Rosa Lee Harden: I’m Rosa Lee Harden, the Executive producer of Faith + Finance. For those of you not familiar with our organization, we’re a growing community of people of faith, finding new ways to have conversations about and engage with an economy that doesn’t always serve all of God’s people. I’m coming to you today from Camp Allen, the Episcopal conference center in Navasota, Texas, where my husband Kevin Jones and I were invited to come and have a conversation with the clergy here about the church’s engagement in the economy. This conversation just keeps growing and growing.
Today, our topic is very basic: Why Faith and Finance? I’ll tell you, in the last few weeks I’ve been asked to speak at three or four faith events about money. I’ve been asked to read three advanced copies of faith books about money. So what’s going on? Why is it that people are talking about this topic now? I think we have some clues about that, in the way that we are seeing the economy serve the rich and the poor are being left out. But there’s still a lot to be explored about what’s going on in this connection between faith and finance.
Today we welcome Rabbi Elan Babchuck, who is head of the Glean Network. They work with faith-oriented entrepreneurs and with entrepreneurship funds. Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, who is a local activist and President and CEO of Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation in Asheville, North Carolina, where she has built financial tools for minority entrepreneurs, and Amit Bouri, who is the head of The GIIN, the Global Impact Investors Network, which now has a faith office.
This conversation will be moderated by Otho Kerr, who is at the Office of Community Development at the Fed in New York. He’s researching this topic. The Fed is getting engaged in conversations around the question of why faith and finance. He will be interviewing our panelists.
And as soon as Ortho finishes the conversation with our panelists, Rachel Johnson and Kevin Jones, from Faith + Finance, will be joined by Rabbi Babchuck and Stephanie Swepson-Twitty. And we’ll be there live for us to continue this conversation. So, we hope you will join us for that conversation coming up in about 45 minutes. We look forward to learning more about “why faith and finance” together.
So now let’s hear from our panelists.
Otho Kerr: Well, I’m delighted to be here. I am here with three fascinating individuals with whom I’ve had a chance to be in conversation to hear about the work that they’re doing. And I’m delighted to be able to have this conversation with the listening community out there today. I would love to start by actually focusing on the title of this particular webinar: “We Need to Talk About Money: Connecting Faith + Finance.” And when I hear the words, “connecting faith and finance,” I think it actually means different things to different individuals, but I’m going to ask our panelists.
Question: When you hear “connecting faith and finance,” what does that mean to you?
Stephanie Swepson-Twitty: When I think about connecting faith and finance, I’m quickly driven to scripture, where scripture tells us that we must be, and I’m paraphrasing, diligent to take care of the poor among us. And so what does that look like when we frame it in that way? Certainly, we understand that poverty can be multiple things. However, as I look to the community in this moment of my work, I look at how can they continue to support community in innovative approaches, i.e., small businesses that are located as anchors in their community, who they can support either through patronage or through developing funding streams, to help those small businesses to be job creators and continue to be anchors in their community.
Elan Babchuck: One of the reasons why, as soon as I think I got my first invitation to a Faith + Finance conversation, I don’t even think I read the invitation. I’m going. Why? Because of these two concepts. First of all, it’s a really great alliteration. Anytime you’ve got alliteration, sign me up. But because they are intricately connected, right? And we need to bring them in conversation with one another, right? I think the faith community is just acceptable. “That’s not our domain. We don’t mess with that.” And of course, you can’t talk about faith values in most financial spaces. And the two shall never meet. And yet, you know, I’m a rabbi in the Jewish community, and this year is a sabbatical year. It just started a month ago.
The sabbatical is the quintessential way that faith and finance should intertwine. Not that one should govern the other, but they should be in conversation. The sabbatical year is about letting the land rest. It’s about forgiving debts. It’s about starting fresh. It’s about reminding ourselves what is enough.
It’s essentially about inviting the financial marketplace to understand that there may be more than just the bottom line –than one bottom line when it comes to thinking about our impact. I think the other piece of it, in terms of bringing these together, is understanding that there is no faith without finance, right?
In every one of our religious traditions, it’s not like all of our ancestors were volunteers. It’s not like the people who built the synagogue up the street or the church down the street got all the materials donated. There was money involved of course, right? We need to understand that faith without finance doesn’t exist.
The giving and receiving of blessings and curses, the navigating of scarcity and abundance, those two are deeply connected. And similarly, there’s no such thing as finance without faith, right? The entire market system was designed in our ancient religious communities. And I think that not just faith and religion, but also, the market doesn’t work, finance doesn’t work, if we don’t have faith, if we don’t have trust in one another –and of course, trust is the thing that is eroded more than anything else when it comes to how individual people and as our societies collectively relate to the financial institutions themselves. Finance depends on that faith that we can trust institutions that are beyond our reach, that we can trust marketplaces that are beyond our comprehension, without that faith, which we lack right now, GameStop shares are skyrocketing and a basket of fruit is worthless. We need these two to be in conversation with one another.
Amit Bouri: Thank you so much. And it is such an honor to be here with this great panel. And you know, this is an interesting topic for us. And one that we’ve been looking at, you know, from the Global Impact Investing Network’s perspective, just very briefly, in terms of how we come into this conversation.
So, we’re a network of investors who are focused on impact investing having a positive effect, a positive, measurable impact, alongside a financial return. And increasingly, we’ve seen, you know, a growing interest and opportunity to engage broader audiences with how they can manifest their values through their investments, whether it be caring for the environment and helping to support the long-term health of the planet, or working at a community level and caring from those who are more disadvantaged.
One thing that I think is quite powerful, but also you know, that goes back a long way, and also, at the same time is underutilized, is this intersection of faith and finance. There’s a long tradition of communities of faith using investments, you know, to help influence things for the better in the world.
And at the same time, we also see a lot of communities of faith who have not thought about how they can use their assets for impact investments, you know, to help advance their own objectives of trying to help care for those less well off, whether it be in the local communities or all around the world, or to help take care of the planet and the environment. So, I think this is an incredibly important conversation. It’s incredibly exciting to have this with such a great group. But I think that we’re just scratching the surface of the potential to look at this intersection of faith and finance.
Otho Kerr: I think your answers illustrate what I began appreciating throughout the day when I talked with colleagues of mine, and shared the title with them, because they were actually sort of offering their own thoughts in an array of ways, as you offered yours.
I think that faith and finance, to many of us, means faith being involved in making those impactful investments, as Amit just articulated, and in serving the poor, as Stephanie said. And as Elan said, that there is this sense when one hears “faith and finance,” maybe it’s faith in the economy, faith in the institutions that we’re talking about, not just faith-based institutions.
“Faith and finance,” to me, represents the role of morality in the economy and the ability of faith-based institutions to help us thrive and to make morally correct decisions with a strong moral compass. It means having investors who are faith-based, independent of their own institution, making investments in organizations and in companies and in peoples, that again, is morally driven based on their faith. But it’s also, as Amit says, having faith-based institutions realize that they can be strong leaders and lead by example, by directing their capital into investments, into people, into communities that are underserved and could use that capital. We went around and I asked you for your definition, but I haven’t had the chance to hear what each one of you does.
Otho Kerr: Amit, we heard your title and you explained a little bit about the GIIN, but you might want to explain a bit more about what the GIIN is doing.
Amit Bouri: In general, we work with the global community that includes over 350 formal member organizations and 52 countries. But our network reaches and engages tens of thousands of people beyond those formal members who are thinking about impact investing in one way or another.
We do a lot of educational work. We do work on impact measurement and management. We conduct research and host events, you know, really trying to move more capital to have a positive impact on the world. You know, we had done some work with faith-based communities in a very limited way over the years. And then a couple of years ago, we actually started to ramp up some activities, really looking at how we can better support, across faiths, you know, different faith-based investors who are starting to think about how they can actually allocate their capital towards impact investments.
