RSF Culture

Reflections on Inequality

October 21, 2014

John Bloom

By John Bloom

There are only so many ways to describe the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor. No one seems to disagree that the gap exists, and no one seems to question that the defining element of it is money and all that accrues to it. Also no question, the whole financial resource terrain looks and feels quite different depending upon where one stands in it with material assets, a belief system, or philosophical worldview. If one views the wealth gap as a problem, it is clear there is no simple fix. If I have already lost you, here is a radical counter-imagination: What if one were to consider love as the defining element of wealth, and further “account” for how much we need and experience the supporting flow of it? This wealth gap might look quite different than the monetary one. So it is important and central to my purpose to determine what problem is worth solving if the intention is one of peace and shared earth. Wealth is a good thing; it makes many things possible. On one level we produce it by simple interest in and care for others. On another, money could be viewed as the holder of collectively produced economic value. That is the light side of money. The shadow: That money is considered as owned, treated as a commodity, and driven by self-interested behavior is one expression of a much bigger and challenging materialistic world view that has lost sight of resource sufficiency and economic interdependence, while fostering cultural exclusion and isolation of the individual.

As others do, I struggle with the extremity of the wealth situation from both moral and practical perspectives. The circumstances feel unjust and disastrous for all given the continued extraction and over-accumulation of wealth from the financial system and the continued commodification of land, labor, and capital. Just as there are ecological limits so too are there limits to suffering—and as a society in general we seem to have turned a blind eye to both. Thus I am challenged to find the ground on which to stand that might provide a foundation for transforming the unhealthy, unsustainable, and disempowering tendencies of our time. While I know that there are groups actively working on aspects of this transformation, I find myself in a stuck place unable to step outside my privilege or adequately into others’ disadvantage.

I want to be clear that I am in that stuck place both outwardly in the work that I do with money and organizations, and inwardly with knowing that there are barriers to my speaking with convincing solidarity to others’ oppression, internalized oppression, or invisibility. At the same time, I know that both privilege and oppression are bound in the same system of which I am a part. In my attempt to free myself from this dilemma long enough to explore the great wealth divide, or at least imagine I can do so, I would ask forbearance and forgiveness from those who bristle at what I am trying to address and how I address it, simply because I am not one of them. I know of no other way through my morass except to take such a risk and invite anyone else struggling with these issues to participate in a way that opens inclusive dialogue.

Much has been written about the topic of inequality—its origins in a capitalist system, in greed, in political power and policy, in control of natural resources, in cultural dominance, in winning and self-worth measured by wealth. Rarely is the value of human capacities celebrated beyond the statistical framework of productivity. However, the telltale facts of the great balance sheet remain regardless of the lens through which one looks. Given the current state of affairs, solutions such as a universal tax on wealth, or a transformation of the capital system away from the rule of owning class, are a virtual stalemate. Inviting those who are at an advantage to relinquish that advantage is a strategy sure to fail. Inviting those at a disadvantage to the path of insurrection is also a failing approach. The path of non-violent transformation is slow and enervating. And, naming a problem doesn’t change it.

I would argue that inequality represents a spiritual or moral crisis, which reaches beyond class, beyond political boundaries, beyond identity, beyond the behavior of any individual, though this is where change can start. This crisis is not about the possession or dispossession of material resources—these are no more than indicators, byproducts or painful reminders of a deeper systemic issue. Wealth is a natural phenomenon; it is the result of economic activity. How that wealth is treated, used, or owned is another matter that bespeaks the state of human nature. From this perspective, when we value money and accumulated wealth more than people and nature, the central issue is dehumanization from both inner and outer dimensions. When someone self-determines or is told implicitly or explicitly that they are less valuable than another because they have less money, then they have to live with a view of self that is distorted by the assumptions behind it and which tends to devalue the gifts and capacities each individual brings into the world. This is the sacrifice we seem to be making at the altar of wealth as defined within the mainstream materialist paradigm.

How might transformation to a people-centric and land-based economy be fostered? We can really only affect that over which we have control. No matter the historical or cultural narrative told or digested, imposed or inherited, each of us is the author of our own experience. The turning point for transformation is in this reflection. From a moral standpoint, each of us has the capacity to give ourselves back to ourselves or reclaim ourselves from those who have co-opted that authorship. Yet, the inner path of overcoming even internalized oppression can be challenging for anyone, though the condition of the oppression and how it manifests may be different in the extreme. If there is an ideal for liberation, it is the liberation of each person’s inner voice. Guidance for each human being is to be found there—it is that inner voice that speaks to injustice, speaks to right action, and tells us whether we are safe. The spiritual crisis is that we have been numbed to and disconnected from our inner voices. That is where each person’s freedom resides, and it is the place from which we can find each other again in our humanity.

