The HDS Office of Development and External Relations was pleased to host "Making Meaning in 2021 at the Crossroads of Business and Capitalism, Ethics, Faith, and Justice," on February 2, 2021.
Featured speakers included: John P. Brown, MBA '74, MDiv '88, Practitioner in Residence in Religion, Business Ethics, and the Economic Order, HDS Katherine Collins, MTS '11, Head of Sustainable Investing, Putnam Investments Karim Hutson, MBA '03, MTS '08, Founder & Managing Member, Genesis Companies Al-Husein Madhany, MTS '01, Head of Global People Operations, Moveworks.ai.
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I'm Lori Stevens. I'm the associate dean for development and external relations at the Harvard Divinity School. Welcome, officially. I'm so glad that so many of you could join us. We Have over 400 people signed up for today, which is just fantastic.
So now I'm excited to introduce our moderator, John Brown, and this panel. We put this panel together so that we could all hear more about pathways of different HDS alumni and particularly today, those pathways around business and the intersections of business with ethics, and faith, and justice.
This is an area of great expertise for John. He teaches in this area at the Divinity School. And he just recently finished teaching a J-term class with some faculty at the Business School where he really looked at how spirituality motivates leaders and guides their toughest decisions.
So I know he'll facilitate a wonderful conversation today. John, as a leader for our community in many ways, as an alum of the school, as a faculty member, and as a member of our Deans' Council, and as a faculty member John is a practitioner in residence in religion, business ethics, and the economic order. So John, take it away. Thank you.
Thank you, Lori and the members of the external relations team for hosting this discussion. I am especially pleased to introduce our panelists, Katherine Collins, MTS '11, Karim Hutson MTS '08, and Al-Husein Madhany MTS, 2001. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know each panelist during the run-up to today.
But I would like them to introduce themselves to our guests and to briefly share with us tidbit from their backgrounds that we will not find on LinkedIn or Wikipedia and also describe briefly their journey to HDS. So to get us started, Katherine, take it away please.
Great. John, thanks so much. And thanks, everyone, for joining today. It's so wonderful to gather and have a chance to discuss these topics and the inter weavings that exist in all of our lives. I'll tell you a little about how I landed at HDS. And then I'll give you my tidbit.
I came to HDS as a mid-career kind of student. I had been investing about 20 years before I went to Divinity School. And an interesting thing happened when I made that decision.
My investment friends were all very happy. But they kept saying things like, we're so glad you found your calling. And then my friends at HDS were very, very welcoming. But they kept saying things like, we're so glad you've seen the light.
And both were, I think, well intentioned but a little bit divided. And they really reinforced this idea that these two realms should exist in separate arenas. But my goal all along was to unite them.
As my investment work had proceeded over the years and I got more and more expert with more and more responsibility, the job actually got more and more narrow, much more sophisticated in terms of all the financial lingo and tools that I was using day in and day out. But bit by bit a little bit less connected with the world. And the whole reason I love investing is that connection with the world-- the way that finance is influenced by the world and vise verse-- has the chance to have influence as well.
And so I wanted to really reunite these things. And as I worked more and more in sustainability I found the same dynamic was at play. The sustainability experts were speaking one language. And the investment experts were speaking another language.
And so my goal in attending HDS was to be able to be a better bridge and a better translator between these different domains of knowledge. Thankfully, those have started to knit together in a much more complete way now. But in going to Divinity School, I wanted to get at the root of the root, not that tactics and tools of sustainability and investing, but the true core purpose of all the systems that we've created and to learn from that wisdom.
So it's a wonderful chance to re-root myself and my own practice, and to think more deeply about what a reconnected form of investing might look like. All the way along through that whole journey my tidbit is I am also a beekeeper. And so I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to have this totally tangible alive model of collective system that functions very effectively as I'm struggling with all the questions in our human realm about individual versus collective good. Beekeeping has been a tremendous boon to my understanding and the bees have been amazing teachers right along with all my community at HDS.
Thank you, Katherine. Karim, please.
Well, that's hard to follow up. That's a fantastic story. I did not know about the bees.
But anyway, hello all from New York City, specifically snowy Harlem. And to all my friends in Boston, I give you greetings. We wish you well. But I hope you guys are still mourning the departure of Tom Brady and not going to the playoffs this year. [CHUCKLES]
In any case, I came to Harvard really as focused on business and as a business student. And as I begin to kind of explore some of the intersection between real estate, and community, and faith, I grew a interest in learning what is happening at Harvard Divinity School. And quite frankly, I think I've always had, in my blood, what I think my faith would call like, a calling-- Katherine said for-- to understand more about what it is that I believed. I felt like that was something that was freeing for the spirit, and for the soul, and for the mind.
And so I don't think everybody understood it. But it was something that I decided to pursue. And I really never really questioned it in my mind. And when I walked into Helmut Koester's Intro to New Testament class, it was probably one of the most significant experiences in my life.
And so I continued to actually go to Divinity School after I graduated from business school, which I did in 2003. And for five years, I guess until 2008, I was traveling back and forth on a Chinatown bus when Jet Blue first started on the $20 fares to get up on Tuesday and Thursday classes-- and at the same time, I had already started Genesis-- but profoundly fulfilling for me. And so that's a little bit how I got to Divinity School.
I would say in terms of a tidbit, even though I'm a Bronx and Harlem boy, I love hiking. I got a chance to really experience it when I was in my early 20s. And my favorite hike was with the National Author Leadership School in the Brooks Range of Alaska.
Thanks, Karim. We're turning it over to Al-Husein. Please.
Good morning, everyone from sunny California. Silicon Valley is from where I hail. I joined the Divinity School right out of undergrad. I had decided I was going to take a brief and quick stop between my bachelor's degree in medical school. Because I thought, you know, I'm going to be a doctor the body. I think I should study the soul as well.
I never went to medical school. So I was entirely enraptured by the learning at the Divinity School, specifically, the interplay between the history of religion and this great nation of ours. Not just of one religion but of all faiths and how the faith community, historically, has actually been a pillar of the founding of this country and continues to be a pillar in the business community and in all other communities. But there was never really this divide between them but actually a combination-- a combined force that actually brought us to where we are today.
So my Divinity career never took me to medical school. But I decided to pursue advanced coursework and advanced degrees in Islamic studies and in Arabic. And I was teaching Arabic at Georgetown University on 9/11. And I leaned heavily on my Divinity degree and my Divinity connections during the months and years after in which I was asked to serve my country as a subject matter expert in Islamic studies and Arabic.
How did I land in Silicon Valley? Well, here's the tidbit. Everything I've done actually can, in terms of my success and my decision matrix, really boils down to just one decision. And that is to just follow my wife around the world and figure out what she's doing and if I can just ride on her coattails.
So I'm actually the scrub. She's actually the baller. I don't know, but you guys should meet her. She's pretty amazing.
And when we were in Washington DC, that's where I was, she received a job offer from a company that claimed they were going to make money on the internet in 2007. I mean, do you guys remember that time? That's when like Craigslist was like the homepage of the internet. That's when Yahoo was like the bomb. Do you guys remember that, yahoo.com?
Well, you and I were carrying blackberries because we were cool. But most people were carrying Motorola flip phones. And she received a call to join this small company out here to make money on the internet when the world had thought all the money was made already on the internet.
And I followed her out here to Silicon Valley without a job, and leaned in heavily into her career, and had to recreate myself out here in Silicon Valley, leaning, again, heavily on my Divinity connections, my Harvard connections and my expertise. And that's how I found myself in corporate America now leading people operations and human resources at a small half-a-billion-dollar startup here in the Valley.
Thanks, Al-Husein. Great story from all three of you. Each of you is engaged in a critical sector of the economy-- technology, sustainable investments, sustainability, and built communities.
