Money

Interviews From the Archives: Mark Finser

February 12, 2015

Click here to view the previous interview in this series

We have created a mini series of excerpts from our archive of interviews in the RSF Quarterly. Lots of wisdom was shared by these individuals who hold deep ties to the roots of the organization as early trustees and staff members. We chose to focus on aspects around money, spirit, and associative economics as these themes are core to RSF’s history – and very relevant to our work today.

The interviews were conducted by John Bloom, now RSF Vice President, Organizational Culture. They were part of his exploration of the guiding thoughts that helped to form what was then called Rudolf Steiner Foundation and now RSF Social Finance.

Mark Finser, 1999 & 2002

MAF - Copy (2)John: Why is money such a challenging social force?

Mark: Money itself is connected to the capacity of thinking, feeling, and willing that each person carries. And, the will in each human being is the least conscious of the three soul forces. Consequently money is problematic because a lot of things play into it without people being conscious of what’s happening. RSF brings a consciousness to money, tries to awaken people to its movement and intentions. If one becomes awake to what’s happening in relationship to money within a school, for example, it can actually be the most socially advancing force for a school. We try to help the different organs within a school understand their particular roles in relationship to money. For example, we will help a school form a pledge community that then secures a loan from RSF to the school through pledged gifts. This entails individuals making personal commitments to the project and carrying a consciousness for the well-being of the school. Those individuals can also take an even wider view of their money. They, or anyone, can open a lender fund at any time and thereby participate in a large or small way in RSF’s work for the greater good. When they lend some of their savings to us, they are aligning their values with ours and seeing their money work in a socially-beneficial way.

John: How do you see the Foundation and its responsibilities in transforming the cultural mainstream?

Mark: Money is so connected to everything that we do in life that from the standpoint of its movement, one cannot separate one organization or individual from another in our society. It’s one of the biggest disappointments when an initiative does not see their impact on other initiatives and organizations. Collaboration among groups rather than competition between them would be an appropriate approach to reflect the reality of the movement of money. One could say that money is connected to the life-stream within the whole social body of humanity. Its movement has often been likened to the circulation of the blood. If we are deeply involved in that movement, we can’t help but be interested in and deeply concerned with the current turn of events in the global economy, for example.

We want RSF to be awake to the movement of money, whether it’s in gifts, grants, lending, or borrowing. We constantly ask the question, “Is this particular movement of money socially constructive?” We do not come with a judgment or an answer. We help the projects or donors answer the questions for themselves. We are by intention a third party that accompanies and bears witness. This is the most fascinating part of our work. As we have developed insights over the last 15 years, we have begun to take more leadership in educating people about the conscious use of money as investment. We now say, for example, “collaborative work is important.” This kind of leadership from RSF arises out of a yearning to see how much more we can accomplish in our work together.

Much of the new living economic thinking fits well with some of Rudolf Steiner’s core ideas around the threefold nature of social life, especially working in an economic associative way. When one is involved in dialogue with producers, consumers, and people on the local level, one cannot avoid concern about right livelihood and living wages. At the same time, people’s consciousness is evolving so they can empathize and engage with something going on in Bali or Bangladesh. Because of this new consciousness, RSF will need to develop overtime new tools, financial vehicles, and partnerships to meet all three areas—international, national, and regional.

John: It seems that trust is an essential ingredient of the process of bridging, whether it is on the part of clients or colleagues. How does RSF work with this quality of trust?

Mark: There are many levels to this. One is in being able to listen. It is in the art of conversation. When someone is opening their heart or expressing their intention and the other is not fully taking it in, not really listening, a sense of discomfort can develop. The question arises, “Will that individual or that organization really be able to meet my needs?” Another condition for trust is a track record. Trust is developed incrementally through the experience of RSF meeting requests or needs over time.

If one looks at our historical record in our investment-lending work, one can see the success of our projects and repayments. We have been able to fulfill our clients’ needs, regardless of whether they were planned or incidental. Our consistency and faithfulness build trust and are among the pathways to opening up bridges for alignment of outer and inner values.