And I think it was incredibly exciting. I should clarify that it’s not just about going to places of worship or to those we considered as faith-based investors, but it actually, in many ways, looks like the broader investment management industry. We see some engine funds that are faith-based, some asset management firms, some family offices, and high net worth individuals, as well as houses of worship that have assets and think about how to invest them.
And I think it’s been incredibly exciting work for us. It’s also, you know, we think we’re just beginning this journey and there are opportunities all around the world where we see more faith-based institutions starting to think about how they can use their investments to advance their broader sense of purpose in the world.
Otho Kerr: And Elan, I know that you come from the perspective of somebody who’s deeply concerned about the erosion in the number of leaders we have in faith-based institutions. And you’re stepping in there, trying to shore that up. Tell us what your work is all about and what you’re doing in the context of the environment we’re in today.
Elan Babchuck: There is absolutely a narrative of erosion around the religious world. And, my argument is actually: if you look at the other side of that coin, there’s an incredible opportunity. So I’m the founding director of the Glean Network, a network of spiritual entrepreneurs who are building new models of faith in action, and their focus is on meaning-making.
Building towards equitable justice and creating a sense of belonging among their constituents. So we –about 150 different entrepreneurs– come through our programs. We have a partnership with Columbia Business School. And what we’re seeing is that there are a lot of faith leaders who are coming to a place of understanding that their calling actually is bringing them outside of the traditional brick and mortar surroundings. That they’re called to serve is really being deeply felt right now, especially in this moment. We’re in the midst of what’s being dealt with, the great recession in America, where thousands and thousands of people are leaving the workforce voluntarily at this point, just over the last 18 months. And among those are about 2,000 faith leaders leaving the pulpit every single month. Whether they’re burning out, whether they’re finding a new sense of calling, they want to move into a different kind of work or the work is no longer there. So it leaves us with this incredible moment of opportunity to invite those leaders into really sparking their own moral imagination, their own entrepreneurial imagination to find new ways to serve in this really rapidly shifting landscape that we’re in.
Otho Kerr: Then let’s dive a little deeper in trying to work with these leaders. What are you doing with them, exactly?
Elan Babchuck: We run a number of different fellowships and we have a number of different educational offerings. Everything from, you know, specifically focusing on training and retraining faith leaders, who were in the pulpit or currently serving communities, to trying to help them re-imagine those communities, adapt some of the assets inside of the community, or simply be a more innovative, entrepreneurial kind of leader.
Then on the other side, we have our marquee fellowship, called the Start Fellowship, and that’s where we partner with Columbia Business School. That’s an incubator program that we run. It’s a 10-week course and those folks come in with sometimes just as little as an idea that we help them kind of vet and build out over time, ultimately launching before the end of each of our cohort experiences. And other times, it’s a venture that they’ve already started that they are adapting and updating. And really, when I think about it, we also have a number of other projects that we do. But when I think about where all of these meet, it’s essentially inviting people to see their ministries as ventures.
And then when I speak in other spaces with, you know, secular entrepreneurs who were kind of thinking more about the moral underpinnings of the work that they do, or the connection –their own connection to faith– that maybe they didn’t think they could bring to work, I’m inviting people to see their ventures as ministries.
You know, how can those ventures really serve people? How can they leave the world better than they found it? And, so that’s where the intersection is.
Otho Kerr: That’s spectacular. Quick question, before I turn to Stephanie, where did the name Glean come from?
Elan Babchuck: So, it comes from the idea of gleanings in the field. Again, when I talked about the sabbatical year before, you know, much of Jewish scripture texts and tradition is founded and really rooted in an agrarian marketplace and agricultural society. And so the idea of gleanings was that farmers and people who own their own land and work the land would actually leave corners of the fields for all of the marginalized people in their community.
And so when I ask, what does it mean to create an organization called Glean? It really is about centering a lot of those folks who have been outside of the main story, or who have not been the direct beneficiaries of a lot of what religious offerings have been to date. And that’s where the equity work comes in and that’s where the justice work starts.
And the other thing I’ll say is religion is a $1.2 trillion industry. There are, even if we’re just talking about the corners of the field or just the 10%, the tithing from that harvest, there is an incredible amount of impact that we can have if we really look at that number, and everything behind it, as an opportunity to serve.