Despite how laws and policy are written, we have a responsibility for right non-violent action (or civil disobedience). Despite how extractive and destructive profit driven economic activity is, we have to demonstrate a capacity for brotherhood and sisterhood through meeting each others’ economic needs, even if this means outside the dominant money system. In other words we have to birth a new way of being in the world with each other—our spirits need to remain free, our laws and agreements need to respond the voice of each individual, and our economy needs to rest on sufficiency by assuring that each person’s basic material needs are met while nature is restored as a result of economic life.

In a spiritual crisis, each individual, organization, and community has to take responsibility for its own moral condition regardless of whether the circumstances were legitimately caused by someone or something else, or caused by one’s own actions. In the world of spirit, as I experience it, destiny is a compilation of choices; each person chooses her or his own path and, then, bears responsibility for those choices. It cannot be any other way though we may be deeply conditioned to think otherwise. Undoing the conditioning is akin to diving into the source and experience of inner oppression.

From this foundation, a crisis of the spirit can be transformed in a way that everyone feels connected to themselves, each other, and the world. This is the very opposite of how things lie now, and this sense for connection is an unaddressed longing spoken in many ways and in many languages. I would not harm that to which I am connected; whereas, that which is characterized and treated as other can be easily written off, castigated, or eradicated devoid of a feeling for violence to the self.

If you are running a competitive race you want to see increasing distance from those behind you. You chances of winning increase with every inch of separation. If, on the other hand, you are trying to build a house together, appropriate skills contributed, close communication, and interdependent progress are critical. No one wins, and the house stands as testament to collaborative effort. The polarity here is defined on one end by the rule of the individual (or competitive team), and on the other the rule of collaborative intention. By extension, the ends of these approaches point to radically differing and seemingly irreconcilable worldviews—survival of the fittest, or sustainability of the whole. This tension is pretty alive in the world right now, and the reconciliatory conversation, while rumbling in the underground, is rarely to be had where broad-scale change can be enabled.

Those who feel suspended in or stuck with this unhealthy condition in their hearts (and I count myself among that group) need to speak out more about it—not out of judgment (though that may be the greatest barrier to dialogue) but rather out of compassion for the suffering of those left without and equally for the suffering of those who have accumulated so much. Neither all the wealth in the world, nor all the poverty in the world, is antidote to the loneliness or isolation of dehumanization—perhaps the cruelest of human conditions. The reality is that there are real people with longing for community behind the screens of wealth and poverty. I would propose that some of them, as I am, are seeking partners to heal themselves, spiritual and relational divisions, and the world. Compassion is the invitation to dialogue, sufficiency the earthly cry of coexistence. So, what if love were the substance of wealth?

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance

A Celebration of Giving – Part 1

July 10, 2014

RSF_30th_purpleby Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we can be pleased with how much we have accomplished since the organization’s founding in 1984. Our staff has grown dramatically and clients now number well over 2,000. The number of transformative financial transactions has greatly increased and the RSF community is even more deeply rooted in its mission, vision, and innovative work in the world.

In looking back over these 30 years, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that have brought associative economic principles into daily practice.

Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers that saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, helped direct our destiny.

THE FIRST FAIRY GODMOTHER

In the fairy tales of old, the fairy godmother gives magical support and wise counsel to the hero or heroine of a story. She also tests their integrity and inner loyalty. In this relationship, the emphasis is always on the giving. Today, we use the word “donor” to identify a similar role in human affairs.

MaryA very special donor to RSF was also one of our first, Mary Theodora Richards. She was a biodynamic farmer, musician, and a student of Rudolf Steiner. Similar to the fairy godmothers in the stories, she advised and supported Mark and Siegfried Finser during the organization’s formative stages. She encouraged them in word and deed.

Her interest in RSF came from her passion for associative economics and the threefold social principles identified by Rudolf Steiner. During their long relationship, Mark Finser and Mary Theodora studied these principles together. She was deeply inspired by the vision of RSF to bring spiritual elements together with practical movement of money in the world.

The number of times Mary Theodora Richards acted as “the first” in RSF’s history is astounding. She opened the first Investment Fund and the first Donor Advised Fund at RSF.

Many of the activities her gifts made possible are early examples of what has emerged as RSF’s innovative approach to financing—integrated capital. Here are a few examples. Mary Theodora was excited about leveraging her gift money to make lending activity possible. She was the first client to guarantee a RSF loan with a gift. She also allowed RSF to use her charitable funds to make loans to schools when not enough investor funds had been raised, in effect creating a bridge loan. In addition, she guaranteed a portion of our reserve funds, providing a larger safety net that was attractive to more investors.

photo 1Mary Theodora Richards was able to plant ideas she knew would be important to our future as a growing organization. She made a challenge gift to RSF to fund the first year of a retirement plan on the condition that it would be included in the budget for the following year. She funded our first computer and database system knowing the importance of technology for the future. In addition to all these deeds, she helped to fund the purchase of the original building on Fern Hill in New York which housed RSF until the move to San Francisco.

