If you take some time to reflect, you realize that some of our most trusted relationships are economic. That is not to say you can’t get burned by a bad purchase or a bad investment, but the exchange of goods and services is fundamentally an exercise in trust.
Historically, this makes sense. In early human history, the core of nearly all communities was (and for many, still are) our family of origin. The secondary community we engaged with was typically a group of friends and other members of our clan or tribe. This was followed by those with whom we exchanged goods and services. If we grew corn and folks near us made fishhooks, we could trade in a mutually beneficial way: a reliable supply of good corn + reliable supply of good fishhooks = trust.
However, as the mechanisms and processes of these exchanges have become further removed from actual human entanglements, the more our social bonds have eroded. As our mechanisms of exchange (not to mention personal relationships) have become more physically remote, we have also become less connected to, and less trusting of, one another. Online shopping, online relationships, and the virtual world are not as durable, connected, or transparent as real-life experiences. Perhaps that is the question of our time: how do we build and maintain essential trust in an increasingly virtual world?
Collectively, we have watched (and participated in) the ongoing aggregation and concentration of wealth. This process has occurred over many generations, and the resounding inequity it has wrought continues to breed deep distrust of the system and of each other. To counter this, some might suggest we need to build a competing monolith to combat the strength and power of the incumbent system, while others believe we should just blow it all up and start over. I believe that both scenarios would be seriously harmful in the near term, and what we really need is to shift our focus to building a system that is just at its core.
By pursuing a distributed approach to opportunity, ownership, and power we can ultimately harness the inherent creative energy in each of us, which can leverage a virtually unlimited source of inspiration and abundance for our collective good. While many of the resources that we depend upon are not limitless, our creative capacity knows no bounds.
Similarly, when human creativity is combined with meaningful, purposeful relationships, there are no limits to what we can accomplish. We are constantly learning about new discoveries and applications of knowledge that can help us navigate challenges, and new businesses are being formed to address gaps in our lives every day.
This highlights the importance of the relationship as the centerpiece of an enduring economic future that is generative rather than extractive. In an extractive model, everything, including human capital, serves as a means to an end. In a generative, relationship-based model, the ends are the means – resilient, thriving communities reflect the healthy relationships among people and the resources they depend upon. If the human species is to endure, we must concentrate our efforts on building lasting relationships with one another, as well as with the community assets – land, air, water – that we all share.
If the human species is to endure, we must concentrate our efforts on building lasting relationships with one another, as well as with the community assets-land, air, water-that we all share.
It is from this perspective that I consider some of the partnerships formed both within, and beyond our Just Economy Institute cohort. Not only did my experience as a Fellow help me to refine my own assumptions about the relationship between people and capital, but it also helped affirm that our fellow humans are truly the heart of any worthwhile endeavor.
Among several deep connections I made, one has resulted in some of the most impactful, thoughtful work in which I have had the honor to participate. When I met Nina Robinson in the JEI Fellowship, she was transitioning her approach to integrated capital, and is now Director of RUNWAY, an organization that envisions a world where Black entrepreneurs thrive in a reimagined economy rooted in equity and justice. And I was diving deeper into our efforts at HomeStake Venture Partners to figure out how best to structure capital to further our commitment to distributed opportunity, ownership, and power while promoting the idea of self-determination both from the community perspective (defined geographically and/or thematically) as well as from the founder/entrepreneur perspective.
Nina had been working with Chef GW Chew, who had recently won the Bay Area’s Food Funded competition, and whose line of plant-based proteins at Something Better Foods was gaining the attention of significant retailers and investors. She was concerned that some of this interest in Chef Chew’s company and its products might not be aligned with his personal and business goals, and subsequent conversations proved she was right.
We encouraged and supported Chef Chew to take time to think about how he might be better positioned to accomplish his goals of retaining control of his company while meeting the needs of his community to access reasonably priced, healthy food alternatives. Together, as entrepreneurs, resource providers and investors, we developed a plan that helped Chef Chew take a more intentional approach to growing and financing his business. We believe that the positive outcome of this important process is directly attributed to the time we took to build a lasting, equitable relationship amongst all stakeholders.
Today, Something Better Foods continues to thrive and attract customers and investment capital AND is aligned with its founder’s vision and values. Nina and I continue to engage in energizing and creative conversations about how we can work together to help drive the creation and embrace of an economic system that puts human connection and generative capital at the center.
Bill Stoddart is a financial activist who connects people and ideas to create opportunities for transforming the capital markets. Through his independent advisory and consulting firms, 45North Partners and NorthFork Financial, and as a co-founder of HomeStake Venture Partners, an innovative platform to help mid-market businesses access growth capital from locally minded investors, he is deeply committed to distributing opportunity, ownership, and power. Bill was part of the first cohort of the Just Economy Institute.