Otho Kerr: Thanks, Elan. What a great name. Stephanie, you are a star. You know, we talked about impact investing capital and we talked about driving capital into communities, but driving capital into communities is harder than just raising the capital. Getting capital into the capillaries, as some folks call it, is the hard work, and it’s the necessary work. And you’re doing that. Tell us what you’re doing and tell us the whole story just to give us a bit of inspiration.
Stephanie Swepson-Twitty: Eagle Market Streets has been working in small business development for more than 20 plus years. The Community Equity Fund, which is our highlighted opportunity at this moment, is working toward helping small businesses who’ve been in operations for three to five years and who are showing some profit, annual profit of 50,000 or greater, to scale even more by job creation. We think about faith in that respect. All the way from the inception of the Community Equity Fund to the first dollars out the door. In July of this year, it was a faith walk. When the idea was floated to Eagle Market Streets, we were told that it’s not a space we can be in or the work that we can do.
And every time I turned it down, the Master just put it back in my lap and said, “yes, it’s your work to do. You have to go do this.” So, when I became intentional about following the path that was laid for me, it was amazing how even a mustard seed, if we will apply it, turned the tide on something. I can very much remember sitting in a room with my co-founder, Kevin Jones, and he and I were literally scared, scratching the back of our heads saying, “where are we going to get $25,000 to be the floor of this fund?” Well, it just dropped in my spirit almost immediately. “Why don’t you be the change you want to see?” So, I went to the board and I said, “look, we need $25,000 to seed this fund. Can Eagle Market Streets be the first in with $10,000?” Now, typically my boy probably would have looked at me like I did not understand good English, but, but oddly enough, in that moment, there was not even much discussion. They wanted to know what the Community Equity Fund was, what it could do. And yes, thumbs up all around the table.
So, I offer that and pause there, cause there’s much more to the story. But to say that, as people of faith, if we don’t model the change that we want to see, it’s a good likelihood that we won’t be able to bring others into them. So, thank you.
Otho Kerr: Stephanie, one of the things that I read that Kevin, your colleague, shared, was that the importance of a community equity fund is that it tries to solve the racial wealth gap by providing funding for entrepreneurs – for small business owners who might need access to capital, but who don’t have the benefit or the privilege of aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters who have been financially well-positioned to provide that kind of funding. Can you speak to that?
Stephanie Swepson-Twitty: Absolutely. If most of us in this conversation would agree, at least, in a peripheral agreement, that 400 years of oppressive behavior –institutionalized, systemic behavior– has prevented a whole sector of our community from not having resources. So, and I like to tell the story that Kevin tells about trying to stand up some Kiva loans in San Francisco, and they just needed folks to give $25. 25 people to give $25.
Well, unfortunately, there was not a single person in that cohort who could give $25 that wasn’t spoken for for something else. And so, when we think about that, that becomes an impetus, if you will, for us to look at innovative and creative ways, built on faith and with finance, to help these individuals, both business owners, and community owners, to build assets and create wealth, which is an overarching umbrella for Eagle Market Streets in all the work we do. We try our best to instill in our participants the need to understand asset building and wealth creation.
Otho Kerr: Thank you so much, Stephanie. And I just applaud the work. This is the tough work, I think: getting capital into communities. So thank you for that work.
Amit, the GIIN has sort of a 10,000 foot perspective on what’s happening in the impact investment universe, as much as anyone, and you can see what’s going well and what’s not going so well. But when you look at the impact investment landscape or the investment landscape at large, what do you see out there that you think is going right, in terms of faith-based institutions doing the right thing, or other institutions being driven by faith and making investment decisions that are helping underserved communities?
Amit Bouri: Hmm. Well, I appreciate the question. And I think one of the things that we see, you know, historically for many, is that investments very much focused on just business, for the sake of business, and not really incorporating other considerations, whether it’s values-based or sustainability or environmental impact and all the different terms that people use.
