Natural Investments as a firm has been on its own path of social justice since it began. It’s the core of our mission. And yet in the area of racial equity, we know there is much more that we can and want to accomplish.
Our natural focus is external, in that we are always looking for ways to help clients invest in systems change. But for the past few years, our firm’s rapid growth and circumstances in the bigger world have called on us to look inward—particularly when it comes to racial and gender equity.
Most of us have experienced important disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of publication, more than 128,000 Americans have died from the illness, leaving entire communities in mourning. Shut-downs and quarantine orders have devastated the economies of entire cities. Nearly everyone—even the most privileged—have had to make major changes to their daily lives.
With the pandemic still in full force, a national response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans who lost their lives to institutionalized racial violence has swept across the nation and even the world. The tumultuous events of spring have created one disruption after another. Although disruption can be painful, endings create space for change.
It can be overwhelming to think about the ways that our values and money interact in our lives. Some people might know they want their money to create positive impact but feel unsure of where to start. Unless we bring intention and clarity to our money life, the money flowing through our lives may be fueling human suffering and environmental destruction.
What do we do with this knowledge? If we are able to work on our relationship with money, we can learn to engage with money so that it becomes not just neutral but positive. Money can even become a sacred tool for good if we use it purposefully to support a positive vision—for our own lives and in the bigger world.
Releasing my “noble poverty” mindset has been an exhilarating journey.
When I first heard the term “noble poverty,” I had a visceral reaction of relief at finally having a name for a condition I had lived with since I was a child.
Mikelann Valterra, founder of the Women’s Earning Institute, has defined noble poverty as “the belief that there is virtue in not having money and that good people do not have it.” People with this mindset live by the phrase “It is better to be good and poor than rich and evil.”
The roots of the noble poverty mindset I used to carry run deep. I was raised in a devout Catholic family in a small rural town in Kentucky. My parents had me when they were both nineteen and worked hard to make a sweet little home for my siblings and me, but they struggled over money. The conflicts over power and control were exacerbated during their divorce, when I was a teen.
My experience of church teachings gave me clear messages about money: “You cannot serve both God and money,” “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and the most memorable to me as a child, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
I first started earning money through small jobs: brushing my grandmother’s hair for ten cents and later babysitting. At sixteen, I worked at a local video and record store and did my own tax returns. I worked two to three jobs at once to put myself through college, and even still, I took out as much in student loans as I could to pay my tuition; I was part of the first generation of students to incur unprecedented educational loan debt without fully grasping the consequences.
I went on to get an M.S.S.W. in social work and worked for nonprofit organizations with refugee and immigrant families and affordable housing. In my early thirties, when I began teaching financial literacy, I realized that I needed to start a retirement account and found an SRI mutual fund for my first IRA.
Even then, by age forty, I was still living with a mindset of noble poverty. I realized that I wanted to retire from this way of thinking and living. I came to understand that my calling was socially responsible investing, and I began doing deeper personal money work to liberate myself from the noble poverty mindset as I helped people align their money with their values.
As they say, when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, taught me that we live in a world of abundance, not one of scarcity. From her work with Buckminster Fuller, she saw that our systems that are still catching up with the reality of abundance. I now work with my clients to leverage their investments to transform these systems, so that fair trade, gender equity, inclusion, and economic justice become integral to our economy.
Barbara Stanny, in her book Sacred Success, taught me about women and our relationship to both money and power. She says that women’s challenges with money are often really challenges in their relationship with power. I continue to explore this for myself and help my clients in their own challenges with power.
There are many other teachers, of course, who have helped shaped the unique path I find myself on today. I am thankful to have defined my own “brand of joy,” an idea coined by Tanya Geisler that emphasizes the WHY of my work. As we begin a new year, I am thrilled to be continuing this journey with my clients and colleagues.
In June I participated in the inaugural Conscious Company Global Leaders Forum, a gathering of about 200 business executives who are interested in evolving themselves as a conscious leaders. They share a goal of bringing deeper awareness to bear inside companies to change how business is done, and to create positive, meaningful ripple effects in the bigger world.
