Social Finance

RSF’s February Grant-Making Activity

March 11, 2010

By Caitlyn Kowalczyk

Students at the Chengdu Waldorf School (RSF grantee) in China

RSF’s Donor Advised Funds are innovative financial vehicles that allow an individual, group, family, corporation, trust, or foundation to help fund charitable organizations that align with their values.  After a tax-deductible contribution to RSF, the donor advisor can then recommend grants out of his or her fund to qualified non-profit organizations.  Once the contribution has been made to RSF, we invest the money through our Impact Investing Portfolios, which ensure deep impact and strong mission-alignment with our core social and environmental missions.  The following organizations received $267,337.88 in grant funding from our Donor Advised Funds in the month of February:

Food and Agriculture

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Institute for Policy Studies
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

Education and the Arts

Austin Eurythmy Ensemble
Center for Anthroposophy
Center for the Arts, Religion and Education
Charter Foundation
Chengdu Waldorf School
Children of Nepal
Colin Young/Russian American Educational Exchange
Grameen Shikkha
Green America
Proxy Democracy
READ Global
Rudolf Steiner College
ShadeTree Multicultural Foundation
Sunbridge College
Triskeles Foundation

Social Finance

Vermont Sustainable Exchange


Partners in Health (Haiti relief)

Caitlyn Kowalczyk is Program Assistant for Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

RSF’s December Grant-Making Activity

January 13, 2010

By Caitlyn Kowalczyk

This holiday season, the spirit of giving was alive and well among the members of the RSF community.  Our donor advisors recommended 86 grants totaling $1,524,521.98 out of their Donor Advised Funds in the month of December alone.   Donor Advised Funds are a great way for people to give tax-deductible donations to RSF and then make recommendations for grants from these funds to qualified non-profits.  Meanwhile, the dollars in the funds will continue to grow as we invest them in our innovative Donor Advised Fund Investment Portfolios.  We’re very proud of the organizations that we were able to facilitate grants for this past December:

Education and the Arts

Anthroposophical Society
Arcturus Rudolf Steiner
Association of Waldorf Schools in North America
Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training
Black Box Voting
Boulder Community Hospital
Center for Anthroposophy
Center for Independent Documentary
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for the Arts, Religion and Education
Children’s Medical Aid Foundation
Christian Community – Chicago
Colorado Music Festival
Common Cause Education Fund
Cultural Exchange Council
Das Goetheanum
Democracy Now!
Eurythmy Spring Valley
Friends of CRAFT, Inc.
Friends of Kakamega
Green America
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Institute for One Wisconsin
Institute for Public Affairs
Institute for Wisconsin’s Future
Interspecies Communication
Land Stewardship Project
Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Living Universe Project
Napa Valley Waldorf Education Foundation
Natural Resources Council
On the Commons
Pacific Zen Institute
Peace Development Fund
Pine Hill Waldorf School
Positive Futures Network
Proxy Democracy
Public Campaign
Rudolf Steiner Branch of the Anthroposophical Society
Rudolf Steiner Press
Seminary of the Christian Community
ShadeTree Multicultural Foundation
Shining Mountain Waldorf School
Sophia Foundation of North America
Sophia Project
Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Steiner Books
Summerfield Waldorf School
The Aspen Institute
The Esoterics
Third Sector New England
Triskeles Foundation
Trustees of Brantwood Camp
United Mid-Coast Charities
Waldorf Early Childhood Association
Women’s Empowerment Network

Food & Agriculture

Allied Arts Foundation
Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Community Groundworks
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
Small Planet Education
Small Planet Fund

Ecological Stewardship

American Himalayan Foundation
Clean Wisconsin
Collective Heritage Institute
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
David Brower Center
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
Global Footprint Network
Orion Society
Post Carbon Institute
Rainforest Action Network
World Wildlife Fund

Social Finance

Fund for Complementary Currency

Caitlyn Kowalczyk is Program Assistant for Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Transforming Individuals into a Community

December 23, 2009

By Taryn Goodman

In 2007, RSF decided to restructure and further refine its Donor Advised Fund Investment Portfolios by implementing a more direct and transparent program in order to achieve the deepest possible social impact.   Included in these changes was the creation of three separate portfolios based on liquidity, risk, and return factors.  The portfolios have since been created and named Impact, Liquidity, and Transformation.  At the time, it was unclear what the Transformation Portfolio would look like beyond the fact that we wanted to create an investment vehicle that supported innovative and mission-driven businesses and ideas.

