Part of the inspiration for inviting Danny Almagor is his work with Small Giants and, in particular, the special focus and mission-oriented direction that Danny, his wife team and family members have taken with what the universe has blessed them, an abundance of resources. They’ve been compelled and confronted to navigate that path. Part of that path has been just as much as an interior journey as it has an exterior journey. The exploration today will be to understand how Danny’s outward growth has invited him to look inward and vice versa, how the inward has been informing and shaping what he’s doing in the exterior world. What is the inspiration behind Small Giants–a before and after? Before Small Giants started, what was going through you and how was Small Giants a response to that part of your life?
There’s the long story and the short story,and it starts generations ago with my parents’ and Barry’s parents stories. On one side, my mom and Barry’s father, were both Holocaust survivors. That leads us in a very interesting direction. Being Jews in eastern Europe in Poland and Russia, having survived the Holocaust and the second World War and moving after the Holocaust to Australia. On Barry’s side, her family came out this experience building a very successful enterprise and because a very, very wealthy family in Australia. My family did okay, but not quite at the same scale.
On our other sides, Barry’s mother’s is Australian, and my father is Israeli. Lots of interesting stories there. So contextually, you have to look at the deep history to understand the present. In the modern history of Small Giants, Barry’s background was in filmmaking and in the arts and storytelling, Hollywood work. I started a nonprofit called Engineers Without Borders, sending engineers around the world to do development work.
For Barry, her story, very sadly, her father passed away very young. He was 45 and she was 14. Along with her two siblings, the wealth transferred down to the generation very fast. Barry became involved financially at a very young age, which is quite unusual for that type of family structure. Barry was involved, or at least around the investing sphere from a very early age.
For me, my father was an entrepreneur and a business owner, and I started a business alongside Engineers Without Borders when I was straight out of university. In thinking about Small Giants, I was viewing it as an integration of those four elements. There’s the creative storytelling, creative arts and storytelling. There’s the investing, the nonprofit, Engineers Without Borders – mission-driven. Then, there’s the business side that I was in. I started in the healthcare industry actually. This is entrepreneurship, mission-driven values, investment and creatives that all came together. When Barry & I got married, we looked at the resources we had, particularly the wealth of our resources; all of the networks and connections and education and passions – all the images of wealth that we have, money being one of them.
We were questioning how do we integrate our lives? How do we integrate all these elements? At the time, they were separated. We had talked a lot about that bifurcation dissociation of the parts of our lives. So when we got married, we really thought how do we bring all those things into one? How do we use business as a force for good, creative pursuit while incorporating investing? That became the start of Small Giants. We called ourselves Hub and Spokes when we started out because we thought we’d be at the center of all these different projects, from commercial investments, to businesses we’d start or credit projects These would all be the spokes up out of the hub. Then, we read the book, Small Giants by Bo Burlingham, which spoke about companies that choose to be great instead of being big.
That was extraordinary. It was profound. I remember getting in touch with Bo and saying, listen, we’ve been incredibly inspired by your book. “Would it be okay if we took the name and named our company, Small Giants? He very generously said, “this is the whole point of the book – to encourage others to do it.” So, we did and that’s how Small Giants was born. Interestingly, it was a very big challenge early on because the whole system is designed to tell you can’t do this. You can’t be whole. You can’t integrate your life. You separate. When you come to work, if you’re a father, leave that at home, if you’re a husband, leave it at home, if you’re a soccer coach, whatever you are…
If you’re a spiritualist, leave it at home, you’re working. The same thing, when you’re at work, don’t talk about religion, don’t talk about sex and other things. All this stuff is separating us. When we said we wanted to do Small Giants, I imagined a great canvas, an artistic perspective. The artists says I just have to express myself. It’s all about letting what’s inside out. For us, Small Giants was our canvas. Everyone from the old system, especially from Barry’s father who died, we had a lot of advisors and lawyers and accountants and investment bankers – all the usual people.
They’re all in to help us protect us from ourselves, from losing all the money. Telling us “this is not right” and that’s called “philanthropy” and “this is not how you do it.” I was a nonprofit worker and Barry’s an artist. “Between you two, you don’t know how to manage money.” It was very scary in the beginning to say “no,” we want to be wholehearted in everything we do, including our investing. We started off, but we started very gently and then the financial crisis hit. For us, Barry was at one of her family’s board meetings and she said it was unbelievable. She just said we’re doing these deals, which essentially, was just shifting money around, making money by shifting money, not by creating deep value.