And, that was, you know, it’s kind of like a bifurcation of the world. You think about how to do the good in the world through your volunteer time, your philanthropy you know, your community engagement. And then you invest to invest. And what we’ve seen kind of happen over the course of particularly the last decade, is a recognition that there is a way of integrating these things that can meet multiple objectives.
And it’s not always easy by any means, but we see this happening amongst secular institutions that are actually incorporating broader values. C corporations, institutional investors, and many individuals are starting to look around the world and saying, “I should do what Stephanie was saying.” You know, we didn’t, and we needed to be the change that we seek, and we need to figure out how we put all of our assets and resources to work to invest in a better world, whether it’s for our family, for the community, for the world at large. And similarly, we’ve seen you know a growth in faith-based institutions thinking about how they can best utilize their assets.
And I do want to say it’s not starting from a base of zero by any means, because a lot of what we now call impact investing actually rests on activities that come from faith-based communities of using, you know, their investments for activism around social justice, and in the U.S. you know, there was a lot of the intersection coming out of the civil rights movement, and after more political rights were secured, there was a recognition that we needed economic justice, and a lot of faith-based communities were helping to drive a lot of that activity. So there was a strong interplay in the community development space between activists and banking, and then – who was getting finance. And what we’re now seeing is the amplification of that. And, you know, this is actually starting to engage a much broader set of faith-based investors, who are, of course, wrestling with the complexity of this. How do you incorporate values in the right way?
You know, how do they show up in the investment process? How do they show up in the investment selection? And that’s something where I think there’s a lot to cross-pollinate, if you will, from secular impact investors and faith-based impact investors. And that’s what we’ve been very grateful for –the opportunity to do some more work in this area.
That’s been led by my colleague, Kate Wall. She has been working on how to better engage faith-based investors and help them, you know, understand the array of opportunities and impact investing that can help them, you know, manifest their values through their investments.
Otho Kerr: Do you find an interest on the part of any of your investors to invest in community equity funds, like the ones that Stephanie just shared with us?
Amit Bouri: Yes. And we have a broad spectrum of investors. So, we have huge global institutions that have a hard time doing more micro-investments or kind of community-level investments. They need to move a lot of capital in big chunks.
And then we also have folks who are very deeply engaged in place-based investing, who want to see investments as a way of driving deeper connections on a personal level. And I mention that, as kind of two extremes, to say that there are a lot of different ways in which impact can show up and the way people are investing.
But we do see a lot of folks who are really trying to think about how they help have an impact on the community. I should say, also, that I think COVID is accelerating this. And we’re starting to see early signs of this, but I think this will show up over the coming years, where we have seen such incredible damage down at the community level. Also, you have so many marginalized communities that have borne the brunt of the damage from the COVID crisis. We are now seeing a very visceral understanding that many communities are starting to get a lot of people to serve, to revisit, kind of where they do business, you know? Like where and how do they buy things, you know? Who do they actually give their business to? Where do they invest? Where do they bank? Who gets their savings accounts? And I think that there’s an opportunity you’re coming into now to really have a much deeper shift in the way that people connect to their communities through money.
Otho Kerr: Let’s hold onto that theme of the impact of COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement in the last year. Elan, what have you seen? How has that affected what you’re doing? All of the energy that we saw in Black Lives Matter, and all of the tragedy and loss, if you will, that we also felt during COVID, how has that affected what you’re doing?
Elan Babchuck: Well for one, I’ll say, COVID accelerated every known trend and it brought a lot of them to light and it turned, you know, incremental change into inflection points, like, overnight.
It didn’t…I don’t think it created new trends. So, when we talk about, you know, certainly in my world, when I look at the sociology of religion, it didn’t create those new trends. It accelerated a lot of them. And, it put a lot of organizations that were maybe teetering close to the brink, it put them squarely on the edge.
So that’s one piece. And then, specifically, as you’re connecting –because I think they are deeply intertwined– you know, the rise in justice work, and of course the Black Lives Matter movement– all of the pain and trauma that came from it, that’s now being surfaced in many different forms of public grieving, which I think is such a critical step in moving forward, I think a lot of people are saying, “enough!” And as this ties to faith and finance, I think about half the people who should be saying “enough,” are actually saying “enough!” And where do I come up with that half number?
