A Love Letter to Lisa Kleissner. In Bullet Points.
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
- Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa and Charly Kleissner speak at an event for Toniic, graciously hosted by Lital Slavin and BEYOND Family Office.
It is rare, if not unprecedented, that in the span of an hour I’ve had someone point out — with grace and wisdom and humility and humor — so many ways that I could become a better investor, professional and human being, that I was obliged to fill up an entire page of notes. A few highlights below on why it was love at first meeting.
To you, Lisa, in the hope that my striving to become better can help the world around us become a little bit better too.
1. Holistic Approach. Lisa and Charly Kleissner’s (more on this incredible duo here) holistic approach is embodied in their launch of Toniic’s 100% Impact Network, a “global network of asset owners who have intentionally committed 100% of their assets to positive social and/or environmental impact”. Together, the T100 now represents 130 individuals with committed capital of US$4.5 billion. The idea is simple — find ways, across asset classes, to make sure all of your money is working to produce positive social and environmental impact in addition to financial return.
So simple, and yet — what had I been thinking? I committed my career to impact investing yet never stopped to optimize my personal investments for impact. Worse still, I have business accounts at a large corporate bank I dislike intensely where I’ve held funds for an investment that we ultimately passed on when the company did not meet milestones. What small local businesses or community development could that same sum have supported had I kept that money in a CDFI? What entrepreneurs might have had their first start with those funds? All at no cost or risk to me. Saying goodbye to Bank of America, and hello to a community bank (tbd) is step one on moving my business and personal assets toward 100% impact. A thanks to Morgan Simon of Pi Investments for this step-by-step guide on switching to a banking institution that shares your values.
2. Transparency. One of the most inspiring parts of Lisa and Charly’s work is a commitment to transparency in the interest of leading by example and helping to engage others in the impact space. They, along with their asset manager Sonen Capital, bravely opened their foundation’s portfolio to the public to educate other investors on where they found investment opportunities across asset classes, and how those investments performed across time relative to industry benchmarks.
There’s really no choice in this field but to be a pioneer. And being a pioneer is messy; not for those looking to play it safe, needing to have all the right answers, or look good all of the time. Instead, the sole option is to jump in, continuously challenge yourself to learn as fast as possible in a dynamic context, and have confidence that you will eventually find the right road through the wilderness. Those brave enough to share not just the glories but, even more importantly, the challenges from this journey are the most compelling trailblazers of all.
3. Learning Out Loud. Man, this woman tweets. And while the extent of my own tweeting reaches only the occasional chirp, Lisa’s vociferousness in the industry was a critical nudge for me to start writing publicly about what I’m learning. In the spirit of transparency, already mentioned above, the learning I share will be both professional and personal, flattering and otherwise. My hope is that my community can help me to become smarter, to challenge my thinking, and to increase my impact multiple-fold through collaboration.
4. Building Infrastructure. Lisa and Charly have helped to build the impact investing industry from the ground up. As their vision grew, the organizations required to implement their vision also grew, often from nothing at all. They helped launch an asset manager and a global network of impact investors, and have been instrumental in supporting first-time fund managers, social entrepreneurs, and fledgling impact industries. And no doubt the list goes on.
For those of us in nascent impact investing markets, these examples are welcome ones. It’s a reminder that our many hours spent on field-building organizations is an important investment in critical infrastructure that will ultimately enable an industry to flourish.
5. Community. A sigh of relief as Lisa mentions being at the December GIIN Conference in Amsterdam and noting that an estimated 95% of attendees worked for large institutional investors, managing ‘socially responsible’ or negative-screened portfolios, and at least several of them unaware that there were alternate and more hands-on ways to engage with impact investing.
I am an all out GIIN groupie, but this conference was a disappointment. I had spent weeks in advance dreaming of attending and finding my flock. In my fantasy version, there would be scores of managers of small to medium-sized impact funds sitting around sharing best practices and war stories, providing inspiration, laughing, finding new co-investors and even like-minded friends! Alas. The reality was my spening the bulk of the two days wandering around thinking: These are not my people. These are not my people. Where are my people?
If Lisa knows best, which clearly I feel confident she does, my people seem to be at Toniic, which happily has a new and growing chapter in Israel. Community is critical in what would otherwise be a less effective and far less inspiring solo adventure. And while those institutional players I saw at the GIIN conference may have 20 times more assets, I’m willing to bet that my community — the individual investors — are at least 20x more fun.