IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?

Global leaders on what you can do to help build a more equitable society 


By Yulia Strokova, Samantha Schalit


Art Basel Miami 2019 / photo by Impact.Edition

"All boats rise if we are all thriving and contributing to society. Transforming our systems is not only morally right, but it is also in the best interest of all Americans," said Alexander Rossides, Founder and CEO of the Social Impact Exchange, in his opening remarks at The Exchange 2020: Unifying Leadership Conference.


Rossides’ experience in civic engagement and business management inspired him to start this vibrant venue 10 years ago as a common ground for diverse leaders to gather and focus on achieving large-scale impact. Today, SIE unites over 4000 members across the globe to solve complex problems.


The central question at the conference was voiced by Melanie Schnoll Begun, Managing Director & Head of Philanthropy Management at Morgan Stanley. "How can you be a better leader, a better philanthropist, a better ally?" This core question lit the direction of the conference for these members of the corporate, philanthropic, nonprofit, media and public sectors. It’s a significant moment buzzing with the energy of a unique opportunity as these groups don’t often come together to discuss how they might increase their social impact. 


"If not, now, when? If not now, when to give bolder and bigger? If not now, when to increase your payout? If not now, when to accelerate more diverse leadership?" continues Begun. 


CONVERGING CRISES


The COVID-19 pandemic showed the fragility of our world, exacerbated and spotlighted racial and other inequities, and pointed clearly toward the urgent need for the work of our global impact investing community. Rossides shared some sound facts: 


  • 60% of Americans had $500 or less in the bank – before COVID-19.

  • Income and wealth disparities are higher than in the gilded age.

  • Single black women in this country have an average net worth of only $5.

  • People of color are three times more likely to die of COVID-19. 


"There is an enormous opportunity to drive change -- it just requires all of us to step up to the moment, go big, roll up our sleeves, collaborate, wade through the messiness and impediments, and engage in the highest-leverage, systemic activities we can find," encourages Rossides. 


RECONCILE HARD TRUTHS


The compounding crises are a wake-up call for every individual. Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation, sees the roots for fundamental socio-economic restructuring in active private sector engagement. 


"It has to be a robust and vibrant regulatory environment that also is engaging with the private sector because the private sector is not working in the public interest," says Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation. "The public interest is not the mission of the private sector. The mission of the private sector is to serve its stakeholders and to make a profit. But it's not the government. It's not philanthropy. And we need to really take on this issue. It's a core fundamental issue that we have a very hard time working through in this country."


Get the money moving -- in the right direction


Improving social outcomes is a complex business. A critical piece of the puzzle is having a broader and deeper toolkit of financial strategies that can support systems change efforts over the long haul and at the appropriate levels. 


"ESG [Environment, Social and Governance] analysis is the new discipline," believes Erika Karp, Founder and CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group. It will allow for a just transition in the investment world. Once we know how to do ESG analysis deeply, we will be able to do impact investing. It is intentional; it is thoughtful; it is measurable. And so, we have a huge opportunity right now if we move every dollar, every currency, towards impact -- a form of capitalism that is regenerative, inclusive. That is a just transition." 


Award-winning philanthropy executive Edgar Villanueva also believes that wealth can heal, restore, and connect. In his provocative analysis, "Decolonizing Wealth," he explores how money used by philanthropy and finance sectors could better serve the needs of indigenous people and communities of color.


"Everyone has a role in the process of healing regardless of whether they caused or received more harm," comments Villanueva. “All of our suffering is mutual; all of our healing is mutual; all of our thriving is mutual."