Like many of you, I have been closely watching the protests unfolding in cities around the United States and around the world. And like many of you, I am profoundly troubled by the systemic racism that has prompted this outcry. Racial discrimination manifests differently in different regions of the world — but it is, sadly, universal.
That said, the history and treatment of Black people in America is distinctive, and the police brutality we have witnessed is unconscionable. George Floyd deserves justice. So do Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and far too many others.
For me, this is a time of incredible trauma and grief. As a child in California in the early 1990s, I vividly remember the reaction of the Los Angeles community after the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. Now, some thirty years later, here we are again — a stark reminder that not enough has changed.
These are deeply challenging days for those of us who believe in the dignity of every human being. No single response will be sufficient in isolation. The roots of systemic racism are deep.
But even in this moment, a time of widespread anger and despair, we must have a bias toward action.
A conviction that we can and must create a different future is what attracted so many of us to work for social, environmental, and economic change. That conviction — along with a recognition of racism’s institutionalized nature — is why so many of us push for a fundamental change to our systems of government and finance. Indeed, that conviction is what first attracted me to impact investing, a form of values-based investing that has the ability to help create the change we seek.
Even in 2020, I find that the effects of persistent racial discrimination intersect with many other major problems that the impact investing community works to address — from the climate crisis to gender inequity to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those intersectional, systemic problems require systemic change.
But in this time of intense emotion and justified frustration, I find it important to remember the industry’s heritage. Impact investing in the United States stands on the shoulders of decades of earlier work for civil rights and social justice.
Socially responsible investing gained momentum decades ago as a tool to fight apartheid in South Africa; much of that leadership came from faith-based investors focused on divestment. Modern-day community development investing in the United States was also borne out of the civil rights movement. Leaders in the field recognized that access to capital was especially critical in poor communities. Their work helped combat banks’ ‘redlining,’ which withheld loans from predominantly poor and minority areas. Those early ancestors to impact investing recognized that systemic change to capitalism was critical in our path toward a more just society.
Now, as the impact investing industry matures, we must not forget the important roots of our movement — even as we press toward a very different future.
In this tumultuous moment, we must use our pain as fuel to redouble our efforts toward that future: a future that is more inclusive, more equitable, and more just; a future in which finance is used as a powerful lever to tackle our most urgent challenges; a future in which the “black lives matter” mantra is understood simply as a statement of fact.
For each of us, the work we do toward that future will look different — but pieced together, our efforts can be transformative. We must have the humility to recognize that what we have done so far is not enough. We must have the commitment to listening and learning to be sure that whatever we do in the future is.
Please join me now in that renewed commitment and immediately begin the work that we must do together.
Co-Founder and CEO of the Global Impact Investing Network