Gino Borges:    

The Journey to Impact Series is here to tell a different story of impact. While we naturally address some of the landmarks of the journey, this series is designed to create a space for uncovering the emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges and successes along the path of impact. It is less about the outcomes or results of our actions, but rather the human components of what it feels like to operate in the impact world, illuminating one’s inner journey. Today, we welcome Stuart Williams, Founder and Chairman of In Place Impact, a place-based focused company that seeks to eradicate poverty by giving every community stakeholder a seat at the table. He’s also been a catalyst for the College of Charleston in becoming one of the nation’s leading academic institutions offering impact studies. He sits on the Board of Governors as impact expert in residence and he’s an impact advocate for the Center of Entrepreneurship at the College of Charleston. In the early 1990s, Stewart cofounded and was president and CEO of the Strategic Research Institute, which he built into one of the world’s leading business-to-business conference companies. Prior to that he worked in traditional finance in London. A small sideward journey quirk about Stuart is that he also spent a year in New Orleans as a volunteer to support victims of Hurricane Katrina. He has an upcoming book called The Status Quo: The Greatest Pyramid Scheme in History that’s coming out. I want to thank our mutual friend, Jed Emerson for introducing us and making this moment possible. Welcome, Stewart. Take us back to the start of your journey to create institutions, like the Strategic Research Institute, that eventually led to in place impact along with your experience at the College of Charleston. What is the origin or “Aha” moment when you realized that life might be more multidimensional than what you were experiencing at the time?

Stuart Williams:   

I need to go back to the 80s. Old I am, but I need to go back that far. A lifelong friend and I were huge environmental conservationists and through some family associations of his we had a wonderful benefactor who funded some fairly large environmental conservation projects for us in Europe in the ‘80s. I’ll confess that I was in my mid-20s. I really didn’t care much about people. I cared about the planet. I was under this illusion that if there was no planet, there’d be no people. So, why don’t we just save the planet and everyone can figure it out for themselves. We were then brought down to earth with a bump by our biggest benefactor who mandated that we find a way to drive a greater impact for people through our environmental conservation efforts. To say that we were clueless when we were first given that mandate, it would be an understatement. We decided to do the thing that we thought we did best: research to figure out how we could actually do this. Seeing the world through our own lens, we saw sustainability of the world in four different parts. There were four legs of the stool. One was environmental conservation which we were deeply embedded. The second was sustainability as it was back then which really wasn’t much more than recycling. The third was social change architecture, which of course is very prevalent today. The fourth one was something that was very much in its infancy, this thing that I certainly didn’t know about when I first discovered called “socially responsible investing.” We had this idea that if we were to embed all four of those legs of the stool into innovation that we possibly could have the outcome of driving impact for not only the planet but also people. So, that’s what we did! We deliberately embedded socially responsible investing, sustainability, and social change architecture into environmental conservation projects. Whether by luck, divine intervention, or some skill, it actually worked. That gave us a number of things to do. The first one was then to actually challenge other people who had the same purpose as us but were more embedded, such as in social change architecture or in socially responsible investing. We could challenge them to also embed the other three legs of the stool into their innovations. That worked as well. Then, of course, what we were able to do was measure which of those four legs actually had the biggest impact. People may not be surprised to learn that it was the presence of appropriate capital that actually had the most impact. By 1990-91, I was really intrigued by socially responsible investing and the impact that it could potentially have on the world. My idea friend, who today has founded and runs the European Nature Trust, a fantastic organization that works globally, stayed completely wedded to environmental conservation. And, on the other hand, I started this journey down the rabbit hole of socially responsible investing. By 1993, I had met this wonderful woman by the name of Susan Davis who now lives in Ecuador. She and I started building a platform called “Making a Profit While Making a Difference.” I suppose that was the seminal moment that made me realize that capitalism had done a lot of good up until that time. It really had, and it still does. But, it had to be changed. The time was coming for a new paradigm, a new form of more inclusive capitalism. But, I had a real job; I was actually running my own firm that I’d started in New York City. And so, for many years, this had to be a hobby, albeit a very passionate hobby. That was the genesis.