Much has happened since the idea for these portfolios was surfaced in 2007, including the formal launch of RSF’s Transformation Portfolio earlier this year.  This particular option for our Donor Advisors  is not the typical mission-related investing portfolio – which, generally, is when capital is deployed to support socially and environmentally conscious organizations (although that is certainly a part of our portfolio).  Beyond that, the Transformation Portfolio is a learning community in which inspired investors come together to see how they can make a meaningful difference through their investments.  It is a way for impact investors to get elbow deep in the investment process through a shared learning circle with shared thinking, shared risk, shared return, and shared impact.

I recently returned from one of the first Transformation Portfolio meetings in Boston, MA, which was attended by Don Shaffer (President & CEO of RSF), John Goldstein (co-founder of Imprint Capital), myself, and the three women who are the initial investors.  Unlike most investment meetings, this one was quite informal; there were no conference tables and no suits.  Instead, the group casually gathered around a coffee table at one of the investors’ homes and discussed many challenging, thought-provoking questions about the real potential of impact investing – questions that invoked the eagerness and excitement each participant has for creating social and environmental impact with their investments.

As we went around the circle, everyone voiced their interests and passions as they relate to social change and we then mapped these passions to the potential investment opportunities that were presented.  The process of examining different investment choices was by no means an easy one.  Many questions arose, including: is the support of increased consumption okay if a retail organization is creating jobs?  Should we inhibit access to international financial markets in order to build self-reliant local economies, or is this stifling growth?  Should we focus on servicing the unmet needs of people at the base of the socioeconomic pyramid, or on creating innovative organic, natural, and environmentally-friendly products to be sold in places like Whole Foods?

In working through these questions, the group of us realized that much of the learning involved in this community will come from determining a balance as it relates to finding answers to questions like the ones above and being comfortable with the investment decisions.  Even more so, we all began to appreciate the fact that some questions may not have just one answer or even a “right” answer – but we all agreed that this method of making decisions together will result in some truly innovative, ground-breaking impact investing.

To learn how to open an RSF Donor Advised Fund and invest in our portfolios, click here.  Or for more information, contact me at or 415.561.6195.

Taryn Goodman is Manager of Impact Investing at RSF Social Finance.

RSF’s November Grant-Making Activity

December 11, 2009

By Kelley Buhles

Often at this time of year people are looking to make their year-end tax deductible donations to their favorite charities. RSF Donor Advised Funds offer a way to get an immediate tax deduction for your gift to RSF and then allow you to recommend grants to qualified nonprofits over a longer period of time. In addition, through our Donor Advised Fund Investment Portfolios your charitable dollars will continue to grow while being invested in one of our cutting edge, socially responsible portfolios.

Currently we have over 100 donor advisors making grants in all three of our focus areas. In November, RSF’s Donor Advised Funds recommended 60 grants totaling $484,217 to the following organizations:

Education & the Arts

Antioch College
Association of Waldorf Schools in North America
Austin Eurythmy Ensemble
Bainbridge Island Graduate Institute
Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training
Camphill Special Schools
Center for Anthroposophy
Chengdu Waldorf School
Dancer’s Group
Equus Project
Foundation for Energy Therapies
Freunde der Erziehungskunst
Global Fund for Women
Green Mountain Branch of the ASA
Hawthorne Valley Association
Healing Water Institute
Indiana University Foundation
Integral Foundation
Kimberton Waldorf School
Maine People’s Resource Center
02-NYC Inc.
Orchard Valley School
READ Global
Rudolf Steiner College
Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor
Self Realization Fellowship
Seminary of the Christian Community
Sevak Solutions
ShadeTree Multicultural Foundation
Sojourns Community Clinic
South East Branch of the ASA
Spikenard Farm
Tanglewood Camp
The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin
The eLib, Inc.
Tucson Waldorf Education Association
Union of Concerned Scientists
Waldorf Teacher Education Eugene
Western Colorado Congress
Woodland Star Educational Foundation

Food & Agriculture

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Yggdrasil Land Foundation

Ecological Stewardship

Growing Gardens
Rainforest Action Network
The Nature Institute

Social Finance

IC Foundation
Social Venture Network
Trusteeship Institute- Slow Money

Kelley Buhles is Program Manager of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Direct vs. Indirect: The Case for Purposeful Partnerships

