ImpactAlpha, October 23 – The annual SOCAP conference kicks off today in San Francisco with the promise of honest self-criticism and actionable practices around diversity, equity and inclusion. Post-George Floyd pledges have been only partially fulfilled, at best; DEI has become a lightning rod in the broader backlash against ESG, as race and justice are implicated across environmental, social and especially governance factors.
“This year, we’re actually seeing a lot of that attention is waning,” says Joanna Kuang of Illumen Capital, who will kickoff the “Full Spectrum DEI” track with ImpactAlpha’s Amy Cortese at SOCAP’s opening this morning.
What now? And what’s next?
SOCAP’s theme, “Facing Urgency” recognizes that impact happens “at the speed of trust.” Impact investors don’t get a free pass. SOCAP planners vowed to take “a critical look at the evolving language, standards, and measurement of DEI among impact investors.” The challenge, Kuang says: “Scale strategies that work to increase diversity and also increase equity and inclusion.”
DEI done better
Six major DEI panels will address child-lens investing, the disability wealth gap, and impact in aging. SOCAP planners aim to move the DEI discussion beyond diversity trainings and racial audits to actual equity outcomes.
“Kids learn better when they see themselves in the folks that are teaching them, and for that to be true, the people at the companies that are creating [learning] products need to have diverse perspectives as well,” says Owl Capital’s Malvika Bhagwat.
Changing who, what and where get investments requires diversity of thinking, says Bronze Capital’s Stephen DeBerry, whose “Eastside” TED talk has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.
Changing who does the investing changes what gets funded, says Noramay Cadena of Supply Change Capital, an early-stage food investor and part of Illumen Capital’s fund of funds.
Bhagwhat, DeBerry and Cadena will join David Bank for “DEI Done Well,” Tuesday at 10:30 PT.
Equity, of course, means ownership as well as justice. That means not just higher wages and better benefits, but ownership stakes in businesses, in homes and commercial buildings, and in retirement and financial assets.
Predistributive strategies build justice and wealth creation into the growth engines themselves, in contrast to merely redistributing wealth after it’s created, for example through taxes or charity.
“If we want to have a more regenerative economy, we need a financial system at the scale of that economy,” says Taj James of Full Spectrum Capital Partners.
Full Spectrum has involved Indigenous communities in the design of a global biodiversity fund with Conservation International that includes a 30% asset transfer to Native communities.
“Those are returns that would otherwise go to LPs and GPs,” says James.
SOCAP’s focus on “Full Spectrum DEI” aims to take into account genders, ethnicities, orientations, abilities, generations, backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, experiences, affiliations, and work styles. Making the practice so broad may blur the focus on core issues of racial justice.
The legal attacks on Atlanta-based Fearless Fund’s grant program for Black female entrepreneurs has brought the issue into sharp relief.
“We got here because of generations of discrimination on the basis of race, and we cannot fix that through race-neutral programs,” Gary Community Ventures Santhosh Ramdoss tells ImpactAlpha.
DEI is only the beginning.
“How do we keep an eye toward liberation, which everyone deserves?” says TIIP’s managing director Monique Aiken, an ImpactAlpha contributing editor. “How can focus, collaboration and solidarity give us energy for the long walk to freedom?”