Katherine, as head of sustainable investments for Putnam, my question is, we're going to share on the screen momentarily a copy of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Meanwhile, I'd like to ask, in an interview published a few years ago you said the following, formal religions can be exclusive. And we need to extend their wisdom into more secular context that are widely accessible. Please tell us what that statement means to you within the context of the world we live in today. And if you could provide us with an example from your personal or professional experiences, that would be great.
Sure. Thanks for the question, John. There's a lot in there. I think the overarching theme, which all of us actually have already touched on in different ways from our own perches, is this theme of reconnection. The idea that ethics sit over here in the religious sector. And then the business world sits over here.
You know, it's just a fiction. And we all know it and yet the tools and the structures we've created in all of these different dimensions I think are usually designed a little bit more for exclusion than inclusion. It's true in a lot of our religious settings and institutions. It's true in academia, I'm sorry to say. It's definitely true in finance.
You know, what's the first thing you do? The first thing you do is you create a whole series of language, and rituals, and shorthand, and insider knowledge that has this wonderful effect of binding a community together but has this ancillary effect that's not so great, that fragments folks. And in doing so I think we leave ourselves open for a really important tension that is at the center of my work at Putnam, where we're trying to take a more complete, more holistic, long-term view of thoughtful investing.
And so we're taking all the things that have been kind of set over in the corner or called externalities and bringing them back into the process. The tension is that doing that, because we have created all these different silos, is easier said than done. The SDGs are actually a great example of this.
So here we have this really glorious, complete, comprehensive roadmap for what we think might constitute a thriving world and how we might make progress in that direction-- very ambitious, stunningly labor intensive to get to the point where there is an agreed upon map at this big global level. But I spent some time at the UN last year. And as soon as you have a map that's very complicated and comprehensive the natural tendency that we have in our institutions is to create a lot of stuff to support that map.
And so the SDGs are not just those 17 icons. There's hundreds and hundreds of pages on exactly what is meant, and how we can measure progress, and all the different policy implications that should be considered, and what constitutes true alignment versus partial alignment. All of that's hugely necessary and an important part of what an effective bureaucracy can do.
But oh, it's heavy. And it doesn't always match what we're witnessing in the world in terms of what's important. The things that fit on your spreadsheet are not always the things that are most relevant to consider. And so there's this push and pull between wanting to have thoughtful, comprehensive, quantifiable progress. And really keeping that North star of why in mind.
When I was visiting the UN we had a few days kind of deep in that bureaucratic diving into the weeds element. And then I turned a corner. And I had no idea that I was in the spot where this is, but there's a beautiful Chagall window in the United Nations, down a funny little hallway. And it's the Blue Angel.
And so you're walking down this closed off setting and all of a sudden this angel appears. To me that was the moment. That was the bridge. Like, oh my gosh, here is this very heavy hand book that I can hardly carry if I print it out. But here is what we're really after. Right?
And so holding those two things simultaneously-- for many of us in our professional settings-- I think is the task, to not let go of either end of that equation. So what that means in practice for my team has been really interesting, again, trying to kind of hold both of these elements together. On the quantitative side by many measures the team has been very successful.
We run two mutual fund products that have had really stellar results-- all the conventional markers of investment success. It's just been a few years, but at this point you can say check, check, check. But boy, that's like tip of the iceberg for what you really want to know.
When I think about the things that are a little bit under the surface, both for us and for the companies that we invest in, that's where all the interesting stuff lies. And again, it doesn't fit so neatly on a spreadsheet. But boy, it's so much better.
I have the chance, for example, when I talk to CEOs of companies to either take a checklist approach and walk them through a very tedious report card process critiquing all along the way. Or I have the chance to ask something much more open ended and hopefully, maybe more inspiring.
So I tend to ask CEOs on the sustainability front, before we turn to all the metrics and report card elements, what's the coolest thing you're doing? What is the thing you're proudest of that you don't get to talk about very often? What is the thing that investors never ask you about that they really should because it's the key to everything that you do?
If you really wanted to make the greatest difference in the world, what would that be? Like, what might you do? Gosh, that's such a fun conversation. It's much more important than double checking all the data that I already can get from other sources.