December 7, 2009

By Joe Avenatti

Rustic CrustWhy does RSF have a strong preference for direct relationships in its lending and investing activities?  There are several reasons for this preference, which are all rooted in our desire to make transactions direct, transparent and personal:

  • A 1:1 relationship is formed with the borrower
  • There is greater control of the loan or investment
  • The assets and income are not shared with another lender

However, there are advantages to partnering either through loan participations or equity co-investments.  Some of the advantages are:

  • Protect assets through risk-sharing
  • Increased capacity through operating efficiencies
  • Sharing of best practices

The RSF Mezzanine Fund, L.P., entered into its first non-direct loan recently with Rustic Crust.  Rustic Crust (based in Pittsfield, New Hampshire) is an organic certified manufacturer and wholesaler of all-natural and organic artisan quality pizza products (see RSF Newsroom for more info).  RSF’s initial approach was to provide a separate, stand-alone senior subordinated loan to Rustic Crust.  However, there were compelling reasons to structure our loan as a “reverse participation” with Vested for Growth being the lead lender.  A reverse participation is when a lender purchases a portion of a loan from the lead lender, whereas a participation loan is the term used for when the lead lender sells a portion of its loan to another lender.

Vested for Growth (VFG) is a part of the New Hampshire Community Development Loan Fund and provides similar lending products as RSF, but solely to companies in New Hampshire.  VFG had already provided a subordinated loan commitment to Rustic Crust by the time RSF became involved.  However, there was still a need to raise additional capital for Rustic Crust, in the form of debt or equity.  What was the best way for RSF to proceed?

Upon reviewing the situation, I collaborated with the various parties to find the best solution for all: a reverse participation with VFG in equal partnership.  RSF provided Rustic Crust with its needed capital in the same amount and on the same terms as VFG; the equity investors were able to leverage their return by using debt instead of equity; and although we received warrants, there was less ownership dilution for management and the other equity holders as a result.

In all lending and investing relationships, whether direct or indirect, there are important factors to consider as in any personal relationship – clear communication, fair expectations, aligned objectives, and mutual trust are of paramount importance if the relationship is going to succeed.  At RSF, we believe we can achieve this with our partners and that we can all benefit from collaborating with one another in order to help organizations with strong social missions achieve their greatest impact.

For information on how to invest in the RSF Mezzanine Fund, click here, or for information on mezzanine financing from RSF, click here.  To learn more about Rustic Crust, visit

Joe Avenatti is Managing Director of RSF Capital Management.

New RSF Borrower HappyFamily: Pleasing Baby Bellies and Easing Parents’ Minds

November 16, 2009

By Elizabeth Bracco

HappyBabyRSF recently extended a loan to HappyFamily, the innovative social enterprise that provides a nourishing alternative to processed baby food. Happy Family has a complete line of organic and delicious choices for babies and toddlers that are as nutritious as home-cooked meals but take a fraction of the time to prepare –  and the world has taken note. The company recently came in second place in “Shine a Light,” American Express’s highly competitive program which calls on the public to vote on inspiring small businesses.

HappyFamily, the rapidly growing and socially responsible brainchild of Shazi Visram and Jessica Rolph, launched its premium frozen baby foods on Mother’s Day in 2006 . The freezing process is one example of the intention that goes into each product: flash-freezing food after cooking to a low temperature preserves the health benefits while the high-heat process used with jarred baby food depletes the nutrients. The product line has since expanded to include pro-biotic, DHA-enhanced cereals (Happy Bellies), melt-in-your-mouth finger foods for the baby’s introduction to solids (HappyBaby Puffs), and hand-held frozen meals for the toddler (Happy Bites).

Every ingredient in every product is chosen to create the healthiest formulations possible for growing bodies. HappyFamily doesn’t want parents to take their word for it – the company aims to educate them on nutrition through a community of experts and parents online and with the book HappyBaby: The Organic Guide to Baby’s First 24 Months.  The book is a collaboration between HappyFamily and Dr. Robert Sears of the famous Sears pediatrician family.  Dr. Sears, or “Dr. Bob” as his young patients call him, has written several books on raising healthy children, and appears regularly on TV, offering advice on parenting, behavior, and health issues.