These are the many ways Mary Theodora Richards acted as RSF’s first fairy godmother, encouraging its growth and giving direct support when it was needed. This turned out to be the special quality in all of our most collaborative donors—the ability to see and cultivate in us what we have not yet seen ourselves. Like so many others over the last 30 years, she acted anonymously, never wanting to place herself in the foreground.

It seems very appropriate now, 24 years after her death, to honor her role in the life of RSF Social Finance.

Click here to see the next story in this series

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

A New Purpose for Philanthropic Services

June 24, 2014

KelleyBuhles_Books_Small

by Kelley Buhles

“Where do natural resources come from? Did humans buy them from somewhere?

What about our knowledge and abilities? Did we also buy those? Or are they on loan to us?”

John Bloom, RSF’s Senior Director of Organizational Culture, recently posed these questions to staff. The response was a long stretch of thoughtful silence, it was clear these weren’t easy questions.

Perhaps that is because it isn’t often that one is asked these types of questions; they are often delegated to the philosophers and spiritual practitioners of our time. Yet, if we take the time to search within ourselves for the answers, what we arrive at can dramatically change how we frame our relationship to the world around us.

Can we begin to explore the idea that the bounty of life, our ability to physically engage with the world, and our mental capacities to imagine, reason, and learn are all gifts to us? How differently would one behave in the world if we started to see everything we have as a gift, rather than something we earned? And if we can, how might that transform our relationship to money?

The Philanthropic Services team at RSF has been working with Rudolf Steiner’s thinking around the vital role gift plays in our lives. We observed that gift is typically left out of modern economic thinking. As part of RSF’s work to transform the way the world works with money, we also feel it is important to transform the way the world works with gift. We are excited to announce a new purpose statement for our philanthropic services department:

To cultivate giving as the source of economic life

As a transformative intermediary we:

·        Move the field of philanthropy towards a gift economy

·        Support and honor our client’s deepest intentions

·        Integrate gift money into catalytic capital

·        Facilitate the circulation of gift money

With this framework we can start to build a new understanding of the role that gift plays in economic life. Gift moves at the beginning of the cycle, rather than being something that happens at the end, once an individual has accumulated adequate wealth. By seeing gift as the primary igniter of economic activity we can start to understand what Steiner said in World Economy, “We cannot arrive at a healthy economic process unless, in the first place, it is made possible for people to have something to give and, in the second place, unless they have the good will and intelligence to give what they have.” (Lecture 5)

This transformation of our understanding of the world from something we have earned to something we are gifted with can inspire us to live into the spirit of interdependence with each other. Ultimately it can transform our understanding of the primary purpose of economic life, from meeting our own needs, towards working together to meet each others needs.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Personal Stories of Change

June 19, 2014

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

RSF’s theory of change is based on driving transformation at the individual level. We decided to reach out to our community to see exactly how people have transformed the way they work with money.

Neil Blomquist, Trustee
President, Sustainable Solutions

“How I work with and think about money has not changed a whole lot since mid-1970’s when I found the organic community and embraced it as my life, but the transformation has come with my own maturity and the deeper understanding that Rudolf Steiner and RSF Social Finance have provided. It has deepened my conviction for change and confirmed that this is the path toward a more positive future for humanity and the planet.”

Dorothy Hinkle-Uhlig, Investor

“Many years ago I was led to meditate on a beautiful watercolor by Liane Collot d’Herbois titled “Money”, and subsequently I experienced a spiritual awakening about the nature of money and my responsibility toward this important gift of the spirit. Many important conversations with others and within followed as I tried to articulate what money is, and how am I to work with money. Money became alive as I, in my small way, sent it into the stream of life and saw it transform whatever it touched and then beyond as it flowed into society.

The work with money begins in the very personal realm of a personal decision and then continues on touching, transforming and realizing. Am I awake to the importance of each transaction with money? Does it support transformation and healing? Does it hinder the good? I strive to understand the answers to these questions within each deed with money. When I buy my food and my sweater and my computer, I send money into the social flow; when I invest my extra money and borrow for that big need, I send money into the social flow; when I gift to an emerging initiative and to the needy, I send money into the social flow. I have learned that my personal transformation continues to happen one moment at a time when I am awake to this flow in the moment. May the flow continue to enable the good. It is sacred work. It is community work.”

Mark Censits, Trustee
CEO, CoolVines

“I am working on an initiative that I believe will transform the way money flows in my town of Princeton, NJ. While this is not simply a personal behavioral change with respect to money, my efforts in initiating this new venture are indeed very much driven by my personal relationship to money, specifically with regard to building local economies. When I was looking for a loan for the expansion of my Princeton CoolVines store, I was very disappointed in the lack of connection that I felt from the local “community” bank. The experience was anything but personal, transparent and direct – and it drove me to imagine other ways that local businesses like CoolVines could tap into the resources of the local community for capital support. That combined with the changes afoot with the JOBs Act and web technology spurred an idea that we call the Community Investment Exchange. It is still in the concept stages but we hope to launch it sometime this Spring.”