Similarly, on our team, we spend a lot of time with our heads down in spreadsheets. So one thing that we do on a weekly basis when we get together is we do this quick round robin of best things. What's the best thing that happened to this week?
And it started out very wonky and work-oriented, and has gradually gotten more and more personal. But this is directly from my Divinity School training. What are we doing? It's a gratitude practice. And it's building community.
Now, I don't call it that. If I showed up the first day and said to our team, hey, we're going to do a gratitude practice to build community. There aren't that many financial firms where that would go over super well. But the impact is terrific and everyone's happy to do it. So the labels get in our way.
And again, I'm sort of ending where I started. I think this tension between needing to have thoughtful, clear, analytical, quantifiable frameworks for things that really matter and also needing to keep that sort of Blue Angel in sight-- that sense of community, and connection, and purpose for almost all of us living at this point in history. That's our role, right? Is to be fully present and fully active across all those dimensions.
Thank you, Katherine. That's fascinating. Your work is indeed timely given the multiple challenges our society faces. Karim, you have been making meaning in and through multiple facets of your life-- as a husband, a father, investment banker, trustee of your church in New York, board member of the New York Theological Seminary, and, of course, founder and CEO of Genesis, to name just a few of your commitments.
Genesis is a for-profit enterprise whose name and roots can be traced, in several ways, to the combination of a course you took at Harvard Divinity School and the first book of the Bible. Please connect the dots for us and unpack how you view the intersectionality of an active, civic-minded, entrepreneurially-driven, family-centered, and faith-based life.
Thanks for the question. Definitely a lot there. I'll do the best I can.
It's funny, another way that Harvard Divinity School touched my business was-- I think it was Professor Coogan teaching introduction to the Old Testament at that time that I took the course. And he started with a reading of Genesis, which I had never really quite heard before, which was a much more, I guess, explicit or tangible meaning of what it read. And I might, probably botch this up, so forgive me professors who are on the phone.
But I think it was like, in the beginning when God created-- or began to create the heavens and the Earth-- the Earth was a formless void-- and darkness covered the face of the void. When it went from God, Spirit of God swept over the face of the Earth or the waters-- hopefully, I did that right. And in one of the things he said was that in the ancient mind it really wasn't about a creation of something out of nothing, which was phenomenally interesting to me. But it was more about God perfecting, God calling, God making better what was there. And that really became a guiding principle for Genesis.
We don't come into communities and believe that we are creating something when there's nothing. And there's disarray. We are trying to add to the community to build it up, to create communities of resiliency. And whether that's for somebody who's making a low-wage jobs, who is making a working wage, a living wage, moderate income, market rate. We owe it to all of those folks to provide that quality of life the best that we can do it.
And so that's what we try to do. And we try to look at the communities that we involve ourselves in and figure out how can we meet the needs. Because [AUDIO OUT] from a ethics standpoint. But it makes sense from a profit standpoint. So we've never really thought about ourselves as a double-bottom-line business.
We provide a product to our communities that we think people ought to have. And that's a good product. And that's a reason why they want to live there. And so we don't take any of that for granted. And we challenge ourselves even when we make mistakes to do better and to change.
And so that's how we thought about the business. And I would say when we first started Genesis I looked around-- and I grew up in the Harlem and the Bronx, which was some of the toughest neighborhoods back in the 90s-- and a lot of my friends have asthma, all kinds of sick-building syndrome stuff. And you just look and say, OK, my mom and my family sacrificed so that I can do so much. But this can be better. Right? It's the basics of capitalism, that there's a need you can address. Right?
And so that void is what I felt Genesis could fulfill-- and a lot of other developers who have the same mentality as I do. And so that's how we've thought about the business. And the profit motivation is important because resources are important.
And I believe that I could take my mind that was trained by some of the best investment minds and create a business that was profitable, and sustainable, and put out a product, a housing product, and others that could be sustainable as well for the tenants and sustainable for those communities. Because you can't put out a product that can't keep itself alive. Because then we are essentially undoing the good work that we're doing.
