Want to harness the power of your dollars to build wealth and bring about the change you want to see in the world, but not sure where to start? Janine Firpo’s new book Activate Your Money: Grow Your Wealth and Build a Better World may be the resource you’ve been waiting for. Janine wrote the book to empower women to grow their money while serving their communities, supporting other women, and improving the world by investing in what matters to them. Men of course can benefit as well from the resources gathered in this book.
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I’m particularly excited about this book because now I can say I’m a published author – sort of – which is a good thing because my own book I’m working on is languishing in my Google Drive as I continue to get distracted by other tasks, the beautiful weather, and truth be told a disdain for writing long texts (kind of ironic for a blogger). Almost one hundred fifty women (and a few men) contributed to Activate Your Money, including me. I submitted information on self-directed retirement accounts because I find them to be a particularly effective way to invest my money in the more socially conscious investments percolating outside Wall Street.
Like me Janine spent time overseas working to address poverty and realized that her own money and investments were working to negate the hard work she was doing while employed by the World Bank and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In this interview she shares more of the details of her own story and how that all culminated in her new book.
1) Tell us a little bit about your personal as well as your professional background and how they led to your interest in impact investing.
There were two factors that led to my interest in what I call values-aligned investing. First, I made a conscious and explicit decision in my life to shift my work to ensure it made a difference in the world. That decision led to a 20+ year career in international development and poverty reduction. As a result of that choice, I was able to participate in many of the conversations taking place in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s/early 2000s about what became known as impact investing. While I was attending the Global Philanthropy Forum over a decade ago, I had a bit of an epiphany and that led to the second aspect of my interest. I realized that while I had made huge changes in my work life to align with my values, my money was invested in companies that were contributing to many of the problems I was trying to solve. At that moment, I made a commitment to myself to align all of my finances with my values.
2) So you do not have a professional background in finance. How did you teach yourself about and gain confidence with impact investing?
Before I gained confidence in values-aligned investing, I had to gain confidence in investing. I first started learning about investing from my mom. She taught me about real estate when I was still in middle school, and then about the stock market when she started investing there in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, I was in a women-only investment club in San Francisco that was called Fog Bank. About 12 women got together once a month for dinner, socializing, and study. Together, we taught ourselves how to invest successfully in the stock market. Since then, I have been in two more investment clubs, and I have learned from all of them. They helped me build my investment muscles and confidence.
Around the time I decided I wanted to invest in alignment with my values, I realized that I was too busy to do all the work alone, so I looked for a financial advisor who could help me. That was a journey in its own way, but I have now settled on an approach that works for me. In essence, I have split my assets between a few advisors who I use as my teachers. To this day, they help me learn.
3) Why have you chosen to focus your efforts on impact investing for women?
There are a few reasons. The first goes back to investing at large, women by and large have been left out of most financial conversations and many of us don’t feel heard by our advisors or by the finance industry. More than 75% of advisors are men. A tiny fraction of investment funds are managed by women. Less than 3% of venture capital goes to female CEOs. And the metrics on all of those things are even worse when it comes to women of color. Furthermore, only 9% of us think they’re better investors than men, yet when we do invest, we outperform men. The list goes on.
When it comes to values-alignment, research by Morgan Stanley shows that 84% of women want to invest their money in alignment with their values, but they don’t know how.
I wanted to address both of those issues by helping women can the skills and knowledge they need to take control of their money, build their confidence as investors, and put their money to work in the things they care about.
4) What was the genesis of the book Activate Your Money. Why did you decide to spearhead this project and make it a reality?
Although there is a lot of information about investing – and even some about values-aligned investing on the web – it is highly disbursed. It is difficult to know where to start, how to track it down, or how to decipher what is most valuable. I wanted to take the knowledge that I had built over decades, combine it with the experience of women I know who are professionals in finance and provide it all in one place, so it was easy to find and learn from.
The book is a foundational element for my continued work to help women become more confident investors. Activate Your Money will launch with a companion website that points to additional resources, contains downloadable tools, and offers training videos to further women’s knowledge. And there will be a freely available curriculum that women can use to start and run their own investment clubs, because my experience has shown that is a fun, engaging, and successful way to learn. I want women to have all the tools they need to move from knowledge to action because if enough of us move our money into the things we care about – our communities, empowering other women, supporting female-centric products & services, and leaving a better world for our children and grandchildren – we can change the economy to a more sustainable, equitable model.
5) How have you personally gone about aligning your money and other financial assets with your values?
As I mentioned earlier, I started with financial advisors who were dedicated to impact investing, and they got me part of the way to where I wanted to be. However, none of them helped me achieve the 100% values-alignment that I wanted to attain. About three years ago, I retired from my international career. At that time, I took some of my assets back under my own management and I have been steadily moving them closer to the vision that I have of a fully values-aligned portfolio. I started by re-establishing my asset allocations, figuring out where I was over and under-allocated, and then started making decisions about where I wanted to invest – asset class by asset class. Many of my assets are now aligned. My next area of exploration is real estate and how I can put the money I have in that asset class to work creating a better world.
6) In addition to reading Activate Your Money how do you suggest non-accredited (i.e. not wealthy) investors get started with impact investing?
The first thing you can do is think about your cash. In other words, your checking and savings accounts. Anyone can be more conscious about the financial institutions where they bank. Anyone can choose to move this money from banks that are not transparent about how they use our cash to institutions that support our local communities, minority populations, the environment, small farmers, or other underserved groups. (Here’s an earlier post from this blog about impact banking and putting our money to work in under-resourced communities while it “sleeps.”)
Then you can move asset class by asset class to look at how you are invested in the public markets – stocks and bonds. There are already a lot of values-aligned options in both of those categories and more are emerging all the time.
All non-accredited investors can also participate in private investing through crowdfunding platforms. And they can specialize in sustainable real estate, water, alternative energy, and other targeted verticals through the stock market. Those non-accredited investors like yourself with self-directed retirement accounts have all these options too, but they also have a much broader world of investing opportunities available to them. And accredited investors have access to an even wider array of investments.
Activate Your Money describes investment opportunities that are available today to both accredited and non-accredited investors. There are a lot more possibilities than most people realize.
7) What have been some of your greatest take-aways or observations from diving down the rabbit hole of impact investing?
I have learned that although impact investing has previously been targeted towards wealthy individuals, it no longer has to be that way. Anyone can invest in a way that aligns with their values – even if all they have as an investor is a bank account.
Through a series of experiments with my own investments, I have proven for myself that I don’t have to give up financial return to invest with my values. But you don’t have to take my word for it. There are now a few decades of research that shows you can do as well, if not better, with a values-aligned portfolio.
And, there is a deep sense of satisfaction and integrity that comes from knowing that my money is doing good in the world. It makes my money much more meaningful to me. If you invest in a way that’s doing good in the world it changes the way you look at your money and changes the way you look at yourself.
8) What do you see happening with values aligned investing in the future?
Eventually there will not be an investing AND. Values aligned investing will be the only way people invest. We are going to recognize that our money is having an impact for good or for ill and we have the opportunity to choose.
Have you already started to activate your money to build a better world? If so, share your story in the comments below to inspire others to begin to do the same.
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