Investing for Good
How the Vatican is improving our climate, global poverty, and our waste crisis
I was recently invited to participate in an unusual investment conference hosted at an even more unusual venue: the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, at the Vatican, in Vatican City, Rome. For one of the first times, the Vatican had opened it’s doors and welcomed a business community, to request collaboration and knowledge sharing around the potential of impact investment to drive social good. I felt both humbled and honored to be invited alongside some of the world’s most accomplished innovators, activists and thought-leaders, at a truly distinct event. Our three-day summit, was designed to bring together a powerful community of investors, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, to engage in dialogue and action to address the most urgent problems of our day. Our goal was clear: in partnership with the Vatican, leverage our collective intellectual, social and financial resources towards initiatives that address climate change and global poverty.
Though we came to the Vatican from five continents, with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, we were united in our commitment to impact investment and social entrepreneurship. We share a belief that we not only can, but must, make informed and compassionate investments that promote social justice, equanimity and global sustainability. We agree with His Holiness Pope Francis’ statement that “Capital is meant to serve” and believe that it is no longer acceptable to profit from, or sanction, investments that damage our planet or it’s inhabitants. Rather, we must act together, in partnership with the Vatican, to directly address the twinned ecological and economic crises of poverty and climate change — and pursue investment opportunities that remedy them.
Over the course of our three days together, our group listened to short presentations and engaged in comprehensive discussion, brainstorming and collaboration. Speakers included Ellen Dorsey, renowned human rights activist; Ahmad Ashkar, founder of Hult Prize Foundation and winner of Esquire’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Topics were wide-ranging: agricultural resilience; sustainability and impact measurements; fossil fuel divestment; flattening access to traditional investment vehicles; scaling technologies to maximize benefit for both people and our planet. While opinion regarding next steps may have varied, all participants agreed on two things: the need to act is clear and immediate; and the financial and social benefits of impact investments are proven. The ground is ripe for comprehensive, impactful and profitable initiatives, and we will work together diligently to further develop them.
In this same spirit of service, I was honored to attend the Vatican not only as an impact investor, but also on behalf of my company FullCycle Energy and our partner company, Synova Power — a waste to energy company with remarkable potential for both financial and social benefit. I founded FullCycle to help accelerate Synova Power’s growth and achieve an ambitious goal: to transform the world’s relationship with waste. Our global waste is growing at a troubling rate and its negative impacts — on humans, ecosystems and our planet — are compounding. Synova Power utilizes next-generation gasification technologies to turn our waste into a valuable resource: highly-efficient, cost effective, carbon-negative energy. And they do so at global scale, with returns that equal or exceed traditional investments.
More importantly, Synova Power delivers the kind of additional benefits impact investors find equally compelling, if we are indeed to overcome the ecological and economic issues we face. Synova Power not only produces clean-energy, but reduces our need for landfills, keeps waste out of our waterways and oceans, reduces air pollution, dramatically reduces methane emissions, and creates quality employment opportunities in a renewable energy economy.
Investing in initiatives and businesses that are designed to promote sustainability and social justice is not only an opportunity to be a catalyst of lasting positive change, but an opportunity to truly do well by doing good. The Conference served as another indicator of the growing clarity that we can, and will, at the highest levels of institutional investment, social service and philanthropy, collaborate and commit ourselves to investments that benefit our planet, other species, and humanity.
When we commit our leadership ability, entrepreneurial acumen and resources to the aggiornimento (revision) of the status quo, global change is indeed possible. We know that we are in a unique moment in history: it has never before been as critically important to understand and take responsibility for the implications of our actions, and recognize that we do not operate in isolation. Our global climate agreements are under threat and we face increasingly significant climate warming sooner than expected.
Our futures are interdependent. As investors and social entrepreneurs, I believe it is a moral imperative to act together, to transform our economies and redefine our notions of value. As humans, we must not turn a blind eye to the millions living in poverty, who will bear the greatest brunt of these ecological changes. As individuals, we must not forget the significance of our daily actions, or undervalue our own potential ability to act as agents for change. His Holiness Pope Francis recently acknowledged via social media to ten million of his followers, “If every one of us, every day, does a work of mercy, there will be a revolution in the world.”