29 Sep Buen Vivir Fund-Thousand Currents
Interview with Gaithiri Siva, Director of the Buen Vivir Fund
I remember Rajasvini Bhansali, the former executive director of Thousand Currents, talking about a new kind of investment fund in which investors and partners had an equal role in governing the decision-making through an assembly process. At the Swift Foundation, we made both grants and investments in the Buen Vivir Fund where I got a front seat to their innovative structure and work. I am excited to see their next phase of growth.
Jen: How was Buen Vivir Fund created?
Gaithiri: The journey for the Buen Vivir Fund began when Thousand Currents explored setting up an investment fund from scratch that would challenge the pressures and power dynamics inherent to investing as well as the economic norms of the impact investment industry. It was conceived to serve as a powerful new resource for grassroots groups around the world working to create economic initiatives that challenge mainstream paradigms and which prioritize buen vivir.
Jen: How are your investment funds catalytic in a way that is different from other funds?
Gaithiri: The Buen Vivir Fund is catalytic because we continue to fundamentally shift and challenge the mainstream assumptions of power, risk and return within the investment world. As our work is rooted in building power and autonomy for our members and their community, we intentionally co-design and co-construct all aspects of the fund, fundamentally aiming to shift decision making power which usually remains concentrated in the hands of a select few in the investment world. We practice participatory governance; and the democratization of this decision making power, we believe, is an essential building block to creating autonomy and self-determination for the groups we serve.
Jen: How do you describe the kind of non-financial returns the fund offers?
Gaithiri: We describe our non financial returns as “Buen Vivir Returns”. Our investments generate rich buen vivir returns in at least one, and usually multiple, of the following areas. The implementing organization of each project self-determines which areas are relevant to their project, and specific return objectives within the area, according to the priorities of the communities and groups involved in the project.
- Everyday joy: The day-to-day work of the project has supported people to work with dignity, use their creative capacity, and feel joy.
- Well-being of body, mind, and spirit: The project has supported people to improve their health and well-being in ways that matter to them.
- Thriving earth: The project has contributed to healing and improving the health of the ecosystem in areas such as soil health, biodiversity and water quality.
- Cultural vibrancy: The project has contributed to restoring and revitalizing cultural knowledge, traditions and pride.
- Leadership by all: The project has contributed to strengthening the leadership of individuals and groups to take initiative in dreaming up and creating the change that they feel is most needed.
- Balanced relationship to money: The project has enabled people to practice sharing, accessing, and passing forward money in ways that restore balance. The experience of being involved in the project and investment helped heal negative or out-of-balance experiences they may have had before (of scarcity, shame, fear, distrust) and bring more peace, generosity, dignity, and a sense of connection to their lives.
- Sharing learnings: Continuously share learnings and resources in order to support individuals, groups, and organizations around the world to deepen their practices in buen vivir finance and show the viability of implementing buen vivir-based investment.
Jen: Can you describe how you use integrated capital to do your work?
Gaithiri: We use a combination of initial grant, investment, and multi-year grants to all our investments. The multi-year grantmaking supporting each investment is a form of enacting our commitment to the process and, in general, can be a form of active healing and recognition of the historic extraction that has occurred in so many of our communities, and the return and redistribution of wealth that is required to restore balance and well-being. We believe it is critical to recognize the true cost of operating a buen vivir project. With multi-year funding we aim to acknowledge and honor the labor of partners or hidden costs that exist in these projects–such as staff salaries for the positions needed to operate and support the project; costs for training staff and community members in topics that enable them to fully engage with and benefit from the project, etc. which often get looked over or are unaccounted for.
Jen: What is transformational about the businesses that you invest in?
Gaithiri: We invest in our grassroots partners and they have shared with us the importance of investing in initiatives with deep roots, that are deeply linked to community-led processes for social change and buen vivir. These investments respond to genuine community priorities and are woven into multi-faceted social change processes. Our first step in our due diligence process is to evaluate whether the proposed investment is actually coming from a real community organization and process, with deep community will behind it, and if the work is truly moving in the direction of building community power, self determination, and autonomy.
Jen: How do you address racial justice, income inequality, and/or gender justice through your products and services?
Gaithiri: The Buen Vivir Fund was created from scratch to reimagine returns, risk, and process in the investment space whilst pushing dominant and inherent power narratives. We actively oppose all injustices and inequities; this is built into our guiding principles. We promote financial models and practices that support communities’ holistic wellbeing, as opposed to focusing on maximizing individuals’ capital accumulation. We also recognize the importance of strengthening the autonomy, liberation, and empowerment of women in all our investment initiatives and are acutely aware of the consequences of uninterrogated patriarchy.
Jen: What does a foundation or investor need to understand in order to invest in transformational businesses?
Gaithiri: That ‘business as usual’ is killing us and our planet and we actively participate if we don’t expand our imaginations and start moving our money differently. Alternatives exist all around us, and investors need to seek them out and trust that communities have the solutions to build thriving economies. What is clear is that most economic projects that benefit all of us, that put people and planet before profits, generally don’t get funded through typical ‘impact investment’ as it falls outside the ‘appetite’ for market rate returns. The need for a system supporting these types of economic work is critical – as they fall within a grey area between what is usually supported by mainstream investing and impact investing. I fall back to Luis Razeto Migliaro’s words from his book Solidarity Economy Roads, when he says these grassroots groups and communities, possessing few resources to begin with, confront additional difficulties as they try to operate adequately within the framework of a global economy and market organized on the basis of competition and accumulation that does not favor them; they face tremendous obstacles to their existence despite their work being critical to the survival of our planet and all its inhabitants.
Jen: What do you tell people who think your fund is risky?
Gaithiri: We take them on a journey and invest in relationship building. This journey involves building and deepening awareness around the next economy and economic justice movements in the Global South as well as sharing/ amplifying the results and impact our partners are able to demonstrate through our investments.
Investment Thesis/What is your rationale for your approach to investing? The Buen Vivir Fund provides grants and investment support, using an integrated capital approach, to grassroots groups in the Global South doing leading work in building our next economy – always prioritizing people and planet over profit. We intend to be an accessible, non-extractive source of funding to grassroots groups to build thriving, resilient local economies that support community autonomy, self determination, and wellbeing. We practice a participatory governance model that democratizes decision making and challenges inherent power dynamics prevalent in the investing space.
Geography: We raise funds in the Global North to disburse to grassroots groups in the Global South. We are currently invested in Mexico, Guatemala, South Africa, Nepal and India.
Year Founded: 2018
# of Investments: 6
# of Investors: 8
Funds Raised: $1,000,000
What’s on Gaithiri’s Minds?
Book: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Song: Gitu’an by Alena Murang
Podcast: Upstream podcast on Spotify