Unexpected developments have shaken up the world and have unveiled a clear and big divide in society. Marilou van Golstein Brouwers, Chair of the Management Board of Triodos Investment Management, writes that nonetheless we can be active participants in co-shaping a more sustainable, humane world.
“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way of destroying the world – we have actually been on the way quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.”
These words by Joanna Macy, environmental activist, author and scholar of Buddhism are deeply resonating with me, especially looking back on the past year and reflecting on what lies ahead of us in 2017.
An inner choice
Many unexpected developments, particularly in politics, have shaken up the world and have unveiled a clear and big divide in society – not only politically but also economically and culturally. Many of us feel that the years ahead will bring chaos, confusion and conflict. But, as Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute, says in his recent column: “Experience is not what happens to us – but what we do with what happens to us. It is that inner doing – that inner choice – where the future of this planet and the future of our evolution is battled out.”
We can be active participants in co-shaping the future. We have the opportunity to create new, collaborative and innovative ways to regenerate the foundations of our society, and to build a world that is more sustainable, humane and fair.
Building, connecting and a shared responsibility
What stands out for me again and again is that we can no longer think, act and hide ourselves in silos. We are all in it together. We need to build bridges – not walls – between those who live in a world of plenty and those who struggle every day to make ends meet. We need to connect with those who are excluded from access to opportunities or who feel their voices are not heard.
We have a shared responsibility to take action. I felt that very much in 2015 when the whole world joined together and first adapted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – a blueprint for sustainable development for the coming 15 years – followed by the Paris Climate Agreement. It was the first time in human history that there was this joint sense of urgency and willingness to cooperate. All countries, poor, rich or middle income must contribute, as well as all stakeholders: governments, NGOs, private sector, science and citizens.
Crucial role for the financial sector
In order to reach these Sustainable Development Goals and the goals in the Paris Climate Agreement there is a key role for private capital and for investors. In November 2016, Christiana Figueres, the former Executive secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, visited Triodos Bank. Under her leadership the Paris Climate Agreement was realised. She emphasised the urgency and the crucial role of the financial sector. Her message is that the financial sector has five years to act. Figueres: “What we finance in the next five years determines what the world will look like in the coming 300 years.”
That is the context for impact investing. Impact investing can be the catalytic force for the transformation of the whole investment industry. We need a paradigm shift in the investment industry. From still mostly thinking in short-term financial gains to long-term investments, creating real value, adding to a better quality of life. Impact investing has the potential to be that paradigm shift. I am convinced that we all recognise the urgency and now we need to act on it.
It is, therefore, imperative to scale up impact investing. How? By establishing partnerships between different actors, working out new business models, blending public and private finance to deal with higher risks and higher costs involved in setting up new business models.
For example, around challenges such as reforestation, or restoring ecosystems, new models in health care, the circular economy. Some areas have already reached a certain scale including inclusive finance, renewable energy, and the green bond market. But other areas need something else: hard work, collaboration, and working across what used to be silos. Without that, scale cannot be reached.
Do I sound too much like a utopist? No, I rather call it – as said by Christiana Figueres – ‘stubborn optimism’. I too feel I am a stubborn optimist. Because there is much reason for optimism. I can look back on quite a number of years as an impact investor and time and again I am struck and inspired by the entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in this world. And also by the growing number of people who want to invest their money according to their values, who want to contribute to positive change. There is a growing momentum and awareness that is not going to be stopped.
To quote Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Contributing to change has always been a driving force for us in Triodos Investment Management. In our journey we continue to meet very inspiring persons. Persons who encourage us to act and never underestimate the potential for positive change.
For example, 25 years ago, in November 1991, I had the honour of meeting Michio and Aveline Kushi, founders of the One Peaceful World movement and the Kushi Institute, center for natural healing and food, and had the privilege of having dinner with them. They told me about their lives, how Michio as a young Japanese soldier experienced the ending of the war and travelled by train through Hiroshima on his way back to Tokyo, catching a glimpse of the horror and charred remains. It was then that he decided he must change the world.
“People worry so much about the external environment, but forget about the internal environment.” he told me. ”There is one thing in human life which man can influence by will and consciously every day and that is what man feeds himself with. All other things somehow are influenced by external circumstances.”
The relation between consciousness, food and peace was evident for him and together with his wife Aveline he inspired so many people, including myself; and he did change the world with his holistic vision on food, health and wellbeing. His personal message about bringing change with a peaceful mind, in a steady, step by step way, not revolutionary but like a stream of water flowing to many different places, still inspires me today.
With this in mind, I do feel anything is possible in 2017. Let it be a year where we respond to the challenges of our time with courage, compassion and calmness – awake to our real intentions.