story. There is no intrusion into the story experience of Branson’s business reasons for being involved in biodiversity (whatever his personal reasons are). That’s the way to sell. Let the cute animals lead the way. Follow with the reassurance that it’s safe to give and that there is reason to hope, mention the people in passing, and leave the money pitch until the story is finished and has gotten its proper reaction.