Gino Borges: 

My understanding is that you’re trained in traditional finance. Where did traditional finance and your love for nature bump into each other? How has one informed the other?

Stuart Williams:

I don’t think they did. They were pretty separate. One was to make a living and the other was a true passion. That passion came from the fact that I’ve always been a great believer in the feminine and mother nature. I’ve always had this wonderful connection with the feminine for as long as I can remember actually. I recall in Wales when I was quite young, I was there on a summer holiday and people were cutting down all these trees. I wasn’t old enough probably to understand, but something didn’t sit well with me. I remember asking my parents “why are they cutting down all these trees?” They were cutting them down to make the props for the mineshafts. It wasn’t too long after that that there was a massive storm and a big mudslide that killed a lot of people. It was those types of things that would make me sit back and think that probably was not the right thing to do. Again, too young too truly understand why, but those types of things just kept sitting with me and sitting with me. The more things that I saw the more I became really entrenched in environmental conservation. Having to make a living and get a job, that was just a career path that I chose or fell into my lap if you want. I don’t think the two were connected at all. What was interesting was that I was able to see that money certainly at that stage had zero conscience. I’ve never seen a dollar bill or an English pound make a good or bad decision for itself. When people talk about good capital and bad capital, what they’re really talking about is good people or bad people because the money itself doesn’t make a decision. It’s an inanimate object. It’s the people behind it making the decisions that you could question as good and bad. I don’t think that my parents’ generation, or even people just a little bit older than I, woke up every morning getting ready to go to work and said to themselves, “Now how can I go and screw the planet or humanity today?” I actually don’t think back then that was the case. There was some plausible denial in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but as we’ve progressed through the ‘90s and certainly into this decade all that plausible denial was off the table.

Gino Borges:

Where do you think our awareness around the integration of money, environment, and people is that at this point in time from the viewpoint of deniability? Where are we at right now and where do we need to go?

Stuart Williams: 

It’s a big a problem. We’re at a situation here where we’re being separated as a species. Humanity is being separated, over race, religion, politics, income, sexuality, gender. If you listen to the rhetoric that comes from Capitol Hill or comes from the media, there is a deliberate divide and conquer mentality. We did a study at CFC. If you take a standard deviation of 20 of people, let’s say in Britain who are in the Conservative Party, or in America in the GOP; let’s say that that the extreme is plus 10 on that scale, and the extreme for the Democratic Party or the Labor Party in the UK is minus 10 with zero being completely neutral, impartial, independent, 70% of the people are within six standard deviation points of each other, (i.e. 3 right or 3 left). Now, you’d never know that if you listen to the rhetoric coming from Capitol Hill and the media. The problem is much bigger than the question that you posed to me; however, the question you posed to me is a part of the symptoms of that bigger issue. If we could just find a way for those 70% of people to realize that they’re not that far apart… That nobody with any sense is saying, “Oh, you have to stop being Catholic or you have to stop being Mormon or Jewish or you have to vote Democrat.” Rather, people can stay in their own lanes, still embrace their own personal spirituality, religion, gender, sexuality with recognition that they’re still pretty close and that there are things that we can find common ground so that we can reconnect people again. Once we do that, we’ll start solving the problem that you mentioned.

Gino Borges:  

What’s the role of “place” in being part of that solution and being part of that connection commonality? What I hear you saying is that the middle, who seemingly have similar intentions, have an enormous amount of leverage on the extreme and yet, the middle has been deleveraged by the extreme in terms of really exerting itself forward. What role does “place” play in your effort of impact?

Stuart Williams:  

A dear friend of mine used this analogy. If you’re on an aircraft and there’s a problem you put your oxygen mask on first before you put your child’s on because if you don’t get yours on your child may never get his. She’s absolutely right with that analogy because what tends to happen here is you’ve got a set of people who are saying, “Oh no, no, forget about yourself. You have to think about everybody else.” There’s a part of that that’s true. But, if you don’t actually make your own place sustainable (and by sustainable, I mean economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable), what hope have you got of empowering other people in other parts of the world or other parts of your community to do the same thing? I live just outside Charleston, South Carolina. It’s now rated the number one city in America because of Conde Nast magazine. We get 8 million visitors a year. On the surface, everything looks hunky-dory. We tend to forget that there’s a really abhorrent past with slavery and the hurt of that still remains in our community. We have numerous community segments that are very, very poor. Yet, some of the barrier islands here have maybe some of the most expensive zip codes in the country. Literally a mile away, people don’t have fresh water. When you talk about being “in-place,” we have to actually be in place to empower people to fix the problems that they’re facing. There are two issues I see to when I travel around the world. The first one is that many people believe that you can fix other people’s problems for them. I’m here to tell you that you can’t. Secondarily, they believe that they can fix them from afar. You can’t do that either. The best way to help is to empower people to fix the problems themselves. If you take the time to go into these communities and take a deep dive, what you’ll understand is that the people that live there and face the problems on a day to day basis actually do have the solutions. We’ve just never bothered to trust them, believe in them, or give them any credibility to think that they could actually build an impact focus company to solve the social, economic or environmental problem, but they can. Now, you can’t do that from afar. You have to be in place to build new forms of circular economies, like impact economics, that use inclusive capitalism to give every single stakeholder in that place a seat at the table. Innovations are designed for each of those stakeholder segments that provide “wins” for each stakeholder segment. But, it’s imperative that if one wins, they all win. That to me is truly what in-place or place-based investing or place-based assets means.

Gino Borges:   

What’s an example in your own neighborhood, in the city of Charleston, or within that region that would exemplify the voices and the expressions of all stakeholders being taken in account?

Stuart Williams: 

We took 10 years to build and design a new form of capitalism called impact economics. For the last five years, we’ve embedded it in the community of Charleston, and it’s worked for every stakeholder. People can go to our website and take a look at it. Anyone is welcome to come to Charleston and see how this works. We have brought together the stakeholders with educational institutions, with students, with community residents, with impact entrepreneurs, with impact investors, with corporations, with not-for-profits, with the local governments, and with marginalized community segments. We’ve put that together and it can be replicated anywhere in the world. That is the best example I could give you of using this systems approach in place to help your community grow into something that’s economically, socially and environmentally sustainable for all of its residents instead of just some of them.

Gino Borges: 

Can you paint a picture, a before and after during these 10 years, to give us a sense of how all the stakeholders have been allowed to surface where they weren’t able to surface before?

Stuart Williams: 

Let’s go back even further and then we’ll get to 10 years. It’s worthwhile realizing that if you take the world as a whole over the last 60 years, millions of bright people with big hearts have been giving through government grants, through philanthropy, through charity, et cetera, billions and billions of dollars to fix poverty. And, it now might be worse. Well, why? It wasn’t the intent of anyone that started to go on this journey to fix it. When we did a two-year study into this, we discovered that most innovations or most initiatives focus on fixing an effect instead of a cause. In Charleston, gentrification is an effect. Lack of access to education and healthcare is an effect. Lack of access to suitable transportation to get jobs, access to food, and a high unemployment rate are all effects. It’s rather akin to the medical analogy of a patient dying of a disease but we’re only going to treat the symptoms. If you don’t actually treat the disease, eventually that patient will die. That’s number one. Number two, most initiatives that we found fell under the law of unintended consequence, although not deliberate. We’re actually designed to be “win-lose,” meaning somebody in the community is going to lose if another segment is going to win. In my mind, “win-lose” is actually “lose-lose.” You have to relook at that and think how do you design things that are “win-win.” Another would be the choke points that are preventing top-down capital from finding and funding bottom-up innovation. That includes the government. Unfortunately, I’m not very popular when I say this, it includes a lot of not-for-profits. In two of the studies we did, we found that on average only 9% of the capital released from the top finds its way to the bottom. That’s 9 cents out of every dollar. That’s inefficient. What does it lead to? It leads to narratives being socialized around the top and the bottom that are not true. Because there was no direct line of sight between the top and the bottom, they can’t see each other.

These narratives became pervasive. I’ll give you an example. A narrative that would socialize at the bottom is that the top doesn’t care. They’ve got all this money, and they don’t give any of it to us. I certainly don’t know a family of wealth or a very large corporation that does not donate copious amounts of time, money, energy, and passion to something. Now based upon our personal virtues and values, we can debate what that something is. That narrative that’s socializing around the bottom is not true. Let’s talk about a narrative that socializes around the top, that the people at the bottom are lazy. They don’t want to work and so on. In my experience, that’s also not true. So until you can actually give a direct line of sight, those narratives continue even when they’re not true. One of the things you have to do is unlock those choke points that prevent the top-down capital from funding and scaling these bottom-up innovations and take away the opaqueness between the top and the bottom.

Gino Borges:

What are some tangible examples of choke points that you saw clear up the line of sight for people in your own community?

Stuart Williams:

We saw certain not-for-profits and donations from the top go through the different economic strata until they got to the bottom. When we look at the world in terms of economic demographics, we look at 0.1%, not 1%, but 0.1% at the very top. The next level down is 9.9%. Those are the people that make a fantastic living out of the people that made a fantastic fortune. Then you’ve got 50% below that, which is a big chunk of society who are on a hamster’s wheel charging round every day doing the best that they can, too. Let’s talk about America, affording college, affording health care, et cetera. Admittedly, some people fly off the hamster wheel and go toward the top, and unfortunately some fly off toward the bottom. Then, you’ve got that bottom 40% of what we call the marginalized or disenfranchised people.

When the capital is released from the top at the time, it goes through those different economic strata and there’s not much of it left. We have actually seen that happen. We’ve actually seen donations being made to not-for-profits. We’ve seen government grants being given out where literally 9 cents of every dollar finds its way down. I’m not going to pick on specific not-for-profits. That would be unfair, but I’ll give you a generality. There are issues in this country that you’d have to live under a rock if you didn’t know they were a problem. When $100 is released or donated to a not-for-profit purposed on “fixing,” that’s a really important word here, that problem. This is what happens. $40 or 40% goes to pay admin costs, which is totally fair and totally reasonable. People are working, they need to get paid, and they’ve got to pay utilities, etc.

51% goes to on awareness. Well, everyone already knows it’s a problem. You have to say to yourself, why is that 51% being spent on awareness? If you take a deep dive into that this is what you find. Let’s take problem X, and let’s assume there are 10 not-for-profits in your community focused on that one problem. Let’s assume in your community there’s $100,000 every year from different places that gets donated to fix problem X. Let’s just assume for a minute that all 10 of those not-for-profits split that hundred thousand equally and they’ve all got $10,000 each. That’s not enough money, right? What do they have to do? They have to spend 80% of their time charging around to create more awareness, not on the problem, but on raising more capital so they can fund their not-for-profit, not just not-for-profits or a government initiative.

So what happened? That’s inefficient. Someone else comes along and says, “wait a minute, this is really inefficient.” These 10 not-for-profits are really not doing a great job impacting the actual problem. I know how to do it. I’ll start my own. Now. You have 11 splitting $100,000, and so it goes off. That’s a choke point. Another choke point is a total lack of collaboration. How many people do you know that pull their hair out because you can’t get people to collaborate even though they’re all focused on the same problem? And, what’s the reason we lack in collaboration? A lot of it is ego, to be honest with you. I think a lot of it is, “wait a minute, you know, this is mine. I don’t want to have any potential of the donations that I’m getting going somewhere else or the grants that I’m getting going somewhere else.” There are levels of intellectual arrogance around the world where people will talk about wonderful things but actually never put their feet in the ground and do anything. Then you have the “I can fix it — their problem.” But, we don’t think you can. And, “I can fix it from 3000 miles away.” We don’t think you can. Prior to those 10 years, we went into marginalized communities around the world and held focus groups speaking to 80-somethings in one room from the community and 20-somethings in another room from the same community. Ask them exactly the same questions relating to the choke points that are preventing progress.

