How to be a Socially Responsible Investor

Think of a brand you really love.

What makes you love it?

Now think about how they depict women in their marketing? How are they making their product? Who’s running that company? How do they treat their people? Is this something that’s really improving people’s lives?

Think of a brand you love.

Is there a brand that you could get behind, financially, in whatever way is possible for you which matches your values for, let’s say, a safer, healthier society and planet? You can start big or small depending on your means. For example, browse girls’ education projects on Indiegogo or go bigger with Plum Alley or Portfolia. Are you buying from privately held companies that have a purpose beyond profit, where you could also invest directly?

The world I want is filled with companies and organizations that match my values and the priorities of a bigger world. Companies and organizations that are paying attention – and positively acting – on climate change, on access to clean water, healthy oceans, economic security and justice for all people, access to housing, mental health services, nutrition or health care.

I buy from, and am a passionate supporter of, brands like Patagonia, ClifBar, Eileen Fisher, Neals Yard Remedies, Beanfields, Ben and Jerry’s, Method and Seventh Generation. I am obsessed with the intelligence of the “sharing economy” and the “circular economy” – of companies that are optimizing for shared services and resources and seeing the opportunities that come from new business models.

Why own a power tool when I can just access one whenever I need it? Why own a car or a scooter when I can Zipcar or Scoot? And it’s not just products. Why can’t I always vacation with my values, in a place that matches my values of how people, planet, and profit are treated, like PlayaViva? (Transparency note: I’m an investor!) And then invest with those same values?

I started my career in the corporate world (in marketing and new media, at IBM), became an entrepreneur, and then an angel investor, in the U.S. Now I split my time between the United States and the United Kingdom. I’ve been a long-time member (and for a short-time, interim CEO) of an angel network called Investors’ Circle in the US, and I also started a group of angel investors who invest for social impact and financial return, called Clearly Social Angels in the U.K.

I passionately believe that we must invest in the world we all want, across every asset class that we can. And that the best way to ensure that the next Body Shop, Ben and Jerry’s, and Stonyfield Farms Yogurt (or Preserve, which makes fabulous products from their recycled yogurt containers) is to invest in (and start!) those companies ourselves. And to use our power as investors not only to potentially make good money (I could write a lot about what I think is “good money” and I’d ask you just to sit with the idea of what you might think is “good money” in all its dimensions), but to influence where women sit around the table of those companies.

When we invest, we can influence not only what a company makes or sells but how it runs its business. That means determining who takes board seats. We can influence management composition. We can influence supply-chain decisions, workforce policies, governance, environmental practices and community engagement.

And when we invest in concert with each other, we have more power, more of a voice and more positive influence. We can ask the questions:

How are women depicted in the company’s advertising or media?

How are women included or leading on decision making?

How are women included and represented as customers, suppliers, partners, distributors, owners?

How is this product being made? (And what happens when we’re done with it?)

As an angel investor, I invest in early stage companies.

An “angel” investor invests her or his own capital, as debt or equity into a company when that company needs the capital – intellectual, social, and financial – to prove their business model, test their product proposition, refine their marketing and sales approach. (Click here to read more on what determines an accredited investor.) We get the privilege – and sometimes the pain – of investing when it’s pretty risky, when it’s almost guaranteed there will be ups and downs, lessons learned, brilliant successes and heartbreaking failures.

Why would we do this? Why are so many of you already doing this? Because we want to solve problems. We’re often in the best position to see the solutions for problems we see, and we see opportunities.

Angel investing is not for the faint of heart, or the person who can’t deal with risk around their investing. But if that can be you, come on. The world needs you.

Suzanne Biegel is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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