Reader A-ha moments

Earlier this month I featured some of my favorite impact investing “a-ha” moments from impact investing interviews I’ve written. Some of my Connected Investing readers shared their “a-ha” moments with me and I’m sharing a few here, with their permission.

Michael Kramer, Managing Partner, Natural Investments


“As a 17-year-old college freshman in 1984, I discovered my sense of injustice and joined the student group that took over the administration building at my alma mater (Tufts) to protest the school’s endowment investing in companies supporting the apartheid regime of South Africa. We were one of the first student groups in the nation to focus attention on divestment and were able to have a series of meetings with the Board of Trustees to discuss the social impact of its investments. It changed my life by empowering me in ways I’d never before experienced. I went on the next year to become the Editor-in-Chief of the school’s newspaper, where I authored a series of investigative articles about Monsanto’s environmental pollution in Massachusetts and a subsequent editorial demanding that the President of Tufts, renowned humanitarian and former head of the World Health Organization Jean Mayer, to resign from Monsanto’s Board of Directors. He threatened to expel me, and I dared him to try to violate my First Amendment rights – he backed down, and then he resigned from the Monsanto board.

Only a few years later, in 1990, I met Hal Brill, founder of Natural Investments with his father Jack (who were working on their first book, Investing from the Heart (Crown, 1992). I gave him my first $2000 I ever saved (I had just launched the Youth Ecology Corps, a permaculture/sustainability education program for teenagers and young adults).  So I was an early client of Natural Investments, and then, after Hal and Jack published their second book in 1999 - Investing With Your Values (Bloomberg) – they asked me to join the firm as its third financial advisor. After that, 12 years ago I became an owner and Managing Partner of the firm, and today we have 22 people in 12 states and I helped write the firm’s third book. It’s been a wonderful personal 35-year journey for me thus far, all jolted by that initial teenage anti-apartheid activism.”

Danielle Burns, Vice President First Affirmative Financial Network


“The day I met a colleague for lunch and he told me about a segment of industry that he had ventured into – Impact Investing. At that time (early 2000’s)  is was still be affectionately referred to as Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). I was working for a large wirehouse/BD. He shared with me how through SRI, investors could align their financial decisions with their social criteria and create change at the most basic level.  He shared with me how there are corporations who are committed to creating value and awareness around community development and he shared with me that there are financial advisors who are committed to helping their clients generate returns without sacrificing their personal values. It was at that very moment when I knew that SRI was where I needed and wanted to be. I wanted to be part of something bigger than me and I wanted to contribute to creating a world where everyone can live happily and be free.”

Bob Goellner, Founder, Managing Partner & Financial Advisor, Common Interests


“From Couch To Crusader!

To fully appreciate my Ah-Ha moment you need to understand what led up to it.  Picture a 67 year old man (me) sitting on his couch at 2:10 pm watching CNN.  I had just finished recovering from open heart surgery and was now fit enough to look ahead to a comfortable and active retirement.  I had been in the financial services industry for 43 years and involved with SRI/ESG investing for 26 of those years. (However, only on a ‘when the clients were interested’ basis.)  The 2:10 breakthrough came when it became clear that SRI investing was the ONLY WAY we were ever get the ESG issues solved (CNN was discussing climate change and Carbon in the atmosphere).  I realized that we were going to have to do it ourselves; that we could no longer wait for legislation, wall street, or ‘tree hugging!’

At that moment I got off the couch and went back to my office! I terminated my retirement, and started to develop my 100% SRI Strategic Plan for the future of my practice.  Eight years later I have a Partner and an Office Manager, and a seemingly endless parade of interns and apprentices.  We have approximately $50,000,000 under management and we are getting nationwide interest as thought leaders in the SRI/ESG investing theme. I now have a Succession Plan, but NOT a retirement plan! I am having way too much fun to retire, I just take more vacations! My firm is now a signatory of the PRI as well as a “Best for the World” (Customer category) Certified B Corp, and we are about to publish our very first Firm Impact Report.”