Introducing: Altrunomics

Soulshine Traveler is undergoing a transformation. Travel will always be an important part of my life, but it is not the central focus. Looking back over the past few years, I realized that travel was really a vehicle to access new ideas and a more purposeful life. I set off to Peru five years ago in hopes of “being shaken” by seeing more of the world and to nudge my career trajectory in a new direction: toward development, responsible investing, microfinance, and a decidedly global life.

Initially, I worried that returning to the United States would mean retiring those big ideas and career ambitions along with my suitcase. Working in finance again would mean fixing my view-finder on profit margins and networking my way up the ladder. But my experiences working abroad altered the lens through which I view the world, Corporate America included. I can’t compartmentalize business and charity, altruism and economics. That’s not to say I believe there are no inherent conflicts between them; there often are. But I want to dig into those conflicts and contradictions, roll around in the mud, and figure out ways to incentivize all parties to pursue their goals in ways that minimize the harm and maximize the benefits to the whole, beyond simply using regulatory constraints and taxes. I want to find synergies between the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds that create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

My goal is for Altrunomics to be a platform for discussing topics related to responsible investing, corporate social responsibility, behavioral economics, sustainability, and more. I will draw on what I learned living abroad and working in microfinance, my education in Economics and Russian Studies (they actually pair well, when you think about it), and my experiences working in various roles in wealth management and asset management here in the United States.

Some of the questions on my mind lately:

  • Is there room to be innovative in addressing negative (and positive) externalities? Are there ways to influence businesses to create shared value for their communities, environments, and other stakeholders without taking a hit to their bottom line? In addition to negative reinforcement (e.g., regulations, taxes, social shaming), how can we positively reinforce “good behavior” by corporations?
  • Considering the Sustainability Ratings just published by Morningstar in partnership with Sustainalytics, could questions about sustainability and social responsibility of investments become a standard part of the investment decision making process for the average investor?  If they did, what would the implications be?  Would this eventually translate into more sustainable, ethical business practices on a wide scale? Could individual companies or funds somehow “game” the sustainability ratings?
  • Are certain people more driven to compete and others to collaborate? Or is competition vs. collaboration driven more by the circumstances of a particular interaction (i.e., scarcity of resources)?
  • Is all behavior ultimately driven by self interest?  If so, how can we tap into this self interest to drive better social and environmental outcomes? As organizations work toward development goals and social missions, how can they best take account of this tendency to act in self interest in order to protect against unintended negative consequences and exploitation?
  • Is “conscious capitalism” a worthy pursuit? For all industries?

I hope you join in on these conversations. Tell me what books I should be reading to better understand these topics. Tell me whether you consider your charitable giving goals completely separate from your investment goals. Tell me what you see companies doing (or not doing) to meaningfully incorporate environmental and social principles into their business strategy. Tell me if you think microfinance is total bunk that gets poor people trapped in debt cycles while glorifying those who run the organizations.

If you choose to stick around, thank you. I promise I’ll spice things up with photos and travel tales now and then.

6328080564_5e514cb8a6_o

8 comments

  1. Ahh, somehow I missed this post earlier. Awesome. I, for one, am nerdily excited to read/discuss more. (I currently work in green building which entails shaping voluntary incentives so builders are willing to and see a profit margin from building green without feeling forced… which is not a perfect system, but hey, improvements are what we’re figuring out eh?) By the way, tell me if you make it out to Seattle sometime. Based on our book tastes, histories with Russia/former USSR, and more, I think we’d have a lot to chat about. 🙂

    • Leah, how interesting!! It sounds like we would have a LOT to discuss. The asset management firm I work for does a lot of direct investing in real estate, and they are really committed to managing those properties sustainably (largely because that translates into value creation / cost savings, in addition to being good for the planet!). 🙂 I will definitely let you know if I am ever in Seattle! It seems like my kind of city.

    • Thank you Nicole! I’m excited to bring together these different parts of my life (education, career, travels, work, life in the US and abroad) which at one time seemed so separate. Hopefully I don’t bore readers to tears! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: