Toward a Practical Theology of Capital (a layman's version)
Impact investing from a Christian perspective necessitates a deep understanding of what the bible says about the issues involved – namely, how to invest, where to invest, and for what purpose. Seems obvious as I write it, and yet prior to last week, “develop a workable theology of capital” was nowhere near the top of my to-do list.
We're far from expert at this stuff, but we at least want to enter (or start) the conversation. A 15-minute Google search suggested this isn’t a conversation happening very many places yet.
There’s a lot out there about topics related to theology of capital:
- theology of work (hint: it's worship. Institute of Faith Work and Economics)
- theology of business in general (partnership with God for human flourishing. Eventide Funds)
- interpreting “capital” as the intangible aspects of our lives (e.g. talking about the parable of the talents as if it doesn’t have to do with money)
- what the bible says about our relationship with money and philanthropy (turns out it says a lot about this. Generous Giving, National Christian Foundation, Crown Financial Ministries)
- how our Christian principles influence the way we invest.
But none of these quite address the questions related to what the Bible teaches about investing financial capital. Questions like:
How much return should we expect (is the idea of extracting a 45% IRR in contradiction to the prohibition against usury or is it just shrewd business)?
Should we only invest in companies run by christians (if not, what about the admonition against being unequally yoked)?
Do we always need to seek social/spiritual impact along with financial return? Or is making money for retirement or future giving a sufficient goal?
If it’s true that God designs business as a means of accomplishing His purposes in the world, then we ought to flow upstream and consider what implications this has for the capital that is invested in those businesses.
At an event in Silicon Valley hosted by Praxis before their Business Accelerator Finale, I heard a very successful venture capital investor talk about pursuing a theology of capital that is at once fully secular and fully sacred. Fully secular in the sense that his firm wants to make great financial investments with world-class sourcing, due diligence, structure, management, and exit. Excellence honors God and also earns the right to influence for Christ company founders and other investors. This influence is the fully sacred aspect of his theology statement.
This VC investor explained that he arrived at this idea through a month-long personal study of the book of Daniel, a story about a believer serving secular kings in a secular culture. I guess that's where I'll start.
What else should I read? Who's writing about this? Where can I look to study well on these topics? I appreciate your insights.
Pete Ochs" business Seat King exemplifies the best of "Redemptive Business" as a means of creating jobs and transforming lives.
Expanding on traditional Evangelism/Discipleship, the idea of Redemptive Business borrows heavily from Praxis Labs’ concept of a “redemptive entrepreneur”, or one who seeks to embody the gospel in creating and building a venture that leaves a meaningful impact on the world.
In the first 18 months of Impact Foundation, we have place $30 Million in 53 Impact Companies, spanning the globe from Silicon Valley to Laos. The impact of those investments encompasses most of the main categories of transformation sought by traditional charity plus a few areas that charity cannot reach. Read about the causes and places that our investments seeks to transform.
Some of our more devoted followers may have noticed that some months ago Impact Foundation and Olive Tree Investments joined forces. If you haven't noticed, or are confused by the combination, this blog is for you.
It’s a natural fit as both groups put charitable capital to work in enterprises that seek measurable social and kingdom transformation while earning money. Impact Foundation offers donors a flexible tool for charitable investment, while Olive Tree searches the globe for the best transformative businesses in emerging markets.
We are excited to welcome Steve Doerr to the team. He recently retired as an executive at ExxonMobil after more than 27 years. As Chief Operating Officer, Steve will help us shore up Impact Foundation's infrastructure and position us for the next phases of growth.
Steve has extensive experience managing diverse global portfolios and has lived and worked in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa as well as the US.
In the spring of 1984 my wife and I were standing in a field in Guatemala on an insight trip led by Opportunity International. I understood for the first time the power of business to accelerate the Great Commandment. I knew empirically and from experience that charity alone cannot eliminate extreme poverty; it's a critical piece of the puzzle, but insufficient on its own. That moment in Guatemala crystallized for me the desire to devote my life to serving the poor with sustainable, finance-driven solutions: not just to make the poor a little less poor but to partner with God in His work of redeeming the world and spreading the hope of the gospel.
I was 17 when my dad died. It was sudden and deeply disorienting. Those days and weeks immediately afterward were a dense fog of grief and cleanup. He died without a will or estate plan (mainly because he had nothing to plan).
As the youngest of 5 kids and the only one still living at home without an adult job, I received the largest "inheritance".
Part 2 in our "Defining and Measuring Series"
"I own a company and I'm a Christian. Does that mean you can invest in my company?" - We get a version of this question at least once a week at Impact Foundation. Consequently, we've spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to say deploy capital for social and spiritual impact alongside financial gain. Is it enough to have "christian" management? Must the organization sell "spiritual" goods or services?
Part 1 in our "Defining and Measuring Series"
To reach broader adoption, kingdom impact investing needs a unified definition and a basic set of metrics to help determine if it works. Over the next few blogs, we'll explore these issues but first can't we find a better phrase?
"Kingdom" in our usage refers to the kingdom of God, as Jesus described it in His teachings. Not every follower of Jesus is comfortable with this phrase. For us at Impact Foundation, the hope of this Kingdom drives everything we do. Thus, it seems a suitable adjective to differentiate our version of "impact investing" and the least bad option.
part 3 of 3 in our "Defining and Measuring Series"
Tracking performance of investments to determine if we're meeting our goals for spiritual transformation feels like the holy grail of Kingdom Impact Investing. It’s time to put forth a working version that can be implemented now and improved over time because we have seen the power of Kingdom Impact Investing and want to unleash it for more good.
Sitting between Thailand and Vietnam, the country of Laos is marked by rugged mountains and one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world. This poverty fuels the two largest industries in the Golden Triangle (Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Myanmar): opium trade and human trafficking.
Jobs and the hope of the Gospel - they're needed here perhaps more than anywhere else. Fortunately, the Lao government has been implementing reforms meriting attention from US investors. For those interested in alleviating poverty through sustainable business, it's an attractive place. That it why Laos Agriventure got its start.