I think there’s a lot of people who are now much more keenly aware of institutional and systemic racism and of the inequities in our society, of the caste systems that many have profited off of, you know, over the years, at the cost and expense of so many others who continue to be marginalized. That’s the “enough” that everybody should be saying every day. There is not one person on Twitter saying, “no, we should keep doing that enough.” It should be over now.
Here’s the other half of people who aren’t saying “enough”: that’s the other trend that COVID accelerated from a financial standpoint, is the deepening, widening gap between the haves and have nots in this country. And of course, in the world, too, but let’s focus specifically here, which is where many of the endowments that we’ve seen, many of the high net worth individuals, probably gained 20 to 30% just in the marketplace over the course of the last 18 months.
And a lot of people are now out of work. Not the “great resignation folks,” but a lot of people who were, you know, gainfully employed, and now lost those jobs. So we’re seeing the widening gaps. And the question is, with those folks who are growing in net worth, with those folks who are getting the promotions, getting raises, is there ever a point at which they can stay, perhaps, informed by their faith, “this is enough? I now have enough.” But we are literally watching two of the world’s richest, white men say, “world domination isn’t enough. I need to go to space and dominate that, too.”
And the question is, at what point are folks like that ever going to be able to say, “enough?” At what point is the economy, the marketplace, the collective consciousness of our society, going to be able to point to that kind of behavior, that kind of consolidation of wealth and say, “actually that’s enough?”
And when I talked earlier about the sabbatical year, and this now connects to both of those concepts of “enough,” when I talked about the sabbatical year, it was a prophetic vision with an understanding that it was going to be human nature to see the world through a lens of scarcity, and therefore, to consolidate as much wealth as they could.
And then every seven years, that gets reset. And we don’t have a reset button in our society. We don’t have a reset button in our economy. We don’t have a reset button in our marketplace. And that’s where that concept of “enough” needs to… we need to explore that much more deeply. The last thing I’ll say is, because I was thinking about this word “enough,” is you know, every year the Jewish community, we sit down and have Passover Seders, these beautiful long dinners where we tell stories and the quintessential song that I remember growing up, I remember my grandmother made a poster of it, and she had one of those rulers that you grabbed in the closet, and she would point to the 15 pictures, there’s a song called “Dayenu,” which means, “that would be enough.” And it’s not just one verse. It’s 15 stanzas. That’s 15 different points in our emancipation story from the book of Exodus, at which we could say, “if that’s the only gift God had given us, that would have been enough.”
There are five stanzas about becoming freed from slavery. There are five about the miracles that God did for us. And then there were five about being able to rest and sit with that “enough” and be with God. And that’s an incredible gift to be able to say that around a table that is full of food and people we love in a freed world.
But the truth is, until everybody is emancipated, until everybody can sit around a table with abundant food, until everybody can look in the eyes of their significant others and their loved ones, and know that they’re surrounded by “enough,” then we’re not done. Then the work isn’t done and there needs to be the 16th stanza of that in which we say, “until everybody has that opportunity, we can’t rest.”
Otho Kerr: Dayenu is a powerful word. I love that word. Thank you for lifting that up, Elan.
Stephanie, Elan was just talking about “enough.” And you, at the very beginning, were talking about connecting faith and finance. That connection means service to the poor. Elan also talked about the erosion of faith-based leaders and the numbers deteriorating –1,800 faith-based leaders stepping down once a month. To you, what kind of impact does that have on how we look at the economy? How do we look at finance when we have a deterioration in faith-based institutions?
Stephanie Swepson-Twitty: So, I’d like to begin my remarks by tagging something that is really resonating with me from Elan’s remarks. And, so scripture says that the poor will always be with us. But what I tell myself every day, is that the poor doesn’t have to be the 99% while the other is 1%, that there is enough wealth in this country that we can distribute it, allocate it, have it be broadly equitable, if you will. So even though we will have the poor with us, always, they do not have to represent the majority.