HappyFamily’s impact reaches beyond the baby that eats the Puff, Belly or Bite; the company gives back to the earth and to children less fortunate than their customers. For every unit sold, 2.5 cents (enough to feed one child for one day) is donated to Project Peanut Butter, a nonprofit that provides a protein-rich supplement to malnourished children in Southeast Africa. As for the earth, HappyFamily uses creative packaging solutions that reduce waste. For example, HappyBaby Puffs are packaged in containers that were discontinued by another brand, minimizing the waste involved in disposing of the otherwise useless vessels. All of HappyFamily’s packaging is recyclable and devoid of harmful chemicals.

RSF’s loan to HappyFamily will help the company meet the soaring demand by customers such as Babies R Us, Whole Foods, and Target. With this loan, HappyFamily can continue to help parents feed their babies the very best, and pave the way to a healthier world.

For more information, visit:  For information about the RSF Core Lending Program, click here.  To help RSF make more loans like this one, click here to find out how to invest in the RSF Social Investment Fund.

Elizabeth Bracco is Senior Documentation Associate at RSF Social Finance.

Announcing RSF Prime

November 10, 2009

Dear Friends,

We are excited to announce an important shift in how we determine the rate of return each quarter for the RSF Social Investment Fund (SIF), which in turn determines the base interest rate we charge to borrowers through our Core Lending program.

As of October 1, we have adopted a customized rate determined each quarter collaboratively by 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 the base rate for borrowers in our Core Lending program. We have dubbed this new base rate for borrowers “RSF Prime”.

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 – because it represents the most commonly accepted barometer for short-term interest rates worldwide.  However, we no longer believe it is appropriate to use a benchmark like LIBOR or the U.S. Treasury Bill.

Based on our close reading of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on economics, we believe the community of participants in SIF can most accurately determine a price that meets the needs of all parties.  We have started hosting quarterly face-to-face meetings at our offices in San Francisco with representatives of the three stakeholder groups.

We believe this is the first time that a lending institution has facilitated meetings between investors and borrowers to determine loan pricing.  With RSF staff at the table facilitating the conversations, all three stakeholders can be visible to each other and engage in a direct and transparent exchange in an effort to understand intentions, motivations, and needs. We believe this new methodology fits better with our values – to make financial transactions as direct, transparent, and personal as possible.

This year, the groups have been small.  In the years to come, we intend to host meetings in different regions of the country each quarter to connect with more of our stakeholders.  We have heard from investor participants so far that it is a wonderful way to learn more about the inspiring projects they support.

This shift also allows us to offer our investors a significantly higher return this quarter (1.00%) than would have been possible using LIBOR or the U.S. Treasury Bill as our reference.  We are aware that the investor return rate has been very low for the past three quarters (0.50%-0.71%).  The chart below indicates select 3-month bank CD rates and money-market funds for comparison.

SIF vs. 3-Month Bank CDs and Money Market Funds

SIF vs. 3-Month Bank CDs and Money Market Funds

So, again, this change has two significant benefits:

  1. We believe it brings the loan pricing exercise into clear alignment with our foundational values.
  2. It gives us flexibility to offer our investors a higher return in extreme low-interest-rate environments like what we face today.

RSF places tremendous value not only on the result, but also on the process, and the source of financial transactions. We can define the result as “what” we support (socially and ecologically beneficial projects); while the process refers to “how” we do our work (transformative learning through community).  Importantly, we also explore the source of each transaction, the “why” behind it (intention; spiritual basis).

It is the integration of all three elements of working with money (what, how, why) that distinguishes what we do at RSF from other financial institutions.  We truly believe that, together with our clients, we are transforming the way the world works with money. I hope that this change to a more values-aligned process will inspire more of you to join us on this journey, and look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions.

All the best,

Don Shaffer
President & CEO

Reflecting on SRI in the Rockies and True Impact

November 5, 2009

By Taryn Goodman

“We need another screened mutual fund like we need a hole in the head.” This direct quote from a presenter at the 2009 SRI in the Rockies Conference seemed to capture the same sentiments I was feeling during my time at the event.  As a new employee of RSF, I am continually amazed at the innovative paths we choose to take here as it relates to impact investing (and beyond), which is why I was so surprised by the intense focus on screening at this conference.