It’s like if you buy something off someone, then sell it back to them and suddenly, you’ve made lots of money. Barry just said, the emperor’s got no clothes. This isn’t business; we’re not creating value. Within six months, the financial crisis, occurred and hit us hard. From then on, Barry and I thought, it was all these experts who told us they knew. Of course, what did they know? The experts used to tell us if you’ve got a bad back rest. Then the experts told us if you’ve got a bad back exercise. Now, I’ve tried this and that, but we don’t know – especially in our complicated economic system which is essentially a human behavior experiment.
It’s not a numbers game like everyone thinks, it’s a feeling. So that gave us the confidence to really step away and say, we’re going to completely detach from the old economy, the rest of the family and the old advisors and the way they do it. We’re going to create our own system, our own family office, which was Small Giants and create our own investment mandate and investment culture. That’s how we really got into investing. Then, by traveling around the world, obviously looking for others and thinking we couldn’t be the only people in the world that are feeling this. We started meeting people like Charly and Lisa Kleissner and Jed Emerson, Lorrie Meyercord, Joel Solomon. They were inspirations and colleagues.
You’re developing a culture just as much as your job as a human enterprise and you broke it into four divisions, but can you touch on how really those divisions only become impactful the extent the the quality of the people that you have helping you and them helping themselves and helping out the regions that you guys are impacting. A lot gets lost in the idea of how front and central the quality of the person has to be an intentionality. Maybe you can explore that, in relation to what I love, is your premise on how business is really a potential vehicle for empathy and love. I’m going to circle back to that, but I would like to start to give people a grounded taste on what your culture looks like for the people that are associated with the tribe at Small Giants.
Riffing off some of the great religions we’ve played around with a few ideas. We have our five principles of faith, thanks to Islam. These are basic principles that go across what we believe should go across all businesses. The first one is the people come first. All the systems we are talking about, economic system, the capitalist system, education system, agriculture, they’re all about people. If we took people out, we’d call it the ecosystem. Nature’s sorted that one out. Nature has an ecosystem, and we created the ecology and we created the economy as the human system.
The first thing is to realize that it’s all about people. Of course our job in the economy sits within the ecology, not the other way around. We need to look at people, we need to look at relationships, we need to look at nurturing people to be their best selves in this system. We have something called the eightfold path to enlightened hospitality, a Buddhist reference there, speaking about how do we expect people to turn up to face the other, whoever the other is, the friend, the stranger, even the enemy, in our interactions.
We have the eightfold path to like “assume the best or write the last chapter.” Shit happens, and sometimes things don’t work out. How do you end it by writing a positive last chapter rather than a negative last chapter, if you can. Smile, the greatest gift that we can give on Earth. W try and put these things into the general vernacular, the general conversation and hopefully encourage you into a way of interacting. It becomes something, that a great friend of mine – YOU – brought up once, which was the poetry of the work that we do as opposed to the grammar. What I think of poetry versus grammar in this space, the grammar is KPIS, the grammar is metrics, it’s all these things that help us; it’s essential.
If I’m reading a sentence without any full stops, it’s really difficult to understand. That’s the grammar, but I’m not reading it for the grammar. I’m reading it for the poetry. That was a beautiful analogy that you gave me a year ago now. For me, that really sums up the essence when we talk about culture. Culture is not the grammar, culture is the poetry and all the things around that. When we talk about these rules, these ideas, these are just helpful hints along the way, the comma and the exclamation mark, to help you know how to translate it. Essentially, we have to work on the inner, we have to work on the person and understand, as you said, their intention, their motives.
“Assume the best” is not a reminder, it’s a philosophy. In the beginning, we may be blinded by certain people coming in, but ultimately we want it to be a deep philosophy, a philosophy of optimism, a philosophy of hope, the philosophy of love. That’s how we begin. That’s the intention that we bring to the work. Most of the time, people come along on that journey and sometimes it doesn’t fit everyone. But, we try to offer opportunities for that personal growth, whether it’s through emotional intelligence work or spiritual work and sometimes those two things intersect, which is beautiful.