Money is itself a bridge. People can begin to see that how they manage their own finances and other resources can bridge relationships, or keep them isolated. One of RSF’s guiding principles, right from the beginning, has been transparency in finances. It is key that there be enough transparency that people can experience where their money is working, how it is being received, used, and repaid in the case of a loan or activity generated in the case of a grant. All of these mechanisms serve as bridges between the clients and the projects and initiatives. They are vehicles by which money can follow intention. We’ve seen many, many times, the personal satisfaction and quality of community that is created when one joins others in investing or giving, in aligning intentions and values. We have been privileged to experience this in so many different ways in the various activities at RSF, and to have contributed to this positive and evolving view of money.

Mark Finser is former President & CEO and current Chair of the Board at RSF. He was a founding member of the group that revitalized RSF in 1984.

Interviews From the Archives: Ann Stahl & Clopper Almon

February 3, 2015

Click here to view the previous interview in this series

We have created a mini series of excerpts from our archive of interviews in the RSF Quarterly. Lots of wisdom was shared by these individuals who hold deep ties to the roots of the organization as early trustees and staff members. We chose to focus on aspects around money, spirit, and associative economics as these themes are core to RSF’s history – and very relevant to our work today.

The interviews were conducted by John Bloom, now RSF Vice President, Organizational Culture. They were part of his exploration of the guiding thoughts that helped to form what was then called Rudolf Steiner Foundation and now RSF Social Finance.

Ann Stahl, 1999

Ann Stahl2 (2)John: What do you mean by the myth of scarcity?

Ann: It is part and parcel of our present-day materialistic society. The message we hear everyday through all the media is that we don’t have enough of something. If you open a magazine, you see for example: “Your teeth are not white enough,” “Your hair is not shiny enough,” “Your body doesn’t smell sweet enough.” All the messages conspire to point towards a human being who is not sufficient just as he or she is.

John: Those all exploit a tendency for fearfulness.

Ann: Absolutely! You’re not like the others who do have enough. If we think that we don’t have enough, then we certainly are not going to be in a place where we feel we have lots to give away – whether that’s time, warmth, health, or money. The mindset is: Hang on to what you have, you haven’t got enough. This affects finances very strongly. It is really at a very deep level that we feel we are not sufficient as we are.

John: What drives this phenomenon?

Ann: I think it is fear that drives it. We’re all caught in this, regardless of whether you have a spiritual practice or not. This question of “enoughness” is tied to our every thought. It affects whole organizations as well. I think that it is a very laming condition to be in, to think that you can’t do something until you get enough money, enough enrollment, enough space, enough whatever, rather than figuring out a way to do it.

John: Do you have a cure for this myth of scarcity?

Ann: When you consider the polarity of excess and scarcity, what is the balancing tendency? What I would place in the middle is abundance. And we all have an abundance, it just has different qualities and colors. If you look around to see what different people have in abundance, you come up with a wonderful basket of abundances! Working with those is quite different than working with either the “too much” or the “not enough.” Part of the abundance is money, part is time to do things, part is capacities and skills. So abundance in that middle place is as varied as the people who will come when they see that you’re working out of that recognition – a belief in the abundance of life. There is plenty of everything in the world. There is plenty of money and human beings with wonderful capacities.

Ann Stahl is a former staff member of RSF


 

Clopper Almon, 1999

almonJohn: What do you consider the spiritual basis for economics?

Clopper: Economics is about the determination of values, and the exchange of products. In its physical matter, each product incorporates a tremendous amount of thinking, imagination, and organization. Think of that pen that you are writing with. Imagine how much went into designing it, into extracting the ores of the metals that it is made from, organizing the transportation system, the trade, the marketing, and even the advertising that got you to buy that pen and not some other. All of that takes human imagination and thinking—and all of that is spiritual content. When you realize that behind everything that we think of as matter is spirit, then rocks are spiritual; plants, animals, humans, all of the creation has a spiritual foundation. How one awakens people to that realization, I wish I knew.

Clopper is a Professor of Economics and a former Trustee of RSF

Click here to view the next interview in this series

Interviews from the Archives: Philip Mees

January 29, 2015

Click here to view the previous interview in this series

We have created a mini series of excerpts from our archive of interviews in the RSF Quarterly. Lots of wisdom was shared by these individuals who hold deep ties to the roots of the organization as early trustees and staff members. We chose to focus on aspects around money, spirit, and associative economics as these themes are core to RSF’s history – and very relevant to our work today.