David Lapedis, Investor

“I have the transformed the way I work with money by seeing it as a part of me and all living things. Each time I make a purchase, I remind myself of that with an affirmation. I actually pause every time I use my credit card and focus on that. Money is just the energy of this universe coming back and circulating through me. I find that I am more grateful for my experiences and the material things in life when I am in touch with that.

A particular experience that changed the way I deal with money was taking a class with Katherine Revoir

called Money, Metaphysics, and the Meaning of Life. That changed the way I look at anything that shows up in my life. She taught me to see money as me and related to all of the energy here on this planet.

Another experience that shifted how I look at money was when I realized that I was making a good interest rate on an online savings account (approximately 3%), but I didn’t know where that money was being invested. I realized that it is very important for me to know what my energy (money) is being used to create. I moved my money out of that account and into one that actively creates the world I want to live in, investing in renewable energy. I felt so much better knowing my money was going towards that even though the interest rate was significantly lower.”

Taryn Goodman, Staff

“I seek complete transparency in all of my investments – it enables relationships and allows me to be more comfortable with the investment because I can fully understand the risks involved.”

Coleman Lyles
Executive Director, Camphill Communities of California, Borrower

“I have been in association with RSF for over 30 years in a kind of organizational alliance, one anthroposophical organization to another. What I have experienced about money is that through anthroposophical insights and principles, money becomes incidental to what is accomplished outwardly and more connected to what is happening spiritually.

A metaphor for this can be taken from art and the way one could relate to a production of Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Drama. An audience appreciates what is happening on the stage not necessarily because it is a polished performance, but rather because it senses that the spiritual world is interested in what is happening on the stage. This is a new way of relating to drama and art as such. What matters as much as the finished product is the spiritual striving and the intention behind it.

Like deep appreciation in art, money begins to flow towards that which the spiritual world is taking an interest in. Often it is something that is quiet, unassuming and of a seed nature, rather than a fully formed, hot house fruit that is the next big thing to hit the market.”

Birju Pandya, Investor & Partner

“I am transforming the way I work with money by walking towards fear in small ways, practicing two phrases: ‘resist nothing’ and ‘appreciate the chain’.  The first phrase applies to instances when I am being paid for work. I try not to come from a transaction space but from a space of offering and gift for my efforts.  The second phrase applies to purchase transactions. Whenever I engage with money to receive something, I try to recognize and appreciate the entire value chain involved in it.”

Kelley Buhles, Staff

“Because of working at RSF, I better understand what my money makes possible in the world. Since I began working here I have moved 60% of my personal money into socially responsible investments. I pay more attention to what impact different types of money have on me, for example, loan vs. gift or socially responsible investments vs. not-socially responsible investments. Also, I recently challenged myself to start giving more. I selected two organizations to make monthly donations to. Despite tight budgets, I end up prioritizing these two donations over almost everything else!”

Nicole Dawes
CEO, Late July Snacks, Borrower

“Watching and participating in the way RSF works, particularly in the pricing meetings, has opened my eyes to the importance and impact of transparency in all financial transactions. Understanding how others are impacted by your decisions helps ground your actions. I realize that all negotiations can’t take place in the confines of the RSF pricing meeting format, but in almost all cases you can at least bring some of the elements of open discussion around goals and impact. I have made a conscience effort to bring this open dialogue to my discussions with retailers and vendors and found we both end up happier with the result.”

Healing Through Financial Transaction

May 9, 2014

This CEO letter was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Dear Friends,

We’re so happy to be celebrating RSF’s 30th anniversary this year.  It is an honor and a privilege for me to be leading this amazing organization, having been here for just 22% of that time (since 2007).

Since 1984, we have made nearly $300 million in loans to social enterprises.  We have a 100% repayment rate (principal + interest) to our investors, and a 2% cumulative loss rate on our loan portfolio (which is extraordinarily low by any objective measure.)  We now have over 1,500 investors and $100 million in our flagship Social Investment Fund.

Additionally, we have facilitated over $100 million in grants, with the pace increasing to between $10-15 million per year recently.  We currently have a staff of 38 with a $6 million annual operating budget.

We are proud of our growth, but more important is our focus on potency, not scale.  We have worked extraordinarily hard to create a culture in which each relationship is sacred.  We want to shift the conventionally antagonistic power dynamic between provider-of-capital and receiver-of-capital.  This takes time and considerable effort.

