Joe Solomon is a long-time member of our community, having started in his early days as a founding member of what was then Social Venture Network (SVN). Since then, he has invested in numerous companies such as Stonyfield, Seventh Generation, Happy Planet, Guayaki, Greyston Bakery, Hollyhock and more. Today, he is a founding partner of Renewal Funds, a mission venture capital firm investing in early stage companies throughout the United States and Canada. He is also the author of the book,“The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose & Capitalism”. Self-described as a “social activist dressed as a venture capitalist”, Joe is a thought leader in what he calls “social change investments”. Read on to learn more about his approach to investing with intention:
Tell us about the genesis of Renewal Funds. What is the story of its origins, and what was the inspiration behind it?
At the founding meeting of what was then SVN (Social Venture Network) at Gold Lake in the Colorado Mountains, 40 of us gathered after being called together by Wayne Silby (Founder of Calvert Funds) and Josh Mailman (co-founder of Threshold Foundation and Sirius Investments). I brought my pal, Jon Kinsey, who would become the future Mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, my hometown! (Later, I also brought Gregor Robertson, the iconic climate and reconciliation Mayor of Vancouver. As you can tell, I like meaningful politicians a lot!)
I was in my early thirties then. Meeting the norm-breaking entrepreneurs intentional about turning business into a force for good was powerfully inspiring to my heart and mind. The inspiration to look at capitalism in an innovative, new way ignited a lifelong passion for these new models. I have since made “yes” decisions to invest in over 100 early stage companies.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of us across the landscape, making the best use of business that we can, all for the long-term well-being of a clean, just and safe economy.
Sure, we are job creators. But it’s deeper than that. It’s a social change investing strategy. And it’s working. Long and slow, and now spreading rapidly to communities everywhere.
You’ve been a long time member of SVN/SVC. Can you share a story about some of the specific things that happened during your involvement with SVN/SVC that led you into the work you’re doing today?
Literally sitting at the knees of iconic, unconventional and idealistic pragmatists like Anita Roddick, Ben & Jerry, Linda Mason, Jeffrey Hollender, Van Jones, Rebecca Adamson, Linda Goldstein, Bernie Glassman, Jody Weiss, Ram Dass, and hundreds more over the years, convinced me that this way of thinking was simply the norm!
I began with modest investments in companies like Stonyfield, Seventh Generation, Happy Planet, Guayaki, Greyston Bakery, Hollyhock, Tides Canada, TerraCycle, RSF, Lunapads, and the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest conservation development initiative in planetary history.
It modeled empowerment of indigenous nations, with sustainable economic development alongside the protection of the (Canadian) coastal temperate rainforest region-one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. Tzeporah Berman, a powerful activist who perfected the “markets campaign” strategy of unveiling bad actor corporate brands as a markets-based change tool, offered a riveting keynote at one SVC event.
Seeing this led me to a long relationship as a co-visionary with the extraordinary principal Carol Newell. My job was to lead the strategy and implementation of deploying serious millions for an integrated capital- a social-change investing strategy in British Columbia. This strategy supported a demonstration of how money could be a powerful tool for change.
We held the metaphor of a 500-year intention paired with a 50 year strategy, because we knew that the colonial genocide we were unwitting beneficiary heirs to, required us to learn new, reparations commitments executed through thoughtful investments.
You speak about the concept of social change and reparations investing. How are these different from impact investing, and what is your definition of both terms?
Those terms intend to cause questions that push us all further. You each should define the meaning. Words can be magical!
We’ve collectively established that business, finance and money, can be tools for decolonization, or at least making initial important steps towards the ideal.
I invite us to now move beyond the “impact” investing model, and repair, redistribute and push for fair taxation, social safety nets, demilitarization, population rate taming, with fierce protection of the commons, life cycle responsibility for manufacturing, and a rapid overhaul of our carbon based economy, reinvigorating local economies and a just climate solution.
Renewal Funds, the mission venture capital firm that I am a founding partner of along with Carol Newell and Paul Richardson, is now over a decade old. With our 4th fund underway focused on organic food and environmental solutions technologies, it has come time for me, now in my mid sixties, to go deeper into these next wave change tools.
We are all re-learning true intelligence together.
What is your grand vision and mission for the work that you do (Renewal Funds and beyond)?
My book, “The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose & Capitalism”, includes anecdotes from history-making stories I was privileged to have exposure to. In the book, I lay out moral calls-to-action for a civilization on the brink of chaotic disaster. Humans have the ingenuity needed.
There is far more than enough money to solve most problems, and now, we need a spiritual evolution that feminizes, indigenizes, and makes the future economy more inclusive.
Tell us about some of the people you have met and connected with in the SVC network. How have the connections you’ve made here helped you to grow your mission? What do you feel is special about this particular community?
SVC gave me the community of practice that led to numerous other emerging communities of practice. And wow, we need a lot of practice!
The SVC community seeded my model for agitating, activating, and influencing the peaceful revolution that will make the future proud of us.
We must be the ancestors who shift towards a soft landing for civilization, with a just society and thriving ecology, that sustains human consciousness centuries into the future.
Let’s be billionaires of love!
Learn more about Joel Solomon here, and follow him @joelsolomon .