The interviews were conducted by John Bloom, now RSF Vice President, Organizational Culture. They were part of his exploration of the guiding thoughts that helped to form what was then called Rudolf Steiner Foundation and now RSF Social Finance.

Philip Mees, 2000

John: What from the bank environment informed or changed the way you could work in RSF?

Philip: The way I originally learned to approach a loan was so much more relevant in this environment of RSF than it was in the environment of the big bank. First you need to know your customer, to trust your customer, and to be trusted by the customer. However, each project also has to make sense on its own merits. That’s why you have to do credit analysis. Underlying the techniques of credit analysis and objective judgment, there is a subjective world of people being able to get along together, wanting to work with each other to accomplish something. All of these factors are important to us.

John: We try to be somewhat objective about those subjective aspects, don’t we?

Philip: Absolutely. That’s where the art comes in. Banking is not a science by any means. Banking is an art because one deals with people who want to do something in the world. One needs to make judgments on what one thinks of what they want to do in the world, and then whether one wants to support it. That’s not a scientific process. I’ve never called it an artistic process, but I’ve always talked about the art of banking.

John: Behind financial transactions and relationship is money. What is money?

Philip: Money is something that belongs to us. We have the clothes that belong to us, we live in the kind of house that belongs to us, we live the kind of life that belongs to us, and we have the illnesses that belong to us. The money we have is intimately connected with our karma. The decisions that we made before we were born for the kind of life that we were going to lead have financial consequences. Daily we face the consequences of the decisions that we made before birth and all the way through our life. In that way, money is the expression of very deep spiritual realities.

One of the ways we build our existence in the world is by doing things in it. We find our identity through the things we do. We make a living and acquire things, and those things are represented by money today. We acquire that which we have earned.

Money is earned by thinking, thinking about things of the world and being able to transform things and organize activity, as well as by physical labor. When you look at how people have made money throughout history, the one thing that stands out is that people who work only with their hands, do only manual things, never make any money. Society seems to be organized in such a way that they are able to subsist, they are able to continue doing that, but they will never build a surplus.

Through the ages, the people who really made money had other people work for them, even back to when the capital was accumulated through conquest. The economic or business way of accumulating capital is quite new. In the old days people went out, made war, plundered, and acquired land. Land and natural resources were the real base of capital. The kings or rulers who directed these conquests had their people bring them the spoils and gave them a small part back. Thinking has always been connected with accumulated capital.

John: What is capital? Is it something other than a specialized form of money?

Philip: I have trouble drawing a line between the two. When you direct the kind of thinking I’ve just described, you make money. Almost automatically you build up a surplus, and that surplus is today called capital. It’s an interesting word, because the Latin word caput, meaning head, is the origin. It never comes from the hands. Capital is the result of spirit and the spiritual activity of thinking. That’s why it needs to go back into creating new spiritual activity, so that people develop the capacity for new thinking.

John: Money is also then connected to the renewal of human capacity.

Philip: I love the statement by Rudolf Steiner where he says, “The gift is the most productive economic transaction that you can create.” A gift helps create new spiritual capacities. A gift to a school, for example, enables a number of new children to learn things that will make them productive in the economy one way or another.

John: The picture of thinking and capital that you have outlined depends on an individual at the head of a hierarchical structure. The pyramids are the classic example of architecture reflecting cultural and economic hierarchy. Do you think that there are new models of people working in businesses that are not so individual-driven, or is that a challenge for the future?

Philip: Well it depends how you use your thinking. In the economy there is no equality. The spiritual capacities of people are unequal, and they result in unequal work in the economy. In the political sphere and before the law, we are all equal. But, in the economy, in the art of applying the spiritual capacity of thinking to matter, we are not all equal.

Philip is a former Trustee and staff member of RSF.

Click here to view the next interview in this series

Interviews From the Archives: Siegfried Finser

January 15, 2015

We have created a mini series of excerpts from our archive of interviews in the RSF Quarterly. Lots of wisdom was shared by these individuals who hold deep ties to the roots of the organization as early trustees and staff members. We chose to focus on aspects around money, spirit, and associative economics as these themes are core to RSF’s history – and very relevant to our work today.