As you might guess, some of the attendees were from recognizable companies like Google, Patagonia, Clif Bar, GoPro, and Seventh Generation. Economic innovators like Kat Taylor from Beneficial State Bank, and mission-oriented CEO Vincent Siciliano with New Resource Bank were there. Game changing leaders from BALLE, Bioneers, Social Ventures Network, Oxfam, B Lab, and American Sustainable Business Council attended as well, along with many chapter heads and members of the Conscious Capitalism national network, NEXUS, and Village Capital.
Natural Investment’s Carrie Van Winkle was recently featured on Forward Radio, a Louisville radio station. This is one of the best overviews of NI’s approach that we’ve heard. The forty-minute conversation covers some of the themes of resilient investing, as well as offering a quick introduction to SRI in general. Topics include fossil-fuel free investing, first steps for millennials, and bees.
Check it out here: Sustainability Now from Forward Radio
The new year offers us a burst of energy for starting fresh and recommitting to the changes we’d like to see in our lives. In the Mindful Money Transformation work I do to help clients achieve their money goals, I’ve found that there are four important ingredients that work together to help create powerful change.
#1 – Our WHYs
We start by identifying the goal (the WHAT) but then quickly dive into the WHY. There’s little energy in the “what” until it’s accomplished—the energy to fire our actions is in the “why.” If the goal is to pay off credit card debt, the why might be “to feel free from the stress of the debt hanging over me.” If the goal is to contribute the maximum amount into their IRA for the year, the why might be “to know that I am sending love to and caring for my elder self by what I do this year.”
# 2 – The energy of 90 days
Many of our goals are long term and that’s OK, but it can be overwhelming and hard maintain momentum toward goals that are still out of reach. So looking at the year by seasons can be a powerful lens that really focuses your energy: using the energy of your WHY, look at the next three months (set a specific target date) and set yourself an achievable goal. Shifting to this seasonal focus can really help you keep the momentum.
Let’s look at an example.
Calvert Foundation | Senior Officer, Investor Relations
Katherine is a Senior Officer on the Calvert Foundation’s Investor Relations team. She is responsible for managing relationships with individual investors, institutions and financial advisors to increase their understanding of Calvert Foundation’s impact investing products and services. Prior to Calvert Foundation, Katherine worked at the Aspen Institute where she focused on building entrepreneurial and early-stage investment ecosystems in the Middle East and North Africa. She also worked for Louisiana Economic Development, crafting policies and strategies to enhance the state’s economic competitiveness, and Goldman Sachs, managing both equity and fixed-income investment products. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in economics and mathematics from Bucknell University and her M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Women Invested Interview with Katherine St. Onge – Transcript
Namaste Solar | Co-Owner, Human Resources Specialist
Teri joined Namasté Solar as a full time accountant in 2006, bringing with her a background in small business management and bookkeeping. She has recently moved into a new recruiting role on the Human Resources team, finding a passion for the people side of Namaste Solar’s business. Teri has previously worked for a small software design firm as their business manager. Teri studied business administration at Anna Maria College and transpersonal psychology at Naropa University.
Women Invested Interview with Amanda Bybee and Teri Lema – Transcript
Namaste Solar | Co-Owner, Director of Strategic Planning and Initiatives
Amanda has worked in the solar industry since 2003, first promoting renewable energy policy in Austin, TX while at Public Citizen, then at Meridian Energy Systems, before finding her home at Namasté Solar. Amanda joined Namasté Solar in January 2006 as an early member of the team. She has held numerous roles over the years, from business administration to human resources to sales & design. Today, Amanda serves as the Director of Strategic Planning and Initiatives, devoting her energy to strategic planning and special projects that benefit the company and its customers. She is a passionate advocate for Namasté Solar’s unique employee-owned, holistic business model, and is excited to extend Namasté Solar’s reach on a national scale through our Commercial Service offerings. She obtained a BA in English and French from the University of Texas at Austin, and through solar, has also found her “inner engineer.”
Women Invested Interview with Amanda Bybee and Teri Lema – Transcript