The only difference was that the octogenarian group was asked a second set of questions, which was to think back 50 or 60 years to when you were 20 and what were the problems then? When we finished, we put them in the same room and we show the results. In that room, we then had invited the municipal leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, government leaders, philanthropists, et cetera. The sad part was that the answers were almost the same. So today’s 20-somethings we’re seeing the same as today’s 80-somethings. That was sad enough. But, what was really profoundly sad was that, on the honor system, 60 years ago with the same answers as today the only conclusion you can draw from that is that nothing’s changed. Or, you can make an argument that it’s getting worse. That led us down this path of trying to identify what those problems really were. In every instance, we found the root cause of the problem was lack of economic vibrancy. We realize if you could fix economic vibrancy, you could then start to eradicate a lot of the causes. Now, this does not mean that you’re not going to feed a hungry child if that child is hungry. Of course, you’re going to do that. But if you don’t fix the cause, you’ll be feeding that child every day for the rest of his or her life.

Gino Borges:  

What does economic vibrancy look like?

Stuart Williams:    

It means increasing the velocity of capital in marginalized communities where in lots of places it’s zero and in other places it’s very, very slow. You want to do that by empowering the people that live there to do it themselves, to give them the knowledge, information, tools, context, support, and belief so they can put pride back in themselves. They can step forward and build their own small businesses or get hired.

Gino Borges: 

What’s a personal story? Can you ground this concept in a biography of someone in the Charleston community?

Stuart Williams:   

Sharon, a 60-year-old single Gullah Geechee African American lady, wanted to effect change in her community. She wanted to protect the arts, ceremonies, and traditions of the Gullah Geechee community. She came to the free community impact entrepreneurship class with an idea. That idea was to put together a collaborative of Geechee artists that she could fund with very small amounts of money, sort of micro loans, to make their art. She would deal with all the logistics and distribution. She would build the centralized website where everything could be put up, and people could buy them. That lady got funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. That’s just one; I can give you many, many instances because all we did was put belief in that individual and give her what she needed to empower herself. The other big “aha” moment that came from our research was that poverty is actually an economic model. We’ve been narrowly fighting poverty with charity for the last 60 years. I hate to say it, but you may as well take a knife to a gunfight. You can’t win that battle, evidenced by the fact that really not much has changed.

Gino Borges:      

Explain what poverty as an economic model actually means and the implications of that.

Stuart Williams:       

Poverty is driven by economics or the lack thereof. You have flows of capital going on around the world and virtually every community you can think of has its own velocity of capital. For example, Beverly Hills, parts of New York, Greenwich, Connecticut, parts of London, England, there are communities that have very high velocity of capital. If you go into those communities, low and behold, you don’t find food deserts, you don’t find high unemployment or high crime rates, you don’t find gentrification. When you go into communities where the money has been socked out historically, and there’s nothing left, you have a very, very low velocity of capital. That’s when you have all those effects of poverty. The point is that, in our opinion, you have to fix poverty with economics.

We certainly haven’t been able to fix it with charity and philanthropy for the last 60 years. So how would you redesign the economic model? Capitalism is not all bad. You can either be in the camp of “ready, aim, fire” or you’re “ready, fire, aim.” The latter generally results in a lot of collateral damage. “Ready, fire, aim” capitalism is terrible. “Ready, fire, aim” is the hydrocarbon industry, absolutely abhorrent. We have to switch off the spigot tomorrow. What’s the collateral damage of those two things? If you switched off capitalism tomorrow, it would be a total mess. If you shut down every hydrocarbon company tomorrow, as much as I would love to, what happens to the people who are totally reliant on their income and their livelihood from those companies? Now, the “ready, aim, fire” approach is that you put together a long-term solution over a decade or two. Whereas you wind one down, you replace it with something that’s actually more inclusive. The key here for us, at least from the research we’ve done is to say, in-place, how do you actually morph capitalism to keep the good parts and slowly but surely eradicate the bad parts? We think we’ve done that.