I wanted to put that out there, because I think it’s important for the faith community to understand that in order for that philosophy, thought, and theology to go forward, they have to be driving it. So, more to your question, on what it means to me to have the faith community diminish or be diminished in its strength, is that we have fewer and fewer people driving the initiatives around how to be equitable and inclusive.
We have always thought, or I’ve always thought, that the church was the place, or the faith institutions were the places where we could seek equality if we couldn’t find it anywhere else. And so with erosion, to use the term, being the prevailing order of the day, we have less and less people who understand that that really is true: that there’s one body with many members, that all of those members have their fit. The King James version says “fit.” I translate that to be “perfect.” It’s the perfect place in the body that they have. And to be part of that is even more important. It says, “even the weak among you have their perfect place in your body,” so that we understand that without strong leadership, without people who can convey, or ministers who can convey that, that we are indeed the answer, in some respects. I think that we just have more and more of the some-zero mentality that exists among us right now. Thank you for the question.
Otho Kerr: As long as we’re on morality, Amit, I’ll share that at the New York Fed, our mission is to make sure that we support an economy that works for all segments of society. And that is a statement that precedes me. But I’m wondering, from your perspective, as long as we’re talking about morality, is that a mission that should be driven due to the practicality of, if we have all segments of society engaged in the economy, that will only strengthen the economy? Or should that be just morally driven, regardless of the benefits for the economy? Is that a morally important mission? What are your thoughts on that?
Amit Bouri: You know, this comes up a lot in the investment space around this term that is probably well known to most of our audience: materiality. That you can actually consider things like social dimensions or climate change, as long as you can prove that they’re financially material, you know, so long as you can prove that they actually have some impact on the risk or return of an investment.
But, you know, what we often get lost in all of that, actually, is just the broader sense of purpose, which is: even if you can’t prove these things, if you can achieve your financial objectives and, you know, invest in the world because you think it’s the right thing to do, then that is inherently of value and it’s sufficient motivation.
And I think that’s kind of what I’m hearing a little bit from the question, or it’s something very analogous. There may be a financial impact to do certain things since, right now, there’s a lot of discussion about diversity and the financial imperative and it just leads to better business, or you reach broader markets, or you have more productive teams better, decision-making, and so on.
But also, just saying that this is the right way we want to be as a world and this is the way we want our society to look, to see the economy in service of that society, as opposed to the other way around, I think that is something that is very much been contested as we speak right now, and in very interesting ways.
When I was young, I grew up in Northern California, and there were lots of activists who were very critical of our economic system and inequality. That was largely the refrain of activists. Now, fast forward to today. We actually see a lot of work with the GINN around what is the future of capitalism and how do we actually reimagine capitalism, so it does work for all people and so it does work for the planet? And also, so it works for long-term economic sustainability and people who are now calling for a better form of capitalism or a better form for the economic system. Calling for systemic change still includes activists, as you’d expect, but it also includes everything from the titans of industry and many CEOs who are now talking about this.
We see billionaires who have been enriched by the system as it is currently designed who have also been saying that this is a system that needs to change. And it’s very common now for corporate CEOs to actually have points of view on how the system should change, which hasn’t been translated into the type of systemic change that we need, but it is a very different landscape for this conversation.
And people I think are wrestling with the complexity of having impact objectives or an end, a financial motivation. They’re trying to figure out how to reconcile these things. But I think it’s important that we do because it’s clear that the system we have in place is not working, and that we need to think about different ways of organizing our economy so it does actually create value for all. and does contribute to a sustainable ecosystem and a sustainable planet, as well.
Otho Kerr: We’re coming to the end of our session, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t give you all an opportunity to just lift up that one idea, that one thought that you wanted to share, but that you didn’t have an opportunity to share in the last 30 or 45 minutes. What is the one idea, thought, wish anything you want to leave us with?
Elan Babchuck: Gosh, one idea. I’m just, as I’m hearing, you know, my fellow panelists speak, I’m thinking that I want to lift up all of their ideas because I’m leaving feeling so full.