The interviews were conducted by John Bloom, now RSF Vice President, Organizational Culture. They were part of his exploration of the guiding thoughts that helped to form what was then called Rudolf Steiner Foundation and now RSF Social Finance.

Siegfried Finser, 1998

John: The term associative economics keeps surfacing. What does it mean?

finser_seigfriedSiegfried: I see three different trends all based on what’s happening in the development of the human soul. One of them is this yearning in the soul for being affiliated with others, for being part of something—community. A great part of that yearning harks back to the time when we were actually part of a clan or family, when we were not so alone standing so completely, self-sufficient, independently in the world. In that ancient time, when we felt part of a whole community, we were all devoted to service, but it was unconscious service. That is the one force in society today.

The second stream has to do with trying to ameliorate humanity’s suffering and starvation, poverty, and pain in our lifetime. We struggle, somehow, to make this earthly life into a better place, a paradise. We long for it to be better, to be as perfect as we can possibly make it.

The third stream is the one that I am and RSF is connected with. I would use the word esoteric to name it. There are young forces deep in the human soul from which our future world will be built. They are just being born and contain incredibly strong potential. Our work is the awakening of those inner forces to the building of a world that is actually derived from human consciousness and creativity. When we work with money, we try to awaken the ethical individual in each of us. The movement and flow of money will be the first earth-bound material to be transformed by human forces to reflect spiritual purposes.

John: This quality of abstraction and money is a hard thing for this culture to understand. Partly, money is usually marketed as something real, something you own. You have commented that money should have a living quality. I wonder if you could elaborate.

Siegfried: The way that we view our wealth, our personal wealth, is to bring it all to a standstill and count it. A balance sheet is nothing else but finances caught at a particular moment. But “balance sheet” itself is an interesting phrase. It implies that it constantly changes, constantly self-adjusts. However, one freezes it for the moment only to be able to grasp it with one’s intellect. Our present way of dealing with money in establishing our wealth is to bring it to a total standstill. In actuality, the greater one’s so-called wealth appears to be, the more it’s moving all over the world.

Siegfried has been a Trustee at RSF since revitalizing the organization in 1984.

Click here to view the next interview in this series

A Celebration of Giving – Part III

December 30, 2014

Click here for Part II of this series

KelleyBuhles_Books_Large (2)by Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to bring associative economic principles into daily practice and expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money.

Over the past few months we have be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers who saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, have become part of our destiny.

Transforming the World

As a financial organization, we have a bold purpose statement: to transform the way the world works with money. How does a financial organization fulfill such a purpose? While we offer financial transactions to our clients that provide them with direct and personal relationships in order to transform their own relationship to money, we knew early on that in order to change the world we would need to provide learning activities beyond financial transactions. In support of these kinds of learning opportunities, and in support of our borrowers, RSF housed an Advisory Support Fund.

As part of the next stage of growth and shortly after RSF moved to San Francisco in 1998, we experimented with small events called “Money Matters” that focused on exploring individual’s relationship with money and the role money plays in the social sphere. However, in 2004 we received a number of gifts from key donors that provided us with the resources needed to do field building in a more innovative and sustainable way.

RSF created an informal network called the Transforming Money Collaborative (TMC). This group consisted of other organizations, like The Fetzer Institute and the Marion Institute, as well as individuals such as advisor Charles Terry who worked closely with our staff. The group was an exploration in collaboration, focused on how to transform the way the world works with money towards a more positive and inclusive economy. The goal of the TMC was to bring the transforming money conversation across class, race, age, and gender differences to open new pathways of transparency, trust, and communications in our financial transactions.

Many initiatives developed as a result of this collaboration including the Money, Race, and Class Conversations and the Economics of Peace Conference.

One catalytic fund that emerged from the TMC in 2004 was the Fund for Complementary Currency. The primary driver for this work was a sense that the financial market would crash and that we would need local economic tools to keep the economy alive. A small group of donors created a donor circle that ended up providing over $800,000 to organizations working to support the development of new and sustainable approaches to economic exchange that would complement the existing financial system. The Fund for Complementary Currency was one of the largest contributors to the growth of complementary currency work in the US.