In terms of the evolution of the culture that you’re working on with your group, what’s your role in it? And then, just an ego checking question, how do you attempt to keep yourself decentered so that you’re not the focus per se of the culture – so people just don’t come looking for Danny and Barry? How do you honor the organic emergence of the ecology that you’re creating so that you’re one of many and the real power is in the relationship, not in terms of any one individual? What kind of work do you do to keep that kind of awareness in front of you?
My own inner work is really important. I do it, personally, through meditation or finding my own outlets, like cooking, gardening, walking are very big meditations. There is also formal prayer. I’m the director of Yang at the moment in Small Giants. Meliana, an extraordinary woman, is the director of Yin. We actually sometimes swap over to confuse ourselves, but really we did that to try and understand the integration of the masculine and feminine, for ourselves, but also in society.
She sees things I don’t see and I see things she doesn’t see; we often refer to Barry as the queen. She sits above the government because she’s both my wife, the boss of the family and beautifully the queen of the creative inspiration and creative director of Small Giants. Essentially that’s one way of trying to hold that space. We very much subscribe to the model of “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux. To your question, it’s understanding that leadership is real. It’s not to escape leadership or to say “there is no one at the top, there’s no one with an idea.”
There certainly are, but it’s loose. It’s the idea that actually everybody can come up with an idea, everyone can lead, in a way, in the organization. We try this model not to have a formal structure but more so what we call circles that work. Different people lead different circles in different areas, whether it’s Dumbo Feather, our magazine, or an investment group, or our property construction group – whatever it is, in that different people can take lead, but with Meliana and I sitting at that center holding the culture, holding that space. We also have the directors. We also have something called “Guardians of Purpose.” We’ve all got a role.
The role of a Board of Directors is actually to protect the purpose of the organization to be integral. Again, coming back to that poetry/grammar analogy, a lot of things that our Board of Directors is usually responsible for are hygiene, don’t trade insolvent, make sure tax returns are done on time, etc., which is crucial. Again, like grammar. But it’s not reason the board’s there. For example, It’s like washing my hands. I don’t wash my hands as the purpose of my life. I’ll wash my hands so my hands are clean when I eat and then I go on with my day. So, the Guardians of Purpose are actually the intention of what a board should be. So we’ve renamed it, which is funny because it’s acronym is GOP – so that’s interesting for Americans.
And, our main office is called the White House. So we actually have GOP meetings at the White House all the time. The idea of the Guardians of Purpose is again to bring more people in so they become our wisdom and the guides for the organization. Even as director of Yin and Yang, we still have this group which includes a number of people from Small Giants who sit on the Guardians of Purpose and really hold us accountable.
I’m going to shift to the other side of the brain a little bit and challenge you to think about something. I think that there’s a lot of optimization as a result of bringing the Yin and Yang energy to a business situation. When people visit your website and look at your investment group, there’s a list of properties that you guys had purchased. There is renewable projects and energy projects at scale and are $50-150 million funds that you’re creating. But, you don’t see any Yin and Yang being referenced on that particular site. You see the conventional language where we look to manage financial returns alongside social and environmental returns.
Because you’ve embraced this value of yin and yang, it actually has increased the scope of business value for yourself. I feel like the real potential is for us in the business space to actually transcend this concessionary narrative and this demarcated phenomena that’s been expressed within an impact space. But, I really do believe that if we get really good on translating that our values are the actual strategy – that’s going to differentiate us. Co-opting the language of the Matrix and say, “No, it’s not that we’re on the sidelines.” We are suggesting that the values that we’re embracing are not just a better ethical way of doing business, but even if we used your conventional metrics, it’s a better way of conducting ourselves in the world.
Take me through maybe a project or two where you really got a chance to see how your culture either gave you access to opportunities that normally wouldn’t have come your way or some of the decision-making that was made as a result of this culture that you’re creating that wouldn’t have occurred unless the Yin and Yang energy was present in the room.
It’s interesting the few points you brought up. The website, the Small Giants website, is more of this language. And, the impact investment, which is our main investment vehicle that brings in external investors has got very old economy language and that’s changing. When we started it, we felt like there was, there weren’t enough people who understood this. If I use the words, love and relationships and, empathy, Yin and Yang, in that world, nobody would have understood five or six years ago when we started that investment company. Both Barry and I and the team feel like it’s time to shift that.