In 2005, RSF first decided to focus its Donor Advised Fund Portfolio on impact investments.  At that point, we had been working with asset managers to invest in funds that screened companies according to their environmental and social impact, finding best-in-class investments in each category for the portfolio.  Nearly five years later, we have altered that strategy as we decided it did not fit with our core belief that investments need to be direct, transparent and personal, nor did it allow us to realize the true transformative impact which we seek in all we do.  To that end, our current portfolios rely heavily on private equity investments, ensuring transparency and deep social impact as well as a holistic approach to change.

Even though they are not always focused on unique, ground-breaking investments that support deep social and environmental change, SRI in the Rockies attendees are still pushing the limits and providing a valuable resource focused on keeping public companies and the financial system in order.  The idea of advocacy was a key theme at the conference, with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins from Green for All, Smeeta Ramarathnam from the SEC, and Damon Silvers from the AFL-CIO urging the community to use their voice along with their dollars to promote change and reform as it pertains to the financial system, corporations, and the federal government.

While advocacy using dollars and voices is a clear and important need, I would still urge industry leaders to look beyond pure screening and shareholder voting, as these types of investments/activities do not provide pioneering impact.  I now realize that what I thought was common sense – moving your cash to community development banks where it is working to create low-income jobs and support smaller communities; using your dollars to support direct investment in revolutionary approaches to solving the world’s problems; not looking for short term gains while creating greater economic loss, etc. – is actually what makes RSF so special and unique.

I think Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame put it best when he asked RSF CEO Don Shaffer and me, “Why are you guys so weird?”

Taryn Goodman is Impact Investing Manager at RSF Social Finance.

The Economics of Peace Conference: A ‘Stimulus Package’ for the New Economy (Part II)

November 2, 2009

By John Bloom

(This is a continuation of a post from 10/29/09, which you can read by clicking here.)

Economics of PeaceEach afternoon of The Economics of Peace conference there were workshops related to the many facets of money and financial systems. Monday there were four offerings. RSF President & CEO Don Shaffer led a packed workshop entitled “Social Finance: Building Regional Capital Markets.” Through a brief presentation and small discussions, the group explored: what would the economy look like if active and diverse regional capital markets were developed? What will it take to create more place-based markets and means of exchange? Can we rebuild our sense of community self-reliance in relation to national and international economies?

Also on Monday afternoon, Norman Solomon addressed the barriers and opportunities of “The Green New Deal.” He explored how the quest for green sustainability might merge with the drive for economic justice. He presented what some of the new strategies need to be, and the challenging dynamics of the current situation in the media, financial systems, and the psychology of economic crisis. Charles Eisenstein led a workshop on Sacred Economics, the title and subject of his forthcoming book. This workshop explored the many perspectives of gift economics. He talked about the history of money systems that organically encourage sharing instead of competition, egalitarianism instead of polarization of wealth, and the building of social, natural, cultural, and spiritual capital, instead of their destruction. As a step toward peace, he proposed the radical idea that all workshop participants make investments that earn 0% interest. Trent Shroyer led “Sustainable Economic Cultures,” which looked at several models of sustainable economic practices including: Gandhi’s Swaraj, the no-growth movement in Europe, and examples of Ivan Illich’s post-secular vernacular domains.

On Tuesday, four more workshop sessions followed a panel presentation on complementary currencies. C.J. Callen, Pilar Gonzales, and I led a conversation on “Money, Race, and Class.” This facilitated conversation served as a safe space to talk about some of the most complicated and unaddressed issues in economics and our financial systems. The approach allowed for a depth of conversation that supported listening and speaking in such a way as to allow for transformation in the participants’ way of thinking.

Following the morning plenary theme of local living economies (as articulated by Judy Wicks and Stephanie Rearick), Kelley Rajala and Derek Huntington of Sonoma County GoLocal Cooperative and Mary Rick of BALLE presented “Accelerate the Sustainability Movement in your Community.” They worked with the processes of forming a values-based network, mapping the resources of the community, developing sustainability policy, and implementing community-based financing models. This workshop was well attended as there is significant interest in re-localizing economies and understanding what that means from economic, cultural, and political perspectives.