Gino Borges:   

You have actually extended your value belief insights into modules of education. I also feel like your work is also trying to increase the velocity of this belief system spreading from a singularity model of economics to a multi-stakeholder model of economics. Take us into this idea of impact economics as an education model, specifically what’s happening at the College of Charleston.

Stuart Williams:     

Five years ago, I showed up to the College of Charleston. I didn’t know anyone. In our new economic model, educational institutions and students are stakeholders, just like other community stakeholders. When we took a deep look at education, we realized that this whole thesis of “Making a Profit While Making a Difference” was not being taught. Within specific classes, it may have been mentioned, but there was nothing truly dedicated to this. Our research had told us, that over the next 50 years, the greatest accumulation of wealth on this planet is likely to be amassed by individuals who innovate solutions for the social, economic, and environmental problems we face. Moreover, the highest and most sustainable corporate returns would be delivered by leaders who really embrace what people call today the leadership and management strategy of profit and purpose. Why aren’t we teaching students this? So, we designed a center for impact studies that would allow students to learn impact entrepreneurship, impact investing, purpose and profit management, integrated reporting, cause marketing, et cetera. I showed up at the College of Charleston and said, I am happy to do this work pro-bono for you. So the first class that we developed was the impact X. It’s a six credit semester class. It’s a heavy lift for the students. Students have to apply to get into the class. We get hundreds of applications each semester for this class.

Once they’re accepted and before they attend, they have to learn the 17 UN SDGs. When they actually get to the class, they then self-select around a shared passion and purpose into teams of three students. But, there has to be a liberal arts major, a business major, and a computer science major on each team. It’s interdisciplinary. Then they spend the entire semester building out these for-profit innovations with the purpose of helping the greater Charleston area attain the SDGs that they are passionate about. Each team gets a tech mentor from the community and a business mentor from the community. They learn public speaking, they learn how to pivot, and they have to pitch. They’re learning problem solving. It’s totally consequential learning, which is what we call it. At the end of the semester, there is a public pitch day where the top three teams split $10,000 of real money to build out their innovations.

The city donates another $5,000 a separate prize for the team that the city feels has focused on the best innovation for the city’s problems. It’s very quickly become the number one class at the school. The innovations that come out of this class, a lot of them will make you cry, but they’ll also blow your mind. I’ll give you a couple examples. I’ll give you one fun one and one more poignant one. The fun one would be two of the three participants in one team were very passionate about the fact that many, many schools were having to drop the arts. They wanted to figure out, how can we help fund the arts in schools? They came up with an innovation called “Bid the Band” as in you’re bidding at an auction. That is to be launched at the back end of this year. But, it’s an app. Consumers can download the app for free. If you’re a musician, you can download the app for free. The musicians upload their music and where they’re playing in Charleston, time, date, et cetera. If you’re living here or visiting, you can go on this app and you can say, I’d like to listen to this genre of music. I’d like it to be free, et cetera. You can see and select where you want to go. As a consumer, you just check the app about where you want to go because the artists have uploaded and published where there’ll be playing. And they’ve also published, by the way, their total song list. At least in my day, if you went to a piano bar, for example, you had to walk up to the piano bar and put money in the jar. What this app does is you walk into the show you’ve selected and you start to bid on the songs you want the artists to play. Now everyone else in there can bid also. And, the winning songs get played. If your bid wins, that money is extracted from your Venmo account. Right now, 80% of it goes to the artists, but 20% of it goes to a charity for the arts. Now that’s fine on a small scale, but here’s how it’s going to work. On a much bigger scale and, and I won’t tell you the music company we’re in touch with, but some very, very famous artists who have literally hundreds of millions of followers on social media are going to use it in two ways. The first way is that you go to a concert, put on by X, you’re in the concert, they walk off for an Encore. While they’re off stage, you start betting which song you want them to play or which two songs and in which order, and it’s on a big screen. If you win, the money’s taken out of your account. Now we’re talking here hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? You’ve got 30-40,000 people at a concert, and 100% of that money goes to charity to fund the arts. The second way that professional artists are using it is if they plan a world tour, they will take some of those venues. When you buy your ticket, you log on the app and bid on which songs you want them to play at the concert and in which order. So the fans are actually putting together the concert. That’s “Bid the Band.” It’s fun. A more poignant one is we had a suicide at the College of Charleston a number of years ago, three of the people in this one particular team knew the person, and they wanted to do something to help with teen depression. So they built an algorithm that people can drop into social media accounts. Just through normal interaction, it will notify somebody with 80% accuracy if that person has signs of depression, etc. There are innovations for water, there’s an innovation for SDG 17 to connect everyone in the SDGs across the world that the UN is very now interested in. I can go on and on, but that’s what we did at the school. Of course, there were segments of the community in Charleston that saw the college more, more as an enemy than as an asset. We decided to take that student class and teach it completely for free in the evenings (a $12,000 value for six credits). We teach it three times a year in a 12-week cohort, an hour and a half every Wednesday night for any community resident of greater Charleston. We decided to hold it at the school in the same room. That allowed people from the community who up until now really did not see this college as an asset to completely change their mind.

These are people that would have never walked through the doors. This is a vaulted education institution, and now they’re embedded as part of the college. The college is way more embedded in their community than ever before. Educating as many people as you can, whether it be students or community residents, it doesn’t matter about their background in impact studies on the fact that they can literally participate. Just as important for them is the sustainability of their community.

Gino Borges:   

This modern day project that you’re working on is such a phenomenal ongoing social educational experiment all against the backdrop of painful, historical legacy. How does this work collide with the historical implications of Charleston’s dark past?

Stuart Williams:   

That’s a really poignant question. Charleston has had a very difficult past and it is a truism that some of that continues today. People talk about the liberal arts education not having any value anymore. You hear that in many communities. You hear it from many parents, “why am I spending $60,000 for my child to go and learn the history of art or something?” It’s very difficult to try and help solve a social problem if you do not have the context from whence it came and why it’s still here. You’re not going to learn that in computer science, and you’re not really gonna learn that in business. It’s learned in liberal arts. That’s one of the reasons why our class is interdisciplinary. We have found that if you take the time to fully understand contextually why we still have that problem in that community at this time, it actually allows a conversation to take place which actually leads to healing. I work with this lovely lady who’s just brilliant. Her name is Cynthia, and she really does understand the vibrancy and the frequency. She sees how it’s rising for all aspects of the community in Charleston. It’s because people are now open to having an honest dialogue about this. Sometimes those dialogues are difficult because you can talk about things like reparations. If you’re a realist, they’re not coming in any great way or form. But to us, that’s like, when some politicians will go into the coal States, and say “coal is coming back!” But, it’s not coming back.

We use that analogy when we have these gatherings. The analogy we use is that we’re in a change of age here. We think the Stone Age ended because it ran out of stones, the Iron Age ran out of iron, and the Bronze Age ran out of bronze, et cetera. We think the Hydrocarbon Age won’t end because we run out of hydrocarbons. But rather, in every instance, we didn’t run out; human innovation and technology just found a better way. That’s what’s happening. Even if we didn’t have climate change today, the Hydrocarbon Age is over. We can give that as a truism and yet we’ve still got politicians saying “we’ll bring the coal back.” Well, it’s not going to happen. You take that analogy and put it now in a place-based conversation and people woke up. They say we’re expecting $100 million in reparations, but it’s not going to happen. So what are we going to do about it?

I’ll just go a little bit off tangent. I have a dear, dear friend. Her name is Jyoti, and she is one of the leaders of our indigenous peoples in America. She came to me and we had a long conversation about the Black Hills. I don’t know if you know the history of this, America decided to go rape, pillage, and steal all the land from the Native Americans. By the way, the Brits were even worse around the world, so I’m not pointing fingers at America. It happened in the ‘70s. I can’t remember which president it was, but he said, okay, we’ll give you money for the Black Hills. We’ll give you like $500 million or something. The Native Americans said we don’t want that. We actually want our land back. So, that money was put in a trust. It was put in an escrow. It’s still there today. When President Obama came to office, I think that number had grown to like $4 billion or something of the sort. You can Google it and take a look. Obama said, “well, do you want the $4 billion?” They said, “no, you know, we want our land back, right?” So what he said was, okay, here’s the deal. You can have your land back if the 12 tribes (I think it’s 12) who have a claim to ownership of the Black Hills meet together and tell us who’s going to get what and what are you going to do with the land. Well, it still hasn’t happened. I was speaking to Jyoti and in the end I had to say to her, what have you been doing about this? She said, we’ve been sitting in ceremony praying. I said, flippantly, which I shouldn’t have, “how’s that working for you?” She quite rightly took offense to that comment; I shouldn’t have made that comment. She walked off and said, I’ll see you tomorrow morning. I thought, this is not going to be good. So, I went to see her the next morning. I fully expected it to be dressed down for that comment I made. She said, I thought about this and you’re absolutely right. We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing, but we’re going to add to it something based more in reality. When you go into a place where there’s a lot of hurt, where there’s a lot of abhorrent history, it’s okay to run two initiatives in parallel. But, you have to be open minded. You have to understand the lens that those people look at life through, which is probably completely different to the lens that you look at life through. This is why systems approaches are so vitally important if we’re going to heal this separation that we spoke about earlier on the call, this rift between members of humanity, and quite frankly also humanity and the environment.

Gino Borges:   

Thank you Stuart. I am grateful to the work that you’re doing. You’re an early pioneer in the space in terms of connecting dots and entering the communities that you live in to have these difficult, yet inspiring and revitalizing conversations. You are very passionate about bringing together different classes and ages, showing that seemingly it feels different when you’re identified merely as a group. When you come together, do you see the commonality which encapsulates the original cause of much of the issues that we’re potentially facing or the lack of empowerment that we’re seeing in communities? To some extent the word “impact” may be simply trying to unionize, to metaphorically write love letters to each other and not hate letters anymore, an opportunity where we can actually fall in love. Most people might take that as a hallmark saying or too romantic, but I really do think ethos is a potential approach. If we see identification across these secular boundaries it’s much easier to live in a collaborative manner.

If we looked at life the way we’re currently being fractionalized divided and parceling out ourselves from the source, it’s taken an enormous amount of energy just to sustain ourselves as opposed to when we work collaboratively across projects and provide access. It’s a really nice emphasis on the importance of supporting, not just the individuals themselves, but really supporting conditions and environments that support the resiliency of the whole. You understand resiliency occurs in-place because in-place, you honor the alchemy of the true authentic needs of the community members as opposed to a top-down from afar approach tends to be the dominant waspy model. We know from anthropologists who do great work, the great ones go in with a clean slate and really try to be much more inductive as opposed to deductive, coming in with their own paradigms, reducing the community phenomenon down to their pre-diagnosed categories. The former approach allows the life forms and life force to stay active, holding it fragile and trying to move within the community. Thank you so much, Stuart.

Stuart Williams:   

There’s an awful lot of work to be done. I’d be remiss in saying that for me, the raise of the feminine to balance the masculine leadership is a real imperative here. We’ve lost our way. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; we just lost our way. One of the seminal moments for us will be whether we can rise the feminine to balance leadership of the masculine in all aspects of our life. I think that will help heal and reconnect us. Let’s wipe the board clean. Let’s do our own research. That’s why we built impact economics, and it’s now being adopted all over the world which we’re very proud of.