It’s important to shift. And, the timing is exactly because of your second point. 10, 11, 12 years ago now, when we started Small Giants – impact investing wasn’t even a term. We didn’t know who to speak to. We spoke to all the professionals, in the Goldman’s advisory firms, JP Morgans and Credit Suisse, nobody understood this stuff. So we couldn’t use that language. We internally could, but we couldn’t use it at all, and we didn’t even know how to get a product – we had to create our own, our own green buildings, our own solar farms, wind farms. We were building it ourselves cause we didn’t know where else to look.
Of course, there were a few others, but there was no rallying call. About six, seven years ago, when we started the investment company, the deep concepts were still there. It was still the early days, but you couldn’t build a business on it. What you’re asking, on the concessionary nature is for me again, let’s take it away from the numbers to people. Essentially it’s people. Numbers don’t buy Coca Cola. People buy Coca Cola. So, they play the game of trying to encourage people to feel like they need coke to be happy or putting ingredients in there that make it so delicious. It becomes addictive, sugar among other things. I play that game. But, today a lot of that game is played by that old economy manipulating game.
Therefore, I think this is a beautiful time to be in this space. There’s an extraordinary awakening happening for many, many different reasons. That, of course, would be a whole different podcast – some reasons being the fall of religion, an age of technology that’s bringing people back to themselves. Whole lots of things, but we know that there’s a huge movement that’s waking up to things like organics, to things that we care about. Climate change and global warming, renewable energy and efficiency to health issues. It’s huge. The understanding that we’ve got in health, not as a sickness conversation but as a wellness conversation around air quality, around lifestyle, around stress, around mental health, all these things blossoming.
There’s a lot of excitement in the awakening in these areas. Now, of course, that’s what the market is. If a thousand people want organic strawberries, then somebody should be growing organic strawberries, and they’ll probably do quite well off them. If a million people want to get organic strawberries suddenly that’s a serious market. In old terms, one might have thought is it a compromise? It would have been a compromise if you were the only organic gig and there’s nobody who wants to buy organic eggs. 20 years ago, renewable energy, green buildings didn’t exist, they weren’t the zeitgeists; they weren’t at the front of people’s minds. The compromise comes with technology that has made these things, some of them at least cheaper. It is more expensive to grow healthy food right at the moment because we have externalities. We have externalized the cost of cheap food, the health costs on the other side of the costume, on our soils, on our carbon or all these things.
If you want to grow regenerative agriculture, it costs more; it just does. The thing that we’re finding is people are prepared to pay more, and there are more people who are prepared to pay more. You see this even when you go to Walmart or go to Safeway or whatever grocery chains you have in your part of the world. The organic shelves are just getting bigger and bigger even in the traditional grocery stores. It’s unbelievable. If you’d put your money into the organics, you would’ve double digit growth in organics. We need to keep the understanding that people are at the center.
It’s our work here as people to wake up to our better selves, to connectedness, interconnectedness, of ourselves to each other, to nature, The interrelated interconnectedness and interdependence of all life on earth is a simultaneously awakening. Even the ideas around mental health, it’s all of that connectedness. I’m not saying it’s nothing to do with anything else, but it’s profoundly around this concept of connectedness, love, community. All the research says if you want to live longer, you want to live healthier, have really close relationships, deep close relationships. That’s unbelievable! It’s as good as stopping smoking, just having deep, close relationships. That’s profound. So you ask, is it concessionary? It’s not concessionary at the moment that the world is heading in this direction.
We’re seeing a huge transfer of wealth that we all know about, going to the next generation, which will be disproportionate to the past for women. It should be equally to women now whereas in the past it was not equally seen among women. Again, returning to the Yin and Yang, with a reminder that masculine and feminine are not unique to males and females. Many men have the masculine and feminine inside as do women. But, it does seem to trend that women bring a lot more feminine to the world than men do at the moment.
Approaching it with that mindset, we starting to question how do we bring the whole, how do we integrate these things? How do we look at interconnectedness? How do we create products or investments that speak to our wholeness? If there’s a whole movement of people who are trying to behold the Berne Brown movement, millions of people watching and reading this, this is responding to them. This is where they want to leave. These are the houses that want to live in these, these are the offices they want to work in. These are the clothes they want to buy – Patagonia. These are the magazines they want to read. They don’t want to, I don’t want to read the paper anymore because the newspapers just tell me death and destruction. It tells me there was a shark attack, or there was some kind of an attack. Which it’s only news because it doesn’t happen often.
