Two years after participating in the second cohort of the Just Economy Institute (JEI), I’ve settled into a role that I had never imagined for myself. Since September 2019, I have been the Co-CEO of a family office in Toronto, Dragonfly Ventures, dedicated to a vision of humanity living synergistically with each other, the earth, her creatures, and spirit. We use a range of financial tools including grants and investments, together with relationship-based activities, like gatherings, to achieve this vision.
For the first time, I am deeply embedded in the inner workings of the investment sector, a place that I didn’t believe I belonged in until my JEI experience. I’ve found myself quickly learning about its inner workings while at the same time deliberately trying to work outside of the conventions that were designed to make me and so many others feel uninvited.
One of the ways that Dragonfly is trying to break free of this mold is by cultivating feminine approaches to our work, which are often absent in the world of finance. I use the word “feminine” rather than “female” intentionally: feminine qualities aren’t always associated with gender. As a cisgender straight woman, I have often led with masculine qualities including prioritizing logic and independence. I’m now in a company where our founder, my fellow Co-CEO, celebrates and encourages leading with feminine qualities. This gift has contributed to a journey of rediscovering attributes I realized I had disassociated from, perhaps to prioritize and emphasize masculine qualities I viewed as being more valued.
What does this feminine approach look like in practice?
One of Dragonfly’s core values is intuition, which we define as the recognition that we can go beyond conscious, evidence-based reasoning to access and be guided by the skills and experiences within us. We’re fortunate that our founder has strong and honed intuition skills, which she shares through monthly team workshops, that help us to develop our own practice. This allows our team to value and make space for intuition within our operations and encourage the same in the organizations and companies we work with. We called upon our intuition to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to maintaining our support to existing grantees, we quickly decided to do an additional $1 million in philanthropic funding in both 2020 and 2021 to provide core operating support to organizations serving communities made especially vulnerable during the pandemic.
Another way we centre feminine values is by making space to nurture. We created our own asset classes to intentionally consider how closely each of our investments, including grants, contribute to achieving our mission. The investments that most closely align with our mission are called “nurture.” These contributions, first and foremost, prioritize mission and the care of people and the planet rather than the preservation of capital and/or a financial return.
Another feminine quality we cultivate is collaboration. At Dragonfly we have a Co-CEO model that shares leadership between myself and our founder. This is a direct recognition of our different and complementary skill sets and of knowing the limits of our capacities. That awareness extends to our organization and the communities we serve, which is why we prioritize collaboration and shared learning. An example of that is our dedicated stream of funding to support collaborations amongst charities and funders to tackle long-term ambitious goals including the Coalition for Action on Toxics, Farmers for Climate Solutions, and Our Living Waters.
The quality that I believe is most often associated with the feminine is emotion. I’ve seen emotion used as an excuse for why women shouldn’t be in leadership roles or make financial decisions. At Dragonfly Ventures, showing emotion and centring emotion is a strength. We recognize that emotions are an integral part of who we are and how we interact with the world; that if we internalize them, we continue to disconnect not only from ourselves and each other but also the earth; and this is in direct contrast to our mission and vision. This valuing our emotions informed our decision to offer all grantees the option of requesting a top-up grant to support the emotional health and well-being of their employees and volunteers. It is also reflected in the structure of our meetings. At the start of each meeting, we prioritize space to personally check in with one other so we can understand and attend to each of our emotional climates, knowing that directly informs how we show up in our work.
The incorporation of these “feminine” values is not meant to replace or diminish “masculine” values; balance is essential. However, from our vantage point at Dragonfly Ventures, to reach our vision of humanity living synergistically with each other, the earth, her creatures, and spirit, we are long overdue in rebalancing the investment and philanthropic space. It’s time to lead with and celebrate feminine qualities.
Wendy Cooper serves as Co-CEO of Dragonfly Ventures working in partnership with the founder and the rest of the team to advance solutions for a clean, healthy planet and equitable society by creatively using a suite of financial tools grounded in relationship. Prior to joining Dragonfly Ventures, Wendy worked in the charitable and philanthropic sector for nearly two decades at a community, regional, and national level supporting a range of areas including land conservation, Indigenous youth leadership, freshwater health, and toxic elimination.