I’m just hearing, just being a student of the two of you. This is, this is maybe a simple thing to say, but as I said before, I think we’re at an incredible moment of opportunity. And it’s on the flip side of the coin of erosion of American religion. We look at some top-line numbers, almost 2000 faith leaders leaving the pulpit every month, somewhere between 20 and 30% of our houses of worship in America. There are about 344,000 total and 20, 30% of them are going to close in the next 18 months. That’s the narrative of erosion, right? The younger folks who are not affiliating. And I want to offer the flip side of that coin. And that’s where I’m an eternal optimist. So you could tell me 99% are going to close.
And I would say, “I think we got a chance.” I look at it this way: there’s an incredible generational transfer that is assumed to happen in the religious, and if I were to tell you that you can become the CEO, you can join the steering committee, be some kind of leader of a company, a multinational global company that had more real estate holdings than the entire country of France per square foot, that had more revenue than the top 10 tech companies combined, that had more followers than all the social media platforms combined, would you say, “gosh, that seems like a pretty good opportunity?” Would you buy stock? Would you short the stock? In my humble opinion, I look at that and say, “we are in an incredible moment of opportunity in which there is a generation that is now awakened to the incredible opportunities and inequities and injustices and finding ways to reconcile those two in building a faith that’s really worthy of the very followers that we consider to be part of our community.” So that, for me, is the resounding question to leave with, which is, what if we looked at this as a historical moment of incredible opportunity? And that’s what I see ahead of us.
Stephanie Swepson-Twitty: Much like Elan, a myriad of things are bubbling up. What a wonderful conversation we’ve been having this afternoon and many things to think about. But for me, in this moment, my attention and my heart is leaning to a Latin saying that says “Carpe diem,” and carpe diem is dry, qualitative. And, so I think that you know, if we have any job to do, that it is to not miss the moment that is before us, to shift paradigms and change the world. Because as Margaret Mead said, “never forget that a small group of people will change the world. Indeed. It’s the only thing that ever has.” And so I am excited to be in this time in my life where I’m not Einstein by any means, but the wisdom of several years rest in me to do the work that I’ve been called to do and not short from it. So, thank you.
Amit Bouri: The one thing raised is that I’m really grateful to be part of this conversation and a lot of inspiration and ideas that I’ll take away from this.
You know, just in the moment that we’re in, where the pandemic has brought us all to be much more local, and it’s brought a lot of our time on the horizon to be much shorter because that’s one of the byproducts of crisis.
It also underscores, though, how interconnected and interdependent we all are. And, and I think that we’re seeing this show up in terms of the public health situation that we have. We’re seeing this in terms of the supply chain. We’re seeing this in terms of so many different signs when we look at climate change and things happening in one part of the world and how they affect other parts of the world.
You know, it does really underscore the fact that we do need to think about this in terms of the overall. And that, you know, if we’re looking at, trying to have healthy communities, we need a healthy planet and a healthy global community, as well. And I think that is something that we all want for our future.
And it’s an incredibly important time to think about it. If that’s the future we want, we have to invest in it. And that’s where I think there’s such a great conversation for us to continue to have at this intersection of faith and finance. Thank you.
Otho Kerr: Thank you. All three of you. This has been a really lovely, inspirational conversation. I love the work that you’re doing. We know that we need an economy that works for all segments of society. We need an economy that’s more inclusive. In order for it to be more inclusive, there is not only a practical imperative behind it, but there’s a moral imperative behind it. And in order for it to be more inclusive, we have to have people like you driving the moral piece of it. And in fact, faith is going to be a strong component of that moral compass. What drives our decisions. Dayenu. Carpe diem. Let’s seize the day. Let’s take this moment and do something with it.
This conversation was followed by a Q & A session with the webinar’s audience, hosted by Rachel Johnson and Kevin Jones of Faith + Finance, featuring panelists Rabbi Elan Babchuck of the Glean Network and Stephanie Swepson-Twitty from Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation. You can read the transcript of the Q&A session here.
This conversation was edited for clarity and length.