What it doesn’t say is this man helped somebody; somebody helped their grandmother do the shopping again. That’s what’s happening all the time. It’s not that these things are becoming equal in terms of cost. It’s more that we just have a whole new market that’s coming to this mindset that we share and hopefully that takes over the world. Again, that mindset from the earliest conversation, you said is coming from an internal shift, which is why the outer work cannot be done independent from the inner work because this wake up is an inner work thing. Whether it’s through therapy, whether it’s through connectedness to nature, all these things are waking us up to the idea that disconnection is not the way to interact in the world.
If this notion of inner being becomes more front and centered and more awareness around our inner beingness, connectivity, relationships. Essentially that’s suggesting that my body and my being on earth is merely an energetic a sphere that’s also working with other energetic spheres. It’s not really that there’s a Gino, per se, or there’s not really a Danny, per se. There’s only a Gino and Danny because the semiotic realm super imposes it on our bodies, and then we have a culture that reifies it with language that puts us all into these separate little silos. And, we’re all these little silos bumping into each other, but the energy fields actually work differently. There’s much more permeability between all of us humans, all the animal species, all the plants on earth and the cosmological order.
When grounded, what does the economy look like if we were able to get critical mass around awareness on inner being? What does the world look like 10 to 20 years from now when my son Nathan is just starting college; your kids will be a little out of college. Perhaps maybe college doesn’t even exist then. My point being is that I really think the visualization is a very powerful motivation. It gives people an opportunity to map out what’s possible. Let’s take it out there and let’s imagine the world as embraced inner beingness. What does the world look like?
Such an extraordinary question – I’m always thinking about it. Right now, we’ve got cars and petrol cars, we can try and visualize out as far as we can. I’m going to come back to that, but on the journey, you create the hybrid. The hybrid – then, the hybrid of the hybrid and so on heading towards this thing. A lot of the work that we do is accepting that we’re not going to reach the top of the mountain. Indeed, I don’t know if there is a top of the mountain, because of course, our ability to think in that interconnected way is influenced by our external system, by the words we have, by the system we’re in, by the paradigms that we can hold.
Somebody will create that breakthrough, but we need the right conditions, the right soil for that breakthrough idea to take us, to realize actually what we thought was the top of the mountain: imagine universal peace. All the good beauty pageants contestants wish for world peace. And actually, that’s quite profound. But, once we have a sense of peace, we’ll realize, actually it’s not peace. It’s something way beyond peace. It’s loud. It’s interconnected. Acknowledging the journey that’s what the question is really asking of us. My sense of what it could look like or at least some parts would be redefining a lot. I was just in Bhutan with a group of 22 friends and colleagues on a journey into the new economy where we really asked exactly that question. We had a beautiful session talking about Utopia, what does this look like?
Exactly your question. We said, what if we redefine education to learning, redefine healthcare system to wellness, redefined our housing or property market to our homes. Redefining these concepts is the first step. I don’t know that that’s the end to, but what does learning look like? For example, if I’m not in the school system, not in any formal education systems at the moment. I’d love to go back and study, but I am always learning, every book I read, every conversation I have. So in my mind it feels something like that, like a redefinition of these discreet terms that create disconnection – like I’m at school, I’m not at school.
It’s fluidity. It’s accepting paradox. We had a beautiful conversation around a dilemma that somebody had and somebody said, I went to bed last night and I was just trying to solve the dilemma. The question was, what if it’s not something to solve? The dilemma of death; death is not something to solve. I don’t want to solve death. I don’t want to solve time. This is a problem – if you could just solve it. It’s like darkness is just the other side of light, and it’s beautiful. And, it’s also scary because we can’t see. But there’s something in that, if we just leave the lights on all, not everything will be good.
These things aren’t just problems to be solved even though they feel like the other or separateness. If you look at day and night and see these are two distinct separate entities, a zero and a one, life and death, then yes, you’re trying to solve for the one that you don’t want. If you see it as an integrated whole, the paradox that those two things, death is actual what defines life. Darkness is required for light to exist. Then, I think we’ve got a whole new way of thinking about this future .