I recently visited one of our borrowers in central Florida, called Uncle Matt’s.  As a 4th generation citrus grower, “Uncle Matt” McLean and his family make organic orange juice.   It’s super tasty, and it comes with a twist.

Today, there are over 600,000 acres of citrus groves in Florida—only 3,000 acres are certified organic.  Uncle Matt’s oversees the majority of this organic acreage.  About 15 years ago, they were told by scientists from the University of Florida that their groves would likely be in serious jeopardy due to what’s known as “citrus greening” – a bacteria that is steadily wiping out citrus fruit worldwide.  It turns out that the organic groves are much more resistant to the bacteria than conventional groves.  The scientists were wrong—they thought the genetically-modified, pesticide/herbicide regimes of the conventional growers would be more successful, and had told the McLean’s they were crazy.  Now these same scientists are visiting the McLean’s farms on a weekly basis in order to study exactly how their organic methods are working.  Currently, we are working to help the McLean family to purchase a 170-acre grove that is being threatened by housing development from nearby Orlando.  It’s possible the solution to the global “citrus greening” epidemic lies in the organic methods from this tiny plot of land, and could ultimately save millions of trees worldwide.

This is an example of our focus on potency.  We have been to the McLean groves twice in the short time we’ve had this loan—their previous bankers from Orlando had never visited the farms, only wanting to see the processing facilities.  We are trying to find investors for the land purchase, introducing them to biodynamic growers around the country, and connecting them to other organic food entrepreneurs in the RSF borrower community.

We believe we’re helping to create an energetic field where healing-through-financial-transactions is possible.  Our plan is to steadily expand our trust network over the next 30 years, one relationship at a time.  We look forward to engaging all of you in that process.

Warmly,

Don

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

The Poetry of Transformation

April 29, 2014

RSF_30th_purpleThis article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

by John Bloom

One beautiful aspect of transformation is the evolutionary element of continuity. Nature is alive with these mysterious metamorphic processes, from seed to leaf, from DNA to a human being. If one can accept that even in a world full of intentionally disruptive activities there is an underlying connective thread, then our task is not to react to “revolutionary” events as isolated, but rather to understand them instead as symptoms of this deeper process. In the grand scheme, one could call this the evolution of human consciousness, and there is poetry to its path—though not always an easy one. For example, what if we took the performance of the stock market as a barometric measure of the human spirit? What would that really say about us as individuals, our relationships, and the culture in which this investment marketplace is embedded? Even if I have no shares or investments, am I really separate from the stock market? And, how could I hold that thought if I really believe (and I do) that we are fully interdependent and interconnected?

It is not an accident that I chose the example of Wall Street. At RSF we often cite it as the antithesis of what we are trying to accomplish through our purpose of transforming the way the world works with money. What we call our theory of change—to make every transaction direct, transparent, personal, and based on long-term relationships—is actually our theory of transformation. We know that, no matter how active and thoughtful we are, we are not going to flip the human-institutional-behavior-money-transaction switch over night. We understand that each individual has to take him or herself through a process and practice. And we know there are more people who have come to this realization, and many more working to get there. From this perspective, our clients join us as a community of practice and as transformational activists/participants.

Given the challenge of gathering a thirty year perspective on the evolution of RSF Social Finance (and I have been honored to be part of RSF half that time), the question that arose for me was: How does an organization committed to transformation lead by example? This question, of course, brings one back to origin stories and historical data. This information is important, and RSF’s emergence in 1984 through the loan to the fire-destroyed Pine Hill Waldorf School is well storied. Many more stories have transpired over the last thirty years as a browse through our RSF Quarterly and Annual Report archives would show. Both inwardly and outwardly much has changed. We are now nearly forty staff, our loan portfolio is approximately 50/50 non-profit and for-profit and the character and quality of those loans have grown more complex. Where once Waldorf schools were our anchor borrowers they are now less than half. For an organization founded to further the work of those directly connected to Rudolf Steiner’s work, it could feel to some that we have not only changed, but also left anthroposophy behind. This is not at all the case. Many of our early clients assumed Waldorf schools defined that relationship, but we have now stepped far more fully into supporting the evolution of an associative economy—as Steiner imagined economic life should unfold—through such efforts as our quarterly pricing meetings.

Despite the allure of talking about all that we have accomplished, I find myself drawn to trace what I would consider the more character-based aspects of the organization—not so much what it has done, but rather who it is and what it stands for as an expression of its being. If one follows this thread of core values and practices, the steady evolution of a spiritually inspired financial organization, and specifically the inspiration of Rudolf Steiner’s work, becomes visible in a way that speaks of continuity—a kind of poetry of transformation.

There is a bit of the then and now in how I will approach this exploration. And, there will be some language that seems a bit esoteric as RSF was first and foremost a financial arm of the Anthroposophical Society in America, founded to further Rudolf Steiner’s work. In addition to this founding commitment there was a vision for working in a new way in finance and with money. Here is a selection from “The Foundation’s Ideals ” from the 1985 brochure:

To serve as an objective third party in transactions between donors, lenders [investors in current parlance], and receivers of financial resources. Interest in the intentions of others is its primary focus.

