SOCAP RECAP: Shifting Power by Engaging in Between Spaces
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Shifting power was a concept that kept being reiterated throughout SOCAP’s virtual conference last week:
The GIIN revealed that shifting power was one of the three pillars of the IRIS+ Racial Equity Theme for impact measurement;
We were called by industry leaders like Monique Aiken, Cathy Clark, and Fran Seegul to address who has power and agency in investment decisions; and
We learned about solutions that work actively to distribute power.
Returning to SOCAP after a two-year hiatus, I found myself moving through two conversation tracks on impact investment and wondering about the space in between these tracks:
The first track was the more mainstream, dominant conversation with higher attendance. In these panels and discussions, we were shown examples that it is possible for us to create positive social and environmental change and make money, told that value is found at scale, and felt the promise that mainstream financial institutions were ready to adopt impact into their strategies.
The second track was the growing consciousness reminding us that mainstream, win-win solutions will not be enough to solve entrenched social and environmental issues that our society is facing. We were exposed to solutions that feel the backing of their community, but are often seeing the backs of investors. These solutions were smaller in scale, but with a focus on scaling deep within communities. We were told how challenging it was to bring these solutions to the stage they are at now, and how people have had to work twice as hard to get half as far.
We were exposed to solutions that feel the backing of their community, but are often seeing the backs of investors.
It’s clear (by now) where Community Credit Lab most often tries to explore alignment in the above conversation categories — our foundational goal is to enable Lending Programs that center and shift power to Lending Partners and their communities. This goal positions us most often in conversations that would fall under the second bucket above. Reflecting back, I found myself wondering, is it possible to shift power without engaging in the spaces between these conversations?
The space between calls for critical reflection of why certain structures are not distributing power, where certain structures can distribute power, and defining clearly what needs to change in order to shift power to people who face discrimination in the financial system. I am left imagining:
What if we had a main stage conversation between an ESG fund manager and a community-controlled fund?
What could we learn about the incentives, structures, infrastructure, and terminology that prevents or allows for shifting power?
Where could we bridge, where could we learn from the other, where could we encourage one another to do more?
Exploring the space between conversations at SOCAP, power is at the center, both explicitly and implicitly. Shifting that power will require us to be specific about what it is that we want and how we want to build it together, on behalf of others who may not be in the conversation. With this in mind, I also wanted to share a few topics that came up during SOCAP that we, at Community Credit Lab, have begun to explore further:
Impact is relative. How do we find value as an ecosystem in both small and large scale efforts to create social and environmental change? How do we make more space for the people being supported by these solutions to define impact?
The definition of the term “catalytic” as it relates to investments is expanding. Could this be helpful to normalize new types of investments or will it move the ecosystem in a direction that creates confusion? How does investment terminology reinforce or deconstruct power dynamics?
Financial and impact benchmarks can be helpful and harmful. How do we allow for a collective reset in the ecosystem as we find what “benchmarks” help us align toward a more just and equitable society? Who will we include in the process of resetting benchmarks?
Redefining risk requires changing perceptions, which requires being in relationship with people who have a different perspective. What will it take for us to bridge and build together? How does the concept of risk reinforce othering and prohibit us from building inclusively?
We can no longer afford to exist in two separate conversations—we need to be engaging in the spaces between. The call is for us to shift power, so let’s take action. Let’s be specific about what is not working, why it's not working for people, and what can never work to shift power and resources to communities that face discrimination in the financial system. Let’s make space for those who are reimagining new systems - and support them to lead. Let’s figure out how we can build a more inclusive impact investing ecosystem together, at the direction of those who've been deliberately left out.