That said, we also we live great lives. Like at the end of the day, if I fall out of a tree, I get hurt. You don’t get hurt, physically. You may be able to feel the pain through empathy. We hold those two things. We both, we are separate and there’s something beautiful in that being separate. I love the fact that I have my kids, and they’re mine. I can kiss them and I can love on them because they’re so cute. I have that connection to them. I don’t know that I could have that connection with, say, a billion kids. It would be weird if I started kissing them like I do mine. So again, we hold those two things. I think the future in 20 years is more of an acceptance of the Yin and Yang more of acceptance of connection and disconnection and into the interrelatedness of those two.
Holding, but also understanding their fluidity. They can slide through our fingers, like sand particles. They also act as a liquid as when you’re putting your hand in, it flows out. At the moment, our system is so much influenced by the discreet, by the separation, by the reductionist methodology. Which again, I’m not saying that’s bad, just that it’s like night and day. And although we have both night and day, we’ve decided we only want “day.”
We only want the reductionism. If it’s not able to be discreet, if it’s not able to be personalized, if it’s not able to measured, then it’s not meaningful. We need to hold both day and night. That’s probably what that looks like in 20 years, in my mind that, that people will just be so deeply integrated and understanding both the self as a separate entity and the communities in need of connection, both human community and then the global community of life as connected. It’s a bit like saying, am I a father or am I a husband, which one is it going to be? But, I am both. They’re both just great. They both have separate jobs attached to them. One is, to look after my wife and make sure she’s always happy. One is to teach my kids how to be resilient and strong in the world and be loved. I hold them both at the same time and I integrate them both. I do them both all the time because more often than not, I have both my wife and my kids with me. So it’s not, “Oh, honey, today I’m going to be a father.”
In a Forbes article, you talked about this idea that you don’t necessarily pursue a growth agenda when investing. Maybe 20 years from now, there’s other ways to conceive business investment beyond just a growth agenda. I agree with you that there’s a hedgemonic impulse that automatically colonizes everybody’s motivation around growth. You have been preconceiving that and rethinking that, re-imagining in it. I can imagine that being part of the 20 year experience as well -a vision. How have you shifted away from growth as the primary motivation as part of your investment?
It’s such a beautiful thought. Think about the concept of growth in a forest and what is sustainable growth for a forest? It’s all the trees are growing, yes, but it eventually reaches harmony, some form of equilibrium where it’s holding itself. All the trees aren’t just going to keep on growing until they reach the clouds. In the beginning of a new forest however, there’s a lot of growth. The human bodies are similar. Your kid, my kids are still growing, but I’m not going to get any taller.
Growth actually is not a bad word. It just about what kind of growth? I grow my wisdom, hopefully I grow my relationships and my depth of connection to people, but I don’t grow in size. For Small Giants, we don’t have a growth agenda in terms of size. Barry and I have more than we need for our lifetime financially. That’s a blessing that came with the curse of her father dying. But but nonetheless, that’s a privilege that we have and that’s where we started. We have more than we need, so we don’t have a growth agenda from the money perspective. Now that said, if we do an investment and it grows, that’s still a wonderful thing.
More so than anything, our goal is to bring other people on the journey. So, we still have to speak that old language of growth. but internally we have no agenda attached to that. Once we get to that point where we realize we have enough, we are enough. So, it’s still about growing, but it’s growing love and empathy and compassion. Growing in the inner work, growing in all those things I mentioned, connectedness, inspiration, learning and impact. It’s beautiful. It’s funny that when you stop doing that work, you realize actually the concept of enough is not a financial. It’s a difficult journey in our society today – especially to hear of it from someone with wealth.
It’s not always well received either. Often, people say it’s because you have so much that you can afford to have that attitude. I don’t believe that’s true. I’ve met many people who have very little who have the same attitude. I am enough. I have enough, and my life is dedicated to service. Mother Theresa is an obvious global example and there’s been a whole lot of small examples of people who’ve made those choices, too. How do we create a system that allows people to hold that space? At the moment, in America that’s really difficult from a healthcare perspective because it’s not enough. If you get sick in Australia where there’s free healthcare, I walk into a hospital and I’ll have whatever needs to be done at the expense of the state which is wonderful.
So in some ways, so someone says, “I need to have that million dollars just in case I get sick.” Maybe we could create a society that you don’t need to have that if you get sick. Maybe we create a society where basic amount of food is a human right, not an economic conversation where they’re a supermarkets who say this fresh food, it’s free for all, education maybe. These are design questions that allow our best inner selves. We’ve come to that realization because of our good fortune and then using that fortune, try and create the external environment for others who maybe don’t have as much to be able to come to that same solution, through affordable housing, etc.
