June 25th, 2015
Giving & Investing Towards Just & Sustainable Environment for All
I grew up in a liberal Jewish household in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My father, also Joel Solomon, was a pioneer and social innovator in his time. As a Jewish man dealing with the prejudices of the South in the fifties and sixties, the local business world closed its doors to him; so he invented his own workaround by partnering with national chain-stores that were more racially and ethnically open-minded. He made his fortune developing shopping malls.
My mother, Rosalind Fox Solomon, is a renowned photographer - hers was the first one-woman photography exhibit by a living woman at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)— and I was deeply affected by my travels with her, whether to New York City or low-income rural areas. At home she insisted on an active dinner table life, discussing the pressing issues of the day, which often related to civil rights. During the tense desegregation era in the South, she organized one of the first racially integrated cocktail parties in town, inviting whites, blacks and Jews to mingle together at our home.
In my family it was understood that you have to take care of your community and you have to give back. That was a big influence on my approach to business and investment.
There are many other reasons I ended up doing what I do with mission-based investing and philanthropy. A big one was being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD)—an inherited, incurable and potentially fatal condition— in my mid-twenties. Like being whacked with a Zen master’s stick, my diagnosis spurred me to leave behind a budding political career in the Jimmy Carter White House, and to think clearly and urgently about what was most important to me in life. That led me, among other places, to spend a good deal of time on the wild coast of British Columbia.
My father died when I was 31 and I inherited $3 million, mostly in illiquid assets. I was uncertain where to start learning about investing and giving so I joined the Threshold Foundation, a progressive community of individuals united through wealth who mobilize money, people and power to create a more just, joyful and sustainable world.
A few years later, with encouragement from friends and colleagues at Threshold—who suggested I was good at giving strategic business advice— I hung out a shingle and offered a 100% satisfaction guarantee. My second client was another Bold Giver, Carol Newell, whom I’d met through Threshold.
Carol and I shared social and environmental interests and a love of British Columbia, and together, we sketched out a 50-year plan and a 500-year vision of the social impact we hoped to catalyze. With Carol’s investment, we launched Renewal, a collection of independent organizations including a charitable foundation (Endswell); a seed-capital investment firm (Renewal Partners Company); PlayBIG, an intimate, inspiring gathering for people with large capital reserves who seek to align their money more fully with their values; and later, an investment firm (Renewal Funds). One of the early entrepreneurs in whom we invested—who went on to become one of my closest friends—was recently re-elected to his third term as Mayor of Vancouver, pursuing an aggressive agenda based on compassion, the creative economy and a vision of Vancouver as “the greenest city in the world.”
We founded the Social Venture Institute(SVI), another dynamic change-maker gathering of entrepreneurs from both business and community-based organizations. SVI supports strategy, leadership skills and fosters a vital community of change agents.
We created Tides Canada, a national public foundation that provides grants to charities addressing inequality and environmental stewardship in Canada. Tides is now a $35 million foundation with over 50 employees.
Renewal was instrumental in evolving Hollyhock on Cortes Island in British Columbia. For 34 years it has been Canada’s leading center for life-long learning in a magical and fairly remote spot, and it offers many, many remarkable programs. I have a special relationship with Hollyhock. There I found my life purpose and my wife, Hollyhock CEO Dana Bass Solomon— and also my kidney. (A co-founder gave me her kidney and saved my life.)
All of these relationships with people and places have taught me that our lives, and the ways we use money in our lives, are about nothing less than love. Our money can and should be used to create more hope, inspiration and love.
We live on borrowed time and borrowed land, and our society at present is borrowing heavily from the future. We must remember the generations of people who went before us who worked hard for what we have today— and to be keenly aware that future generations are watching us.
“To be part of influencing the movement of trillions of dollars from destructive practices into generative practices.” This is my mission statement. I’m pleased to see the increasing momentum in the socially responsible investment movement. The trillions of dollars passing from one generation to the other in the next twenty years are going to continue to accelerate this shift.
The call to action is right now. There is more than enough money on the planet to solve most of our major global challenges, and what we do matters. Our critical choice is to take responsibility for where we place that money. Be mindful of impacts. Care enough about friends, families, and the larger community of this world, to do bold and daring things with your life and money!