To foster:

  • A threefolding of social life that reflects the threefold organism of the human being
  • Increased understanding of the fundamental social law and its working in society
  • A spirit of determined cooperation in the financing of the work of the anthroposophical movement

[Steiners fundamental social law is, in abridged form: the degree to which we work to meet the needs of others, our needs will be met. Steiner was asking us to recognize the primacy of interest in the other over self-interest]

Fast forward to the present. Here are the first two of RSF’s current operating principles all of which were developed collaboratively by current staff, none of whom would likely have seen the original brochure. All twelve principles can be found on our website along with our purpose and values.

  • Transformation: We are committed to working with those who seek to transform their relationship to money and with those who seek to redefine the core assumptions of our economic and financial systems. We strive to lead by example.
  • Service: We co-create RSF Social Finance with our stakeholders – staff, board, investors, donors, borrowers, grantees, asset managers, partners, and friends. Through listening, we try to discern what is being called for next in a spirit of service. Long-term relationships are of primary importance. We place high value on intention.

I could do a detailed analysis between the earlier brochure statements and our current operating principles, but am hoping that the focus on intention, interest in our clients and the world, determined cooperation/co-creation, and a view of working with money as a tool for cultural change stand out immediately.

In researching this material, I found myself taken aback at how much significant outward change, growth and visibility could happen, and at the same time, how slowly and steadily RSF’s core being has evolved to becoming reflective of founding ideals, yet more linguistically true to those currently doing the work. It has also become accessible to an increasingly broad audience.

So how has RSF, an organization committed to transformation, continually transformed itself in a way that garners trust and engagement for public benefit? Such an organization listens thoughtfully and learns deeply through its interest in others. It holds that wisdom is held in the wider community rather than only by the organization itself. At the same time it reflects on what the world is asking, the opportunities it presents, and, in the spirit of inquiry, asks how its core principles can be practiced and developed through service. As an organization, RSF works at knowing itself while deepening its connections to its spiritual well-spring as a way to best prepare to be of service to the world.

Money and financial transactions are RSF’s tools. So we continue, thirty years later, to benefit from Rudolf Steiner’s insights, from the insights of RSF’s founders, and from the gifts of wisdom and resources from staff and clients, so that personal and organizational change invite and lead the cultural and financial system transformation needed for a regenerative future.

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Coming to Terms: Money & Biography Workshop

January 15, 2014

March 14-16
Sequoia Retreat Center, Ben Lomond, CA

 

Money plays an important part in our lives, and yet we rarely examine our relationship to it, or how our attitudes and behaviors around it are entwined with our biographies. Throughout our formative years, we are exposed to money and identity messages, through our family, the media, and our culture in general. As we come to understand our selves, our values, and our destinies more deeply over time, we rarely take the time to also explore the assumptions we live with around money and finance.

This workshop, co-led by Leah Walker of the Center for Biography and Social Arts, and John Bloom, Senior Director of Organizational Culture, RSF Social Finance, will be an opportunity to begin or further the exploration of money and biography through reflection, artistic exercises, and shared experiences in a safe environment.

This workshop is intended for anyone, regardless of financial circumstances. The purpose of the workshop is to support each participant in connecting her or his biographical and money threads and to help integrate espoused and practiced values. Our hope is that participants leave with a sense of how money can serve their life purposes.

sequoiaRegistration Information

In the spirit of gift economy, we will be asking participants to contribute to cover the costs for the weekend to the extent possible, including housing, meals, and leadership. Space is limited to 22 participants with an estimated cost per person of $750.

Registration will be on a first come, first served basis, and we are asking for an early contribution to hold a space.

Please contact Val Esway at RSF [val.esway@rsfsocialfinance.org] with questions or to register.

Download a event flyer here

RSF Pricing Meeting: Resetting Rates, Recognizing Interdependence

July 8, 2013

by Jillian McCoy

Inspiration

For many years, we based our investors’ return rate on the 13-week U.S. Treasury Bill.  Each quarter we recalibrated the rate based on this well-publicized benchmark.  In 2006, we shifted to a different benchmark – LIBOR, or the London Interbank Offered Rate – which at the time represented the most commonly accepted barometer for short-term interest rates worldwide.

In 2009, well before the now notorious LIBOR scandal, RSF staff knew that a seemingly arbitrary rate, disconnected from the needs and activities of our community, was not a right fit. During a staff study group of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on economics, we realized that the community of participants in the RSF Social Investment Fund were best suited to accurately determine a price that meets the needs of all parties.

