Agents of Impact speak out: “Why I am a globalist”



Long before Donald Trump started using the term, fair trade was a way to certify products so consumers could choose coffee, clothing and snacks grown and produced by workers with decent conditions and living wages.

The original fair trade movement aimed to create a web of trust between farmers and workers “over there” and consumers “here” to create better products, better jobs and better relationships. More connections and more positive impact was a way to cushion or even invert the dislocations of globalization.

The scenes at the U.S.-Mexican border, the waves of migration into Europe, the prospect of a trade war and the accelerating climate disruption make clear there is no ducking global issues. The choices we have are in how we respond. Open, connected and abundant? Or closed, divided and driven by scarcity and fear?

“The border crisis can be seen as the flood stage of many tributaries of crisis that have not been mitigated in communities throughout the world,” writes Clara Miller, president emerita of the F.B. Heron Foundation, below. “Imaginative applied technology, better use of financial tech, investors and companies, and yes, the concerted action of many investors can all help.” 

Even as “globalist” became a political smear, a corps of activists, entrepreneurs, investors has been forging cross-border solutions on trade, migration and the flows of capital. These Agents of Impact represent not an apology for exploitive globalization, but an alternative.

“I am definitely a globalist and see no shame in that term,” said  Ted Levinson of Beneficial Returns, which helps social enterprises get access to debt and credit. Beneficial’s first transaction, earlier this year, was a $500,000 loan to Interrupcion Fair Trade, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., which imports organic and fair trade produce from small farms in Latin America.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”

ImpactAlpha asked a few of our contributors whether they consider themselves “globalists” and why. Below are responses from Lisa Curtis, Randall Kempner, Ross Baird, Astrid Scholz, Antony Bugg-Levine and Clara MillerPlease share yours on our subscriber Slack channel or by dropping a line to editor@impactalpha.com.

Lisa Curtis is the founder of Kuli Kuli, which sources nutrition-rich moringa flour from women-owned co-ops in countries like Ghana and Niger:

I’m a globalist and believe that we’re all globalists, whether we like it or not. You can build walls and detention centers, but the car you drive, building materials in the house you live and much of the food you eat likely came from other countries. I believe in harnessing the power of our interconnected world to create a cultural richness and economic development that drives humanity forward.

Randall Kempner, executive director of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and the author of, “How Small Businesses Are Having Big Impact on Global Goals,” on ImpactAlpha.

Yes, I am a globalist. And so are you. You don’t have a choice. Unless and until we colonize Mars, we all live on one single planet. And the fate of humanity on that planet is increasingly interconnected, and endangered. The flapping of butterfly’s wings in Kansas may or may not cause a tornado in China, but a Chinese national with Avian bird flu and a plane ticket can unintentionally infect a US community in a matter of hours. Cutting down rainforests in Brazil makes the air quality worse in Belize and Berlin. Refugees from Middle Eastern conflicts will land on borders in Europe, North America, and Africa. So, it’s frankly impossible to avoid global issues, even if you want to. As for me, I’d rather try to be part of the solution than sticking my head in the sand.

I have many identities. Shrub and Peaches’ son; Texan; Advocate for Entrepreneurship; Weekend Warriors beer-league softball third baseman. And globalist. I derive joy from sharing elements of my many identities as I travel the world. Elucidating Yankees that there are Democrats from Texas (lots of ‘em). Informing Europeans that not all Texans have a horse or an accent. Helping fellow Americans understand the depth of poverty in many emerging market nations – and to appreciate the incredible resilience and drive of the poor—everywhere.

I am a globalist and a localist, proudly.

Ross Baird, Village Capital, a venture capital firm that has worked on six continents, including North America. Last year, Baird wrote, “After Charlottesville, does impact investing even matter?” on ImpactAlpha.

I think that historically people have viewed globalists as idealists (utopian, naive) while nationalists have been realists. As an American, I believe globalism is being smart and realistic about how the world works, and nativism is naively idealistic at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. In reality, globalism is realism–our economy depends (both supply chain and customer demand) on other economies; the security of our communities depends on economic prosperity in places like the Middle East and Central America; our best companies and our economic growth often depends on the smartest people from countries across the world viewing our universities as places to go.

This obviously gets complicated. Sometimes other countries don’t view the global order as integrated and try to cheat the system. The appropriate response is not to withdraw from the national system but to insist that countries and citizens play fair by the rules. That includes U.S. corporations that are looking the other way when China steals IP. Or U.S. companies that fund political candidates that are fine with parents being separated from their babies at the US border, but also make massive profit margins by employing undocumented workers within the same system.