This fund supported research and development for BerkShares, TimeBanks, Hour Exchange Portland, and Vermont Sustainable Exchange, as well as other innovative research projects.

Another key outcome of the TMC were the Sequoia Principles for Transforming Money which emerged from a series of gatherings of an economically, ethnically, and culturally diverse group of individuals from more than fifty organizations. They came together with a commitment to understand money and to develop a new agreement about principles, values, and guidelines for its use.

This group developed a set of core principles to be used as a tool for transforming the way the world works with money. They imagined a sustainable future that depends upon bringing a broader consciousness and wisdom to our financial practices, money systems, and economic structures. They aim to shift existing financial structures toward a more equitable global system that values local economies, and inspires deeper connections in communities as a basis for a sustainable world.

RSF_30th_purpleToday, RSF’s field building activity is crucial to how we transform the way the world works with money. To make this work more visible, we have assembled a Field Building Collaborative (FBC), a group of individual experts dedicated to research and education around new models of investing, lending, and giving that support regional and local economies. For example, as part of the FBC, we are working in collaboration with with BALLE to convene leaders in the Community Foundation field who are determined to align their individual foundations’ investments with their deep commitment to place.

Through sponsorships, partnerships, and events, RSF supports individuals and organizations in the field of social finance to reflect, collaborate, and grow together in the spirit of co-creation towards building the next economy. It has been wonderful to have donors participate with us in these activities and to share in the learnings that have been experienced.

The Donors

RSF is grateful to all of the donors who supported the Transforming Money Network, and all of the other initiatives listed above.

However, we would like to give special thanks to the catalytic donors whose gifts made the Transforming Money Network possible at the beginning: The AnJel Fund, Carol Newell, along with an anonymous donor. It was the support of these key donors that allowed RSF to begin to prioritize field building as a key part of our work in the world.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

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

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.”

A Culture of Gifting

May 22, 2014

Originally published in the San Francisco Waldorf School Alumni Newsletter

There are three indications of real generosity:

To remain steadfast without resisting,

To praise without the emotion of generosity,

And, to give before being asked.

—Maaruf Karkhi

John Bloom by Katie Teague copyby John Bloom

There is no community without gift and gifting. The acts themselves may not be visible, they may not have names, they may elude materiality, and yet, and yet, we depend on them for our very existence as givers and receivers. Warmth, recognition, love, care, and sometimes money—these are the bearers of our deepest feelings, longings and needs. Wait, did I miss something? What is money doing in that list? On one hand, money is the necessary evil everyone needs and no one likes to talk about. On the other, money is the emblem of modern mysteries, meaningful through circulation, in movement that defines our relationships, our values, our needs and priorities—that is our economic self.

But not all money is the same. A dollar bill can be differentiated not in how it looks, but in how it is used. You need only ask yourself how you experience the money and the transaction when: a) you need to buy something; b) when someone asks you to lend it to them; c) and when you decide to make a gift or someone asks you for one. It is this last that is the hardest to grasp because we are so wired to be consumers, to engage in the exchange of commodities and services. We are conditioned to think of these transactions as the primary drivers of economic life. They are definitely connected to the generation of wealth—no question about it. Virtually every economics textbook would confirm this. But the fundamental assumption in this view is the primacy of self-interest, which is a myth, highly problematic, and one of the key reasons we are where we are in our economy today, regardless of how you might feel about it.

My reflection on the Karkhi quote is that it epitomizes a sense of service to others, and further that we are part of, and not greater than, the community of relationships in which we are embedded. I would propose that if we are going to rid ourselves of the myth of self-interest and the social damage that seems to accompany it, and move instead into a recognition of our real interdependence, then our greatest leverage point for change is through gift and gifting. That is gifting understood as coming from our capacity to recognize the importance of others’ destiny paths both for us and the world at large. That is a lot to say in short form. But, it names the essence of gift and gifting. It names why and how we actually support each other’s success. It names how lasting value is created through the continual passage and transformation of a gift. Here is a personal example. I had wonderful teachers and parents growing up. They took good care of me, provided form and discipline and support even for mistakes. I received these as gifts, continued to work on them and on myself, to discover my own gifts, so that I could put those gifts, such as they are, in service to others. This is no thing, nothing, that could be bought or loaned. In some ways, a gift of money works in the same way. For example, a gift goes to build a building, many children are educated in it over the years, many of them will change the world. Was the gift the bricks and mortar, or was the gift what the building makes possible into the future. Well, the gift purchased the construction—that is to say it was transformed into purchase—but the value of the gift actually lives on long after the purchase. Such is one mystery of money.