Innovation

As of October 1, 2009, RSF adopted a community determined rate recommended each quarter through collaborative conversation with representatives of all three stakeholders in the RSF Social Investment Fund – investors, borrowers, and RSF staff.  A 4% spread (used to fund RSF’s operations) is then added to this customized SIF rate to determine RSF Prime, the base rate for borrowers in our Social Enterprise Lending program.

This collaborative process begins at each of our quarterly Pricing Meetings where stakeholders gather to meet one another face-to-face, discuss their needs and intentions, and share how an increase or decrease in the rate might impact them.

To date, we remain the first and only lending institution that has facilitated meetings between investors and borrowers to determine loan pricing.  With RSF staff at the table facilitating the conversations, all three stakeholders are reminded of the impact of their financial decisions. In this environment of direct engagement, the conversation is elevated beyond efforts to pay as little as possible or earn as much as possible. Instead, the stakeholders seek to achieve a balance between the financial and impact needs of everyone present.

Over 100 guests joined us for a community reception following our most recent pricing meeting in San Francisco.

Over 100 guests joined us for a community reception following our most recent pricing meeting in San Francisco.

Impact

In 2012, RSF Prime decreased by 0.25% to 4.75%. This was the first decrease since RSF Prime was first established. Since 2012, the rate has dropped an additional 0.25%. The driver behind the decrease was to ease some of the financial burden of existing borrowers and increase RSF’s ability to attract new borrowers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, at our most recent pricing meeting in San Francisco, there were requests from the investor community to increase the rate. However, over the course of the evening, their understanding of the impact of the interest rate shifted from their natural self-interest to an understanding of the whole system.

As one RSF staff member who attended the meeting commented, “One of the significant moments came when one of the borrowers talked exactly about how an increase in the interest rate would affect her company financially, and prohibit them from making a key hire at a time when her company needs additional staff to support growth. Investors could see in no uncertain terms the consequences of their stated need for a higher return. The resulting recognition of how their interest was directly connected to the borrowers was a transformative moment.”

In fact, although most of the investors noted that they would like an increase in the interest rate, they decided not to recommend an increase after learning how it would negatively impact the borrowers. At one point, one investor became emotional while expressing just how much it meant to her to be a part of this community, and learn more about how each borrower is having a positive impact in the world.

The borrowers were also touched by the conversation. One participant reflected, “It is thrilling to be a participant in the avant-garde of social finance. The current system is broken and we applaud this process where a more sensible and holistic paradigm can be practiced.”

Before the close of any quarter the RSF Pricing Committee, an internal RSF team, meets to discuss and reset the interest rate. The committee considers the input from the Pricing Meeting attendees in addition to reviewing macroeconomic conditions and the competitive market. The committee determined that the interest rate will remain the same for Q3 2013 – 4.5% for RSF Prime and 0.50% for investors.

Jillian McCoy is Senior Associate, Communications at RSF Social Finance. 

A Brief Call for Transformation

May 15, 2013

Callby John Bloom

In a world in which we have commodified labor, land, and all natural resources, and now capital as well, why should we be surprised that democracy is also for sale? Citizens United has proven this point in the extreme. What has been less noticed or documented is a long-standing stealth campaign to commoditize human identity—the human ego is in many ways the last frontier of commerce. Anyone who doubts this intention should be aware of the following clarion call from the Art Directors Club Annual No. 34 of 1955: “It is now the business of advertising to manufacture customers in the comfort of their own homes.”

We cannot seek the antidote to this invasion in social isolation. Self-reflection is an important tool of self-knowledge, but self-knowledge is meaningless without the reciprocal knowledge reflected back to each of us from the world. In some ways we serve each other as awakeners and sanity checkers, and hold each other to accounts so to speak. Another way of looking at this would be that each of us needs to be free in determining a destiny path and vocation, and at the same time find meaningful work in serving others’ material needs. The world of rights and agreements mediates this intersection of the individual and material world, and the collective activity itself is what we call economics—or how we meet human materials needs out of compassionate interdependence. I might venture to say that understanding and transforming how we work in the world economy, even in its most local or regional expression, is itself a threshold to restoring, preserving, or furthering the development of consciousness.

The experience of this transformation acts as preventive counterpoint to what is a kind of virtual identity theft. Money, with all its attendant issues, is nothing more than the barometric instrument of the collective we call world economy. Understand money and the current condition of humanity, and our ability to know ourselves and care for each other is visible in it, for better or worse. Truth is, unless one hews to and hides behind a protected right of privilege, the picture demands profound transformation that centers on the intersection of money and spirit. This is work that no one other than each of us can do for ourselves, and even better to be done in community so that we can support others as they support us. If we do not rise to this challenge, we risk the human birthright and inner work of spiritual freedom and step instead onto a path of slow tyranny.

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

A Healthy Stream of Capital

April 25, 2013

by Tammy Childers

Originally published in the Spring 2013 RSF Quarterly.