Astrid Scholz, the “chief everything officer” of Sphaera, which in “From Billions to Trillions,” has laid out a blueprint for collaboration and finance around the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

In an age of planet-sized problems whose resolution goes well beyond the capacity of any one country or institution, national identity is pretty useless as an organizing principle. So yes, I am an unabashed globalist, and one who looks to technology at that, for its unparalleled capacity for facilitating citizens exercising their agency and sovereignty in contributing to the solutions to our planet-sized problems.

We can now disintermediate government, and engage in a kind of collective individualism around a shared set of goals—whether that’s literally the global goals or something else. That individualism should resonate with Americans, since it avoids the pitfalls of top-down internationalism and the specter of UN black helicopters. We already know Americans are susceptible to collective individualism, and have seen it play out in what might be the flip side of globalism, the social media enhanced tribalism of everybody just sitting in their echo chamber.

So yeah, I think there’s room for a positive new narrative that reclaims globalism.

Antony Bugg Levine, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, which works with partners to develop innovative approaches to financing social change. Last year, Bugg-Levine wrote, “Does Impact Investing Matter in the Age of Trump and Brexit? (Or, How I Talked Myself Down From the Ledge),” on ImpactAlpha.

For me, there are two aspects to my global sensibilities: Philosophically, I believe all human beings have intrinsic and equal worth and the same moral claim to a decent life for us and our children. It’s always followed from that belief for me that we should be globalist in how we assess the impact of our work, policies, etc.

Personally, I am an immigrant to the US whose four grandparents were born in four countries on three continents and I did nothing more to deserve the right to American citizenship than the people crossing on foot into Texas today. So privileging national identity has always seemed a bit morally arbitrary to me. That said, my day job is almost entirely about making the United States a better place for all the people who live here. (A quarter of NFF’s 93 staff members are immigrants.)

While it’s arbitrary that I’m here, I do feel that it’s easier to have integrity in our work when we work in our own communities. The danger of globalism is that it often results in practice in a form of colonialism in which people from richer (whiter) countries decide what is best for the poorer (darker) people they are coming to help with work that can be more about the performance of personal redemption than the liberation of the “subject”. And many impact investors often succumb to that danger. In a way, that danger is built into the impact investing project which privileges the owners of capital as the agents of change.

Clara Miller is the president emerita of the F.B. Heron Foundation. She is author of “Transforming the capital markets with impact rigor and disclosure,” on ImpactAlpha.

What the heck is globalism?  Or localism, for that matter?  While I’m personally nostalgic about the 70’s slogan, “think globally, act locally,” it could easily be embraced by people who are not focused on what I think “solving global challenges together” looks like.

In my mind, globalism is an idea—a conceptual tool we can use in framing and re-framing a world view.  And just like more concrete versions of technology, let’s say drugs, or the internet, or cars—this technology is amoral.  It is only as positive or negative, as helpful or harmful, as the people who wield it. And reasonable people can disagree on what that looks like.

Was globalism the flowering of knowledge about the planet or the colonial subjugation of native peoples?  Was it the doctrine of American capitalist hegemony after WWII, or progress against poverty and deprivation around the world?  Yes!

I’m a both/and kind of girl, and I guess the worst thing we can do is to ignore the lessons of history these days.  They tell us that it’s not about concepts or technology alone, but about how they are ingested, questioned, reformulated and applied in real time. Information technology has been Exhibit A for this, and possibly globalism is Exhibit B.

The application requires a constant, small-bore friction which is the essence of community, whether it be global, local or somewhere in between. Standing up against the mainstream current and fiercely debating and fighting, alongside fellowship and integration—whether ecological, social or political—means that we can be both idealistic (“globalism is the route to world peace!) and pragmatic (“globalism is going to undercut small farms and favor overscaling, and we must solve for that”).  The problem of globalism is about the why and the how.

I don’t think we can solve wicked problems by acclamation of a central truth by all (generally, that leads to a scary place).  It’s much more fiddly and boring: the difficult work of balancing and re-balancing; self-doubt, conversation and consensus; the constant chafing of individuals against one another in the day-to-day.  The border crisis can be seen as the flood stage of many tributaries of crisis that have not been mitigated in communities throughout the world. Imaginative applied technology, better use of financial tech, investors and companies, and yes, the concerted action of many investors can all help.

At the end of the day, globalism will be realized though relationships, communities and other mitigants of fear.  On second thought, there is one central truth I could accept: the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Are you a globalist?  Why or why not? Please share your thought on our subscriber Slack channel or by dropping a line to editor@impactalpha.com


Disclosure: The Heron Foundation is a financial supporter of ImpactAlpha.

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