Photography: Ryan Hafey
“I left conventional finance because it was dominated by the head. I escaped into the starry desert to be freed by my heart. And I found my home with impact investing because it balances the two.”
Truth be told, the quality of my financial investment decisions is directly proportional to how much time I spend on the floor, not behind a desk. Strange, yes, and I will explain.
I entered the world of finance through its conventional doors and worked long hours alongside my colleagues. Despite my efforts to impress the boss and fit the role, my relationship with traditional finance quickly began to reveal its incompatibilities. I clearly recall falling asleep at my desk after lunch one day, which admittedly, had been occurring more and more often (disclaimer: I’m Italian and come from a family of diehard siesta advocates). I abruptly awoke to my boss tapping me on the shoulder, saying, “Gino, I don’t know if this place is for you….”
Little did I know then how much that tap on the shoulder would help me find my path. I left conventional financial investing nearly as fast as I entered it and spent time doing plenty of soul-searching underneath large swaths of stars in the endless deserts of Nevada. While I’d always had a mind for finance and an interest in the power that capital can wield, I was disappointed with its uninspired applications. I had naively expected to be working alongside game changers—people who were leveraging their wealth to support innovative and urgent solutions. Instead, I encountered an endless stream of reports analyzing potential payouts.
I told myself there must be more to life than measuring success through a spreadsheet and through a series of synchronistic encounters I was introduced to the world of impact investing and some inspiring players in the field. It was love at first sight; a sincere partnership between the powers of commerce and wisdom of the heart. The leaders in this field were like none other I had encountered in traditional finance: a unique blend of passion, sincerity, wealth and humility. I immediately jumped on board.
Impact investing (also called socially responsible investing or SRI) aims at exactly what it sounds like: creating a positive impact along with a financial return. The need for impact investing, for financial support of social, environmental and political solutions extending beyond the reach of the not-for-profit model, is clear. Our global problems are pressing us to create innovations in every industry, from every angle. The logic is compelling enough, but from my interactions with many impact investors, it’s surprisingly not what convinces them to convert their entire portfolios into SRIs.
Many of us have figured out (especially those of us who have encountered large sums of money) that we actually aren’t looking for more wealth. We’re looking for fulfillment.
This is where the humanity of money surfaces. Even though impact investments often produce market-rate returns, they offer an entirely new level of value that conventional investments are sorely lacking in—they keep investors connected with the actual ventures and entrepreneurs using the capital for good.
Which brings me back to the floor. The Irish poet James Stephen once said, “You must be fit to give before you are fit to receive;” and while many of us will nod our heads to this age-old wisdom, how many of us actually live it? Personally, this “give first” notion lingered in my awareness for years, but it wasn’t until my thirties that I finally realized the depth of its truth. I began to see how my sense of purpose, my relationships, my business decisions, and the way I directed my energy (including my money) all reflected how connected I was with myself. How “fit I was to give or receive” in the first place.
“You must be fit to give before you are fit to receive.”
As an impact investor, I’ve clearly seen how important it is for me to make time for grounding into who I am and what I am here for. To actively blend my inner and outer landscapes so I can actually support and invest in the causes and entrepreneurs I’m passionate about. I often refer to this more mindful approach to investing as “embodied investing,” as it relies on a complete embodiment of our values.
When we learn to embody and act our values instead of just analyzing or speaking about them, their inherent power is realized. By committing to a regular practice of self-reflection, we begin to tailor ourselves into potent agents of change. This is true for everyone, of course, not just investors. But as investors, we’re in a unique position to leverage our pursuits with increased momentum—with energy, in the form of money.
In his book “The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose, and Capitalism,” Joel Solomon insightfully points out, “Those who handle large sums of money are stewards with monumental responsibilities.” For better or for worse, money wields exceptional power over nearly every area of human activity. It’s an energy that can quickly manifest our intentions into material form, with regenerative or destructive results. In the same way, our hands can create or destroy, money also serves as an extension of our being. If we haven’t spent time clarifying our relationship with it, our own purpose and values, and the goal of our cumulative actions, the impact we will make is diluted at best and harmful at worst.
Beyond the charts, metrics and powerpoint presentations about the potential impact our investments could make is the real question of our personal and financial capital’s strength: How deep is our well? Not how much do we have to give, but how much are we ready and capable to give? Have we aligned so deeply with our sense of purpose that the risks associated with social enterprises pale in comparison to the potential for significant change? Have we mined our personality for resistance to vulnerability? Do we value the time needed to care for our own mental, emotional, physical and spiritual balance? Our daily lives answer these questions better than our minds can.
The most attractive aspect of impact investing for me has always been its vulnerability. From my first encounter with other impact investors to dealing with the mission-centered businesses allied with us, there has always been a strong trend of humble acknowledgment. Of knowing what the odds are, what the mainstream wants, but choosing some higher ground anyhow. It’s this openness that calls forward the hearts of people who may not be used to sharing them. It asks for vulnerability, in exchange for measurable and life-altering impact.
“It asks for vulnerability, in exchange for measurable and life-altering impact.”
I left conventional finance because it was dominated by the head. I escaped into the starry desert to be freed by my heart. And I found my home with impact investing because it balances the two.
We can supercharge our minds with a double cappuccino (for a bit), but we can’t so easily fool the needs of the heart. As we invest in our own purpose and connect it to our professions, we can expect to see internal and external impacts as a result. This is an investment strategy for our portfolios and for a life well lived. For all of us, it’s an investment in fulfillment.
Gino is a partner and director of Impact at OpenPath Investments, which is transforming ordinary apartment complexes into thriving communities via their Urban Village program. Their portfolio consists of over 3,000 units and has a current value of more than $400 million. Gino speaks and teaches about impact investing, multi-family real estate, community, wealth and stewardship, most recently speaking at TEDx University of Nevada. When Gino is not impact investing, you can find him barefoot in his garden. You can connect with Gino on Twitter @MakingMoneyMore.