Richard Logie, the founder of GETS (Global Exchange Trade System), led an introductory workshop on what the elements of a complementary currency or credit clearing exchange might look like so that participants would have a context for working in this innovative business-to-business system. He used the lessons of VISA and the European Union to demonstrate the work of creating new agreements, setting up a framework of exchange methodology and standards so that users of the system can work toward mutual ownership of it. Richard also led a much longer, more detailed workshop on Thursday entitled “Get Real! With Currency: 50 Questions You Should Ask Before Starting Your Own Exchange.” The final Tuesday workshop was led by David Ransom on “Taking a Leap: A Marxist Look at Social Change in an Epoch of Economic Revolution.” Ransom looked at the impact of technology in relation to the value of labor and posed the question about whether the current economic revolution will bring about a social revolution as more and more of the work force is displaced.

Wednesday afternoon saw four workshops that touched on a wide range of topics. Sam Keen addressed the topic “Money and War: The Quest for a Moral Alternative.” He focused on the issue of social and economic justice as the avenue for achieving peace. Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money, presented his work under the same topic. Tasch has been developing the notion of patient capital as an approach to investing that will rebuild local economies and change our attitudes about expecting or extracting short-term returns on investments that tend to bring about ecological and cultural degradation. Osprey Orielle Lake led the workshop “Respect for the Global Commons.” Lake was the artist-in-residence for the conference and also spoke about the value and beauty of our environment and natural systems, and the rightful use of these precious compromised resources. The fourth workshop was offered by Bev Bell and Mateo Nube. Named “Towards a Just Ecological and Economic Transition,” they presented the stories of those directly impacted by the financial crisis. They showed how those communities have developed practical solutions to the challenges through community self-determination.  What they demonstrated was that economic security and ecological sustainability need not be in opposition if worked through with transformative power.

Thursday, following a panel discussion on fair trade, Andrew Kimbrell went into much more detail about the concepts and practicality of “Salmon Economics” in a workshop. Bob Graham, one of the pioneers and leaders of micro-enterprise, led a practicum called “The Next Step After Putting Micro-entrepreneurs into Business—Helping Them Become Successful.” With a focus on Central America, he spoke about the fact that while micro-credit has made credit accessible to millions of people at the bottom of the pyramid, rates of poverty have not changed. He proposed a new direction for micro-credit as a tool to alleviate poverty in a more systemic and sustainable way.

Friday morning, prior to the closing session, there were three workshops offered. Daniel Pinchbeck presented “Why We Launched Evolver: A Social Network for Conscious Collaboration.” He spoke about his involvement with the new technologies of the internet as a way to engage with provocative and important questions such as: could the social technologies of the internet help us replace many of our financial transactions with exchanges based on trust and reciprocity? Can a social network be designed to help reengineer our current society, offer new ways for people to collaborate, and organize for social change? Julianne Maurseth led a workshop (“Purpose and Outcomes for Conference Participants”) designed to weave together many of the insights gained at the conference. And myself, Pilar Gonzales, and Katrina Steffek led a conversation called “What If…” which explored scenario thinking for the new economy. This participatory workshop elicited from attendees the tools they had gained throughout the week and then asked them to imagine how they will apply them to their home, organizational, or work life—their real life economies.

On Friday, the conference conveners each shared some appreciations and closing reflections on the conference, and I would like to leave you with my own closing comments summarizing the week: “During our journey here together in Sonoma we have been traveling new economic terrain, challenging social terrain, and transformative cultural terrain. I put this in the progressive tense—not because we are a room full of tense progressives—but, because the work of economic change will yet be hard, and seem long. Let’s take joy in every step forward, practice forgiveness so that it can heal, and, finally, trust in the nature of wisdom, the wisdom of nature, and in the aspirations of the human spirit as we see each other anew in our economic life. May peace be with you.”

John Bloom is the Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.  If you enjoyed this post, look for John’s recently published book, The Genius of Money, now available from

The Economics of Peace Conference: A ‘Stimulus Package’ for the New Economy (Part I)

October 29, 2009

By John Bloom

Economics of PeaceFive days of intensive presentations, workshops, and conversations focused on the elements of an economy for the 21st century were at the heart of The Economics of Peace Conference held in Sonoma, California, October 18-23, 2009. The conference was co-convened by RSF Social Finance and Praxis Peace Institute.

World-renowned speakers such as James Galbraith and Vandana Shiva were keynotes at the conference. Both of them explained the current state of economic crisis from the point of view of systemic inequity, and made recommendations for how we can solve our economic problems by taking a long-term view of what is needed to restore the environment, have a more just, non-violent economy, and stem the disasters of climate change.