RSF’s purpose is “to transform the way the world works with money,” but what exactly does that mean? In pondering this question, I recalled time spent outdoors exploring a particular creek. I realized there was a metaphor in the story of that creek for a transformed financial system.

Last summer, with my family, I visited Filigreen Farm, a diverse Demeter certified Biodynamic fruit farm in Mendocino County. One morning, my mother-in-law, Joellen, and I set out to tromp through the creek that bisects the farm. This creek, the Anderson Creek, is a major tributary feeding into the Navarro River and to the Pacific Ocean twenty miles away.

In the year that had passed since my last visit, the creek had changed. The water was deeper in some places, but there were also more sandbars. Standing up to our knees in cool, clear and slow moving water we marveled at dark pools of circling fry, audible frogs, and lush vegetation. We lingered in shallow water searching for captivating treasures.

By the time the sun was directly over our heads, we were ready to head back to the cool shade of the house, but with willows, shrubs, and grasses crowding the creek banks and islands, we could see no obvious path to the farm on the other side.

When we finally emerged, we ran into Stephanie Tebbutt, one of Filigreen’s managers. We thanked our host, and Joellen commented on what great fun she had in the creek. This creek, Joellen said, struck her as particularly beautiful; she had not seen a stream as clear as this one since she was a child on her family’s farm in Nebraska.

When Stephanie and her husband Chris, both landscape designers, first came to Anderson Valley in 1982, “the stream looked nothing like its present self: curving, clear, and about twenty feet further back from its former location,” Stephanie said. “It looked like others up and down the Anderson Valley: straight, denuded of vegetation. The landowner at that time had bulldozed the creek each autumn to straighten it, clearing any vegetation brave enough to rear its head along the way. What little survived was grazed down by the cattle.” The practice had eroded the farm land, sending topsoil down to the sea, creating a steep cut bank, and facilitating spring flooding.

Lush landscape and Filigreen Fram

Lush landscape and Filigreen Fram

Together the Tebbutts set out to stabilize the creek bank. Bringing the natural rhythm and energy back to the water would be the key to the riparian restoration. “Water is not meant to flow in a straight line,” Stephanie said. “There are unintentional consequences to forcing water in that way: flooding, bank erosion, and a wider, shallower summer creek bed with higher water temperatures unsuitable for nurturing new life.”

They began by planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks, and over a period of 18 years, experimented with an array of engineering techniques to stabilize what was considered one of the worst erosion problems in the county. Many of those early efforts failed, but eventually, Chris came up with a system to build jetties, or “nick points” to slow the creek in flood. The jetties were planted in fast-growing riparian trees and formed the basis for what would eventually become the flowform structure that enabled meander to return to the creek. Now the water would hit a berm, follow the curve, hit another berm, and follow the curve, depositing silt and topsoil from upstream at the back of the jetties, and scouring out deep pools in front, effectively changing the flow of the water back to that of a healthy creek.

In time, silt and soil built up along the banks and native weeds and woody plants moved in to capitalize on the new territory, thus providing habitat for the life we witnessed. Now this half-mile stretch of Anderson Creek is monitored by county and state agencies for its remarkable come-back.

As Stephanie explained this, I exclaimed “That’s what RSF is trying to do with money! We are trying to change the flow of capital so that it flows to the businesses and organizations that are creating a deep, positive social impact.”

With our current financial system, if we speak of the flow of water as the flow of capital, we could say the flow has been interrupted; it has been bulldozed and channeled straight. As a result, the flow is muddy and opaque and the wealth is removed from its origins and deposited far downstream.  When bad news hits, businesses lacking deep roots in the community are wiped out in a flash flood. As aggradation, or the displacement of sediments caused by repeat floods, alters geography resulting in shallow and dispersed water flow, a financial crisis erodes capital from communities and displaces it to far off investors resulting in less capital for local initiatives.

A healthy financial system can be seen as a healthy stream with its meander restored by the actions of the social finance community. Through direct lending, investing, and giving, RSF can contribute to restoring the natural flow of capital to businesses and organizations that encourage a healthy economy, environment, and people.

With a transformed financial system, we will directly invest in businesses and organizations with deep social impacts that encourage and support their communities. There will be diversity among these businesses and they will add value to their community by investing in people and practices that are good for society and the planet. The flow of capital will be patient and will settle into areas suitable for sparking new opportunities that, in turn, contribute back to the greater flow. More people will have access to and benefit from this flow, increasing the diversity of businesses and organizations. When bad news hits, it will not be a tragedy because our businesses and organizations will have established deep, healthy, community-based roots.

Now I ask you to ponder: What does it mean to you to transform the way the world works with money? How would that world be different than it is today? What needs to happen to make that change? And what can you do to contribute to it?

Tammy Childers is Loan Servicing Manager at RSF Social Finance.

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