There is no community without gift, and without community there is no economic life. We actually depend upon each other, whether it is those who make the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or the school we choose. And others are depending upon us to contribute our capacities. While we may “earn a living” through those capacities, what we earn does not constitute a life. Rather it is what we care about and value that bring meaning to life. Money is but one thread in this story; hopefully as we use it in alignment with our values, it becomes meaningful through what it makes possible. Gift, despite what the textbooks might say, whether in the form of love or money, is the first grace in economic life. In its purest form it is a liberator of human inspiration and capacity. And gifting bears the future for community life, it is the key to regeneration, to education, to wellbeing and sustainability.

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

Heart’s Guidance: An Economic Imagination, Part II

January 21, 2014

Click here for Part I


by John Bloom


As an organ, the human heart plays leading role in maintaining human life forces. And, it works in a fully integrated system. It is an arbiter between the intense circulatory exchange in the fine capillaries at the extremities and need for constant vortical movement as the blood moves through the heart’s chambers. Blood, exhausted after delivering its nutrients along the way to the periphery, returns to the heart-lung center to be revitalized—a systolic, diastolic rhythm of constant exchange. There is no part of the human organism that is not permeated through circulation, and just about any stoppage in that circulation has significant health consequences. I am certainly not the first to use the circulation of blood as simile for the circulation of money. This is an illuminating but partial picture. Circulation is meaningless without the management capacities of the heart, its sensitivity to our inner and outer-facing nerve-sense system, and the forces of our metabolic system. Simply put, the heart embodies interdependence, serves as guide and guardian, harmonizer for human life, and thus supports our capacities to think and act. This complete and unalterable interdependence has much to tell us about economic life.

How the heart models service is in stark contrast to dominance of self-interest, a concept intractably nestled in the modern evolution of economic thinking. Self-interest as currently fostered and practiced has become debased from the moral, and I would say religious, framework that says that it is in your self-interest to be interested in and help others. As economic experience has become ever-more embedded in the materialism and consumerism of the marketplace, interest in the other has converted into competitive fear of the other. Money is the measure of man; thus, I am better the more I can extract from the system for myself. This is a powerfully destructive thought.

It is fascinating to me to consider that the heart is naturally moral. It does not deny one part of the body over another unless it needs to allocate healing resources for an interim period. It does not judge, it simply recognizes need and responds. It seeks sufficiency, and its actions are all guided by the impulse to restore balance—all for the purposes of circulation and meeting the needs of the whole throughout a very diverse organic system. Many natural systems are like this. Nature is moral, but somehow we have allowed the anti-social power of money to corrupt this moral element in human nature. It doesn’t feel right. Just as self-interest gives the lie to how truly interdependent we are, money supports the illusion of independence and serves as a measure of fittest in the Darwinian notion of survival. If the money was won through competition, what was lost along the way? These are not propositions of the heart. They are propositions of the head; rationalizations for historical patterns, and cynically, justifications for essentially immoral behavior in the financial marketplace. The heart does not speculate, it anticipates and regulates, not as an exercise in control, but rather in service to the whole.

So what is capital, and how does it serve in the heart imagination? One could say that capital is the materialization of spirit, spirit brought into matter through economic activity. This may seem a stretch, but consider the following. Economic life evolves from the work it takes to transform natural resources into practical goods. Of course, the transformation is not magical, rather it is often hard won through trial and error, through the application of physical and mental creative powers. The invention and evolution of the plow, or any machine for that matter, demonstrates the additive, transformative power of applied consciousness across generations and geography. A second development is how these powers are harnessed and organized for efficiency and production through the further application of intelligence. This applied intelligence in combination with the production of goods and services is what gives rise to capital.* Capital is to the economic realm what intelligence is to the individual. Since intelligence is not material, that is, it has no physical substance, it is by its nature non-objective. Its value appears as practical activity in the world. Capital is spiritual, while its value, its measure, derives from its application at a specific time and place.