The concepts and practices of local living economies were another central theme throughout the conference, evidenced primarily by the innovative idea of siting the conference in the local living economy of Sonoma. Conference attendees made use of local restaurants, hotels and guest stays with local residents. Plenaries and workshops were held in the reconditioned Sebastiani Theater, the Sonoma Community Center, and other spaces connected with local businesses. Local musicians and artists performed at each of the events.

The Sunday night opening ceremony included the Mayor of Sonoma reading a formal City Council Proclamation recognizing the importance of the conference, followed by a brief presentation from Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (who represents Sonoma). Don Shaffer, President and CEO of RSF, spoke briefly about the importance of transforming the way the world works with money toward an economics of peace. Shaffer was followed by A.T. Ariyaratne, founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka. Dr. Ariyaratne outlined the values of Buddhist economics, the eight-fold path with a focus on right livelihood. He spoke particularly about the important distinction between full employment and full engagement in economic life in the Sarvodaya villages.

Jacob Needleman and Sam Keen, two noted philosophers and authors, began the Monday sessions, with a deep dive into the psyche, mythology, archetypes and consciousness of money and economic activity from the view of the inner human being. In the evening, David Korten gave a fiery presentation outlining the agenda for a new economy based upon overcoming the ills of the current one. Korten spoke about the value of re-localizing economies and exposing the abuses of Wall Street and large corporations.

Tuesday morning, Judy Wicks, the founder of White Dog Café in Philadelphia, spoke about “Creating a Non-Violent World through Local Living Economies.” She discussed her decision to collaborate with other local restaurants to support local farmers, pay living wages to staff, and remain sustainable. Out of this decision, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) was formed. Wicks was followed by Stephanie Rearick, who spoke on “Real World Caring Economics: TimeBanking and Social Justice”. Rearick is the leader of the Dane County (WI) TimeBank, the most successful TimeBank in the US. She explained how time could be used as a currency to support exchange activities that would not normally be funded by federal currency.

Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt, then presented ample evidence of why the issuance of debt as money by banks has caused such enormous economic hardship. Using the model of the successful Bank of North Dakota, a state-owned bank, she proposed that it would be possible to do the same in California and thus return ownership of the bank to the people that it serves.

The focus on Wednesday was the practice of worker-owned cooperative businesses. Two leaders from the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain, Mikel Lezamiz and Fred Freundlich, spoke at length about the founding and evolution of Mondragon, which has developed into the largest worker-owned co-op in the world (with over 34,000 workers). Their activities include everything from industrial manufacturing, to agriculture, to their own bank and insurance companies, to mention just a few. There were also several Northern California worker-owned businesses on hand to discuss methods of running cooperatives: Alvarado Street Bakery, Arizmendi Bakery, and Rainbow Grocery.

Thursday morning started with speaker Tom Greco, author of The End of Money and the Future of Civilization. Greco made a passionate plea for us to take back the credit commons from the banks by creating our own mutual credit clearing mechanisms. This is a tried and true model that has been in use by businesses through barter for many years. He suggests that it could have much broader applications for how we conduct economic activity. Greco was followed by noted environmental attorney Andrew Kimbrell. Kimbrell spoke on “Salmon Economics”. He described the entire life cycle of the salmon and explained how it could serve as a model for how we could think about economic cycles as meeting everyone’s needs rather than just those of the few. He also articulated what the salmon have to tell us about the symbiotic relationship between local and global economies.

Friday closed with some reflections on the conference, via the humor of Swami Beyondananda, followed by an exploration of next steps. It was also announced that videos of the plenaries will be posted within the next couple weeks on the conference website: There will also be footage of many of the workshops and panel discussions available soon. We will also report on some of them in future posts.

The five-day event marked a watershed in economic thinking. By bringing together leaders and practitioners in transformative economic practices, new collaborations and projects were already developing before the end of the conference. As one participant said, “It is amazing when you bring 200 people together for five days to talk about money. When else has that ever happened?”

John Bloom is the Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.  If you enjoyed this post, look for John’s recently published book, The Genius of Money, now available from

**Watch for Part II of this blog post in the coming days, where John will reflect on some of the workshops and panel discussions from The Economics of Peace conference.

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