After working 17 years in the financial markets, I began to realize a difference between trading value (what I was doing) versus creating value. Creating value represented the opportunity to make an improvement and provide a long-term benefit to this world beyond my own needs. I initially perceived that the only way to do good was using investments in the stock market as a tool to make money and then donating that money to a worthy cause. Now I know that’s not the case, but it took changing course personally and professionally to understand that. The first step in my personal transformation was getting involved with and thus more aware of social and environmental issues. I joined a sustainability committee at the school our sons attended. I also became involved with my congregation and started making more conscious lifestyle decisions with my family, such as consuming healthy food. Through these experiences I gained more awareness of the social, environmental and economic impacts of my choices.
The next seemingly appropriate project to tackle was energy efficiency work on our own home. This included installing solar panels and making conservation choices. These steps cut our utility consumption in half. Spurred by this result, I decided to develop and invest in a couple of small-scale solar projects in New Jersey. I also became co-chair of my town’s sustainability committee to help inform neighbors about sustainable living choices.
Around the same time in 2009, I attended a talk by Woody Tasch, founder and chairman of Slow Money about his then new investment philosophy—investing in small food businesses with the aim of strengthening local economies and fundamentally shifting our approach to farming and finance. There was an amazing energy in the room. People were buzzing about opportunities to invest in local food systems. This inspired me to help cultivate conversations with groups that were active in the same area. In 2011, I became the co-chair of Slow Money NYC with Derek Denkla. The focus of the group is to catalyze funding for regional sustainable farm and food businesses.
My involvement with Slow Money caused me to take a step back and think about my relationship with money, and to contemplate changes I’d like to be part of making. With all the technology available to us today, it’s hard to be still and reflective, yet it is essential to be present and mindful. Keeping one’s money disconnected from one’s values is counterproductive and negatively affects our personal and collective health and wellbeing. By taking a long-term view of my own power to make changes that are in line with my values, I’ve been able to utilize my resources to support relationships and topics that I care about.
I wanted to be part of transforming the way people think about their relationships with money and their food, while having a better understanding of their living environment and home. In order to work with others in aligning all types of capital with food, economy and health, I established my own company,Talgra to share a different approach of how we can invest and create value. While primarily a consulting company, we also selectively make direct investments as part of our focus and learning process. For example, our first investment was in The Carrot Project, which develops funding opportunities to small and mid-sized farms in the Northeast.
I faced two challenges in deepening my own understanding and helping others to get started. First, there was a lot of information to process, especially for a newcomer. Second, I could not find a resource that linked how all the social responsibility and investing topics and resources were related to one another, which would have made learning about it a lot easier. To assist others who would be interested in these projects as I was, I created Invest with Values (formerly the Money and Impact Investing Directory). It’s a free educational website that gives people one-click access to over 300 resources focused on investing more intentionally, including opportunities such as impact investing. It has been a labor of love, a sort of “pay it forward gesture.” I hope it continues to serve as a resource for anyone seeking to align their money and values, including financial advisors and investors who want good returns and positive change.
On a personal note, my sons are my biggest sources of learning. They inspire me to think about the person I want to be and the impact I can have. Besides helping others connect and investing with my values, I want to contribute by helping create a world that I want to leave behind for my sons. What does success look like for me these days? It’s time with my wife Alka, who’s been my best friend since high school, and my three sons. It’s creating wonderful dinners, especially around the Jewish holidays, whether at my mother’s house or ours. It’s celebrating Hindu holidays with Alka’s family. It’s doing more yoga and meditation. It’s celebrating life with endearing friends. It’s being sillier and having more humor.
My advice to others is to slow down—with both your money and life. It’s very challenging and at the same time incredibly rewarding. Anyone can get started in impact investing. Think about your values and what is important to you, set the intention, formulate some action, take it slowly, and keep your sense of humor. Investing in sustainability and community is an evolving process that requires global thinking and personal engagement.