Born into the arms of an inventor and a poet, questioning the status quo and seeking new ways of doing and being is sequenced in both my genetic inheritance and the core values I learned as a child. Surrounded by poverty and raised with great books, great teachers, and profound compassion, I have always loved and been loved by poor people, and I have sought out the margins and the marginalized in my personal and professional life. As an undergraduate, a mentor of mine once asked me, “Eli, do you know that you don’t have to be poor?” The question shook me to my core, and still reverberates more than two decades later, because Jon saw something in my worldview that I had been blind to up until that point: I had always “known” that I was going to be poor. His question was liberating for me and for the economics of my life; not because I suddenly wanted or sought wealth, but because I realized that part of my economic inheritance, the idea and the narrative that I had to be poor, had been shaping my development and my choices as a person, as a thinker, and as a contributor in the world. Liberating alternative futures was a welcome blessing. Thank you, Jon.
Speaking of wealth, recently, after about twenty interviews in two different cities, I was on the brink of accepting a position as Managing Director of a wealth management firm in San Francisco. I believed that I had found my vocation because I had a vision for redirecting capital from traditional investments into investments that serve the common good. I had convinced both myself and my interviewers that by aligning the investments of wealthy individuals and families with their values, we could help them feel better about their investments, increase the firm’s Assets Under Management, and deliver returns on capital by investing it in companies that thrive and deliver financial gains because they are good stewards of this planet and its people. Shortly after my final interview, which was with the second of this firm’s two co-founders, they told me that they were not going to hire me.
I was devastated. I began an introspection that helped me reframe how I was looking at my life and my work. Now, almost two years later, my work is with community organizers and nonprofit leaders to support a digital transformation of grassroots organizing so that they can continue serving the most vulnerable and marginalized members of their community in this COVID-19 time and beyond.
Had I been given that position as Managing Director of a wealth management firm in San Francisco, I would have dived deep into the world of wealth, and now, instead of serving the most impoverished, vulnerable and marginalized, I would be worried every day about how to preserve the capital of the most wealthy people on the planet as we enter a global recession and depression. What a grace that rejection was. Thank you, Brighton Jones.
This year, together with a national network of nonprofit partners, we will likely run the largest and most impactful Get Out The Vote Campaign in history, one that engages under-represented, low-income, disenfranchised and marginalized communities in unprecedented numbers. This national collaboration might help shift the outcome of a very significant U.S. election.
Yes, but: how will this election liberate? What will it transform?
Success in this year’s election, as important as it is for many, many reasons, is most likely, at best, an incremental gain for the most impoverished and the most marginalized among us.
A new U.S. presidency will not ask how to systemically liberate those in poverty; it will not seek to transform our systems. I hope it embrace principles of a shared economy. I fear it will, for its own internally coherent and good reasons, ask how to rebuild the status quo in a time of crisis.
The systemic inequity and injustice that is everywhere in these covid times impels me to work less on outcomes like this election and more on deep systems change. The invitation to join this community with all of you, this reminder that I am, together with all of you, on a journey to envision and build a more just world is exciting. I am excited to commune and eager to learn with all of you. Please don’t hesitate to point me toward my blind spots.
The future I aim to invest my time, labor, and money in is one that accelerates the emergence of a new generation of organizations that exist to serve the common good and are sustained and scaled with market forces. I am currently working on two projects that seek to implement this vision. One is a startup called re-SKU, that salvages clothes from being destroyed, tells their rescue and carbon footprint story with a digital label, and donates 100% of profits to efforts to develop sustainable, zero-carbon manufacturing alternatives. The other is an ecosystem of investors and startups called Unlimited Partners whose fiduciary is to the common good, and whose beneficiaries of Return On Investment include the planet and communities by investing in scalable, financially sustainable, market-based startups that exist to save the world.