If we can envision the system of the ideal future, a whole lot of things now are taken for granted as essential for human life. We’ve been talking about very practical physical things, the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. But at the top as well, things like love, love should be something that is free for all. Again, that’s a design question, designing in communities where people feel connected and finding spiritual places of worship, with traditional religion, or not, places where people can connect on that higher level of consciousness. All those elements of Maslow’s pyramid, they could be supported. And what about all the additional luxuries that people can have? Let the economic system deal with those luxuries. But, basic elements of what we need to be our best selves, I think should be a design conversation. What is impact investing really trying to do? Well, when we design it, we’ll find the impact investing itself doesn’t exist. My sense that anybody has that much wealth compared to somebody else wouldn’t exist in that system. You’d never get it there.
This leads to a critique of deeper questions around ownership and accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of power would be restructured in that. In a small sense, it’s why we have the director of Yin and Yang to show that there can be a breakup of power. It doesn’t have to be concentrated in one person.
Can you explain what is an impact safari and what shape is it taking currently?
The big thing about safari is that it’s an adventure. You’re going somewhere, you’re getting immersed, you’re “sitting inside the Jeep with all the animals around you.” The idea of an impact safari was how do we immerse ourselves in an exciting adventure to explore this stuff? The stuff that you and I are talking about. There’s a whole lot of research, but it’s also a looking inwards to questioning when do I feel most connected and most inspired about the idea of being taken away, being removed from your usual life into a container, to exploring and do something deep and being held in that space.
That’s impact safari. So, what do we do? We go to Bhutan. Bhutan is, a country, an extraordinary country that has chosen to focus on national happiness as the driver of their development, GDP, domestic product. So they’ve created a whole system, almost like a new, a new economy and new economic system to us. How do we make decisions for our country, for development? Development is not necessarily growth, or growth is one element on it. It incorporates things like health and education, the obvious things that western capitalist democracies focus on. Then it also has psychological wellbeing, cultural diversity. They ask all these questions as part of their growth, as part of their development. So a question to build that freeway or that hospital or casino would be asked not in terms of how many jobs does it create, not how much productivity does it bring, how much growth to the area will it bring in, but how is it going to fit time use for the people involved? How does it improve cultural diversity? How does it improve psychological wellbeing?
In an impact safari, we’re going into these different places like Bhutan to really open our minds to what could be right. What are the different ideas? And it’s not that Bhutan is perfect, it’s just moving to a different place. Why do we travel? Travel opens our minds to new ideas. Impact safari is a travel experience into places like Bhutan or to Sweden to look at governance, social democracies as opposed to the very financially driven capitalist democracies that that might be dominate, like America and increasingly Australia. Maybe we go to Patagonia to look at climate change or the environment. Impact safaris are trying to take us into these extraordinary places to hold the experience of a narrative, of a paradigm shift of asking these questions.
What would the external look like? What’s that new economy conversation and what does our inner world look like? What are our best selves? The self actualization journey, how do we lead? How do we be citizens in this new economy? What type of mindset do I need? What type of relationship do I need to have or that brings out the best in me?
Our most recent safari was great to see the leadership in the new economy very much looking at the external gross national happiness. Is that what we’re driving towards? Happiness is seen as deep, deep wellbeing and connectedness, not, smiley happiness. And, that was the outer conversation. But, of course, it has to come to the center, what makes you happy, what drives you.
The quick conversation naturally leads into ego and questioning are you driven by ego? Fear? Greed? Status? Envy? What’s driving you? I want to win the gold medal because I want to be the best. Whereas what’s driving your compassion and empathy, where actually I want to solve climate change because I’m connected to all these things that will be hurt. So I’m not going to solve climate change to win a gold medal. Some people do; some people are still in that game or doing it for the recognition. So that’s the conversation we can have, both the external: what type of culture-society do we want to create and the internal, what’s our intention and motivation, what’s driving us? How do we express ourselves in a way that’s a law, that’s in harmony with nature? That’s impact safari. We seek these deep conversations. We do it through physical activities like white water rafting, and we go hiking. Spiritually, we meditate, we go to temples, we explore spiritual texts and religious texts. We’re really trying to use our mind, body, and spirit as a journey towards understanding where we are going outside and where we’re going inside.