How much money is enough? Do you really know what your money is doing? What story is your money telling about what you care about? Is your money invested in things that work against what is most important to you – just for the highest financial return? What can we do now to affect 500 years from now? Will there be a 500 years from now at the rate we’re going?

These are just some of the questions I heard recently that are now swirling around in my head as part of a new program at RSF Social Finance for financial practitioners who want to focus on integrated capital. I’m excited to be one of 24 fellows accepted to RSF’s Integrated Capital Institute, an intensive 9-month program designed to provide the connections and strategies practitioners need to help values-driven philanthropists and investors deploy capital for lasting social and environmental benefit.

RSF Social Finance has modeled this approach for over 30 years and is now taking the lead to teach others. Over the coming months, I’ll learn about RSF’s integrated capital approach: the coordinated use of diverse forms of capital (including loans, loan guarantees, investments, and grants), network connections, and advisory services to support enterprises that are solving complex social and environmental problems. And, I hope to bring back to Vermont a network of people who are fundamentally rethinking the purpose of wealth and investing.

In an effort to share my experience and hopefully continue to pay it forward so others can learn, here are some key takeaways from the first gathering held in October at Paicines Ranch (Paicines, California):

  • Topsoil is our collective lifeblood. And, we’re losing it around the world at alarming rates due to industrial farming, chemicals, development and more. If the current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years. Why should we care? Soils play a key role in absorbing carbon and filtering water. Soil destruction creates a vicious cycle, in which less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter, and the land is further degraded. What world are we leaving for our children? Our children’s children? We can do better, we know how to do better, we just don’t want to pay for it.
  • There is a long history of blood on our money. Wealth was built off the backs of others. Think slavery, think indigenous people being driven from the land they lived on and off of but did not claim rightful ownership. Inequality grows.
  • Our financial system is made to keep growing. There is no practice in our current system that tells us “we have enough” or “we have too much.” But, we all know, don’t we, that the human species cannot continue to grow and take indefinitely from our single planet with finite resources? In order for our species to survive long-term, we need to repurpose our money in a more regenerative way, towards the general good. Investments can be direct, personal, transparent, and need to be made in a way that supports the long-term sustainability of our species.
  • The economics of mutuality is gaining momentum. This is a system that optimizes for natural and human capital; is built on trust; has a capacity for collective action and social cohesion; creates a win-win for those involved; and, is just good business. Google “Mars Economics of Mutuality” to learn more.

“$50 trillion will change hands from Boomers to Millennials in North America alone by 2050. It will remake the world. We are ancestors of the future. We must know what our money does to people and places, then take actions to align our dollars with our values.” – Joel Solomon, Author and Prosperity Coach

Capital is waiting to be unleashed. It is my hope that we can take action to use it wisely and create a more just, fair and sustainable world. It’s what I owe my children and their descendants. It’s not just about me – it never has been.

So… what will you do with this one precious life?

Janice St. Onge
Flexible Capital Fund

About the author: Janice St. Onge is President of the Flexible Capital Fund, a mission investment fund providing risk capital to growing businesses in Vermont’s food system, forestry and clean technology sectors. Janice brings economic and business development as well as financial expertise to the organization, having served in the technology and financial services industries, as well as higher education and state government sectors during her 25-year career. Janice is a member of the Vermont and NNE Women’s Investors Networks, and serves on the Clean Energy Development Fund Board, and advisory board for the Small Business Development Center.