The role of capital in the heart economy is like that of oxygen to the human heart. Oxygen is carried through the blood even as that stream is also collecting the carbon dioxide waste, which it returns to the world through breath. This self-regenerative system is the key to the imagination of a heart-centered economy.

I offer this imagination as a starting point for changing how we think about and live our economic life through our daily transactions. Can we see that we are part of a great circulation? Can we see that we are part of both the destruction and regeneration of natural systems, and that in our economic world we are never separate from each other, from wealth or poverty of resources, even though we have been conditioned to think that way? If, in our own body system, we were to establish “political” boundaries and protect them as we do, we would die an instant death. Boundaries are important, just as cell membranes are important. They are permeable; they protect, and contain, but in the end it is the circulation that is the most vital. And it is the workings of human heart, the servant of the circulatory system that demonstrates the wisdom we need to transform money, the financial system, and economic life. Not only by, but also from the heart we can learn how the world can support our lives as we work consciously to support others’.

* This essay is inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s insights into economics. In his 1922 lecture cycle, now published under the title Rethinking Economics: Lectures and Seminars on World Economics, he goes into great depth on how these two essential capacities, labor and intelligence, create value.

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

Heart’s Guidance: An Economic Imagination, Part I

January 16, 2014

by John Bloom

The mind thinks it loves; the heart loves before the thought.

In our current stage of materialist economy, we are entranced with capital and disconnected from our hearts. This discord is a result of the inherent nature of capital, so centered as it is in the head, as the origin of the word indicates. In the visible world discord looks like a widening gap between wealth and poverty, and in the inner world like a disintegration of beliefs, values, and behavioral decisions. Make no mistake, we need capital in one form or another, and we need those who work with capital to be in the world in a way that values each human being and supports the regeneration of nature. This inner integrity might then begin to heal social and ecological wounds.

So, how might the imagination of economic life change from where we currently are— dependence on growth that is heading toward the demise of nature and increased suffering—to one that is instead life affirming and regenerative? The purpose of this essay is to focus on a guiding framework for systemic change. Real change never happens without a guiding imagination.

Let’s start with the basics. As I remember, the things that I needed to know or commit to memory, I learned by heart—a poem, a lifeline phone number, a lover’s birthday. I suspect this is true for others as well, though ever-present reference technology has helped us grow lazy about such matters. Long before textbooks, encyclopedias, and wikipedias, the heart is what we had by way of stored knowledge, even while it was the head’s task to process that knowledge. Thus, consciousness has been as much if not more a product of the heart than of the head, though modern industrial culture has come to prize intellect over character. We have learned how to perceive and transform nature, while also learning from each other in order to survive as individuals and in communities.

As we evolved, our relationships were practical as well as spiritual; that is to say that trust catalyzed community action, whether the trust was a result of blood connection or common cause. Each individual discovers and develops her or his own capacities or gifts. And, it is when those capacities begin to serve both self and others that the glimmerings of economic life emerge. Fast forward and you get the industrialized version of economic efficiencies in the division of labor. When I am contributing my capacities and in return receiving what I need back from the community, I feel engaged, recognized, and valued—supported both materially and through a sense of fulfillment. While this is a somewhat simplistic framing, I believe this feeling is one desired not only by me, but also by a significant number of individuals open to reflecting on the nature of vocation and economic life.

What I am describing is a heart-centered economy, one motivated by continuous circulation, connection, caring, and cognizant of each person’s dignity and destiny. And most important, an economy in which the rediscovery of trust becomes the vital element supporting the circulation and regeneration of resources as common, co-produced wealth, including but certainly not limited to money. After all, money emerged primarily as an economic convenience, as a portable way to store value. By agreement its value was established through the exchange of goods and services. It was a means. But, as money has become more a valued commodity in and of itself, it has been disconnected from its purpose of accounting for economic flow, disconnected from real needs and human activity. In this sense, the more money is valued as an accumulated object attached to an individual, the more anti-social it becomes. In contrast, economics is deeply social as we are fully dependent upon one another’s capacities to meet our material needs.

Click here for Part II

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

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