Founding Father of Social Impact Investing

Originally published at Forbes.com

Compassionate leaders are courageous souls who often go against convention to inspire us all to be better and do better.

As the chairman of Investors Circle (now Social Venture Circle) and Slow Money, Woody Tasch has inspired qualified investors around the world to shift over $200M of capital toward companies with sustainability missions. Tasch’s newest project provides 0% loans to local farmers and food enterprises.  The capital comes from folks in the area who can become an impact investor with just $250 to invest. SOIL is the most recent innovation in the Slow Money movement, which over its first decade has catalyzed the flow of more than $70 million to almost 700 small organic farms and food enterprises via dozens of local groups.

Some people refer to Tasch as the founding father of social impact investing. Peter Strugatz, his friend and a long-time member of Social Venture Circle, explains Tasch’s influence this way, “Mission investment is still in its infancy, but Woody cracked the dam. He taught me that foundations, universities, and unions have the moral right to invest their assets in alignment with their stakeholder values. He has opened my mind and heart to looking at soil, food and food systems differently. This has better prepared me to help scale plant-based businesses including my client, Green Monday.”  Green Monday is educating the public on how easy it is to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their health by giving up meat for just one day per week.

Tasch is a Northeastern intellectual with a liberal arts education from the Amherst College. His grandparents were Russian potato farmers who had to leave their country to escape persecution. He has a great appreciation for imagination, facts, and farmers. His new book, SOIL 2017 is a testament to all three. Here he provides a scrapbook of poems, quotes and a tutorial on the current state of food production and soil fertility. The good news includes these trends nationwide:

  • From 2006 to 2014 the number of farmer’s markets almost doubled
  • Local food sales grew to $12B in 2015, up from $8B in 2008.
  • In 2015, organic food sales reached an all-time high of $43.3B, up 11% from the previous year

Why is more organic farming good for all of us and our planet? Putting more organic matter into our soil increases crop yields, ensures a more nutritious food supply and reduces the greenhouse gas effect. Tasch adds, “Farmers are the heroes—facing nature, market forces squeezing nutrition out of the food system, and climate change.” To gain a deeper understanding of his bold statement, I suggest you watch the documentary The Biggest Little Farm. This film chronicles the journey of bio-diversified farmers John and Molly Chester. It is making the rounds at film festivals now and will be released in the Spring.

Tasch balked a bit when asked if he considers himself courageous. “I am not courageous—I am stubborn, determined and engaged.” When asked about whether he had a daily practice, offered an unconventional answer, “I do yoga, meditation and exercise sometimes, but am concerned that elites think their personal practice is enough. My work is my practice.”

Tasch’s knowledge and imagination have inspired him to challenge all of us with these three deeply suggestive (but not prescriptive) questions:

  • What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
  • What if there was a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
  • What if there could be 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

“Nurture capital is about community and affection. Take a little bit of your money, go down your street and get it to a farmer. Move your money to soil building and relationships. Build community. Have a conversation about dirt and food. Teach your children to love farmers. Teach your children to love mother earth and the people who are tending to it.”

Sounds like courageous compassionate leadership to me.

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