by David Laskarzewski via Impact Driven
Joel Solomon is up to something.
Sitting on a stool in front of a room of 100+ like-minded people at the LOHAS Collaboratory, his thick grey-black hair soaking in the morning Boulder sunshine that’s filtering through the windows, Mr. Solomon smiles patiently — make that sublimely — at the minds and hearts settling in to feed on his words.
“I came from money,” begins Mr. Solomon, president of Canada’s largest social venture capital firm, Renewal Partners. “My father was a successful developer who became a pioneer at purchasing land and building strip malls.
“I didn’t think twice about how my dad put food on the table until Joni Mitchell’s song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi,’ hit the airwaves. Suddenly, the idea that my family business was paving over paradise didn’t sit very well with me.
“And so,” continues Mr. Solomon, “I began to question where money comes from, where it goes, and the effects it has on people and the planet. All while growing out both the hair on my face and on my head … I came of age in the 60s after all.
“About this same time, I was diagnosed with something called polycystic kidney disease. It’s in my family history and, when I learned I had it at 22, there was no cure. Only a dialysis machine. Bottom line: the doctors didn’t really know how long I had to live. Believe me, there’s nothing like coming face-to-face with your own mortality to really clarify what’s important to you.
“Fast-forward to today,” quips Mr. Solomon, “and through the miracle of organ donation and organ transplant, I’m happy to report that I’m healthy, well and very grateful and blessed. The thing is, facing the possibility of death was actually very important, very beneficial. Because in short order it became clear what mattered most to me.
“The questions that we ask regularly at our office in Vancouver are: ‘What can we do in the next 50 years that will impact the next 500?’ ‘How can we leverage capital to create competent, collaborative and resilient communities?’ ‘How can we activate the holistic philosophy that has taken over the organic food industry — people care about where their food comes from and how healthy it is. How can we apply these ideals to investing?’ And ‘How do we ensure that ethical, sustainable and responsible investment goes mainstream?’”
Mr. Solomon paused to take a drink of water, allowing his audience a moment to reflect.
Water bottle down, Mr. Solomon’s next words were akin to a poker player showing a winning hand on a card table: “To continue to build the ‘movement’ and prove that a respectable return can be made alongside social good,” says Mr. Solomon, “we are launching Renewal3. With a target rate of returns of 15% over the next 10 years.
“Renewal Funds,” continues Mr. Solomon,” is managed by Paul Richardson, Carol Newell, our cofounder, myself, and Nicole Bradbury and Kate Storey. Roughly two-thirds of our investments are made here in the States with the remaining third in Canada.”
Joel Solomon reaches for his water bottle once more, enjoys the cool refreshment, and recaps both the empty container and his message to his Boulder audience.
“We all can choose where we shop. We can choose what we buy, who we buy it from, who made it, where they made it, and what the impact was of how it was made. That’s the power of your hard-earned dollar. No matter how much or how little money each of us has, what we do with it is an expression of what we care about and our beliefs about the world.
“So,” Mr. Solomon asks rhetorically, “why not have money be more life-giving?
“Let’s use our money to create conditions for more hope, inspiration and love. Because, beneath it all, love is the true nutrient.”
Joel Solomon is Chairman of Renewal Funds, Canada’s largest social venture capital firm. Launching in 2013, Renewal3 and the Instinct Fund now build upon the legacy of aligning money with values established by Renewal2 and Renewal Partners.
Joel serves as a Senior Advisor with RSF Social Finance and speaks frequently throughout North America, including a recent TEDxVancouver talk. He is a founding member of Social Venture Network (SVN), Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the Tides Canada Foundation, and is board chair of Hollyhock.