And so I think all of that plays the role of addressing inequities. I mean, several decades of inequities in real estate and land, and the fact that a young black kid who really had no affiliation or understanding of what it means to be a business person mentored by trustees from a little college in Massachusetts. Amherst College, who asked me if I want to be an investment banker. And I said, what am I going to do like, sit In front of a computer all day? And they had to explain to me what it meant to be a business person. I didn't know.
But that I could take that beginning and become CEO of my own company with the effort to create generational wealth-- a success story for capitalism and a success story for faith. So I think there's, despite everything that we may be grieving about in the world, there's a lot that we can do. And it's a lot to be proud of in terms of what we've created. We need to continue to look forward and figure out ways to continue to build upon that.
Thank you, Karim. That's very, very informative and congratulations. Al-Husein, you and your wife were early adapters to the tech sector.
I have a two-part question for you. The first part is could you share with us a few of the learnings, both positive and less than positive, that you have gained from your experiences in Silicon Valley? And number two, when we met last week to prepare for today's discussion, you expressed concern about one of the lesser discussed outgrowths from the pandemic specifically, the exponential surge in the money supply.
Would you mind explaining in a layperson's language why this metric is as important as it is? And what it suggests for this anxiety-latent period in human history in which we all find ourselves? And from there we will pick up on our discussion about capitalism and repairing the world. Al-Husein, please take it away.
Thank you, John. And thank you, Karim and Katherine for your great comments. So Silicon Valley is a place where, as my friends will tell you, like, they think I'm unemployable anywhere else in the world.
Like, you can't take my resume and get a job in New York or DC. Because you go from startup to fail, to start up to fail. And you try and figure it out. And you try. And you fail fast.
And what you realize in Silicon Valley, which is a melting pot and there's an entire ecosystem that supports this, is that the distance between success, between you and success is actually quite small. The distance is actually quite small. And it's one on the margins.
It's one on the margins. What you realize is that whether you're a 26-year-old CEO that's just closed $100 million from a venture capital firm or you are one employee at one of these companies I've worked at, everybody is an entrepreneur. And everybody has an opportunity to succeed in a way that is beyond what they had ever imagined.
Why? Because you are building the future here. You're building the future-- you're building the ship while it's sailing in many ways. And so my emergence in Silicon Valley is really around, as I mentioned earlier, just following my wife here. [CHUCKLES] It was accidental. But we've benefited greatly from it.
And in part, for me, it was just to answer the call-- answer the call to service. And in my role now as a people officer, I think about the community that we're creating in our companies. And I think about the challenges that our employees face not just on a day-to-day basis but existential challenges, ethical challenges.
And so one of my learnings is that success is actually won on the margins. And success is actually the distance between anybody. And success is actually quite small.
The other thing I've learned is everybody here in Silicon Valley, no matter how much money you've raised, no matter your wealth that you've created or the lack thereof, everybody is very, very, very similar in that we're all actually human. And we're all very much the same. And the quicker we realize that, the quicker you realize that you could be that person too. That's what I love about Silicon Valley, is that you literally could be anybody, all you have to do is try.
Now, when it comes to the money supply-- and this is something that's very important for us to understand. It's something that I'm spending a lot of time thinking about and discussing among my cadre and cohort here and that is-- if you look at this chart, the United States has printed more money during this recession in the last 11 months than in the first two centuries of our founding. So if you zoom in a little bit. And you go to the next slide, what you'll see is that blip in 2001, that's speed bump in 2008, compared to today.
So this is actually significant. This is deeply significant. And what I would say to this is that we, as Americans-- nay humans-- are tired of being productized.
You know the saying, if it's free, you are the product. Meaning somebody is monetizing you and your data, whether it's social media, or trading shorts on Robinhood. As we've seen this past week where they've-- it's actually free to trade on Robinhood because they receive payment for order flow or even receiving a $1,200 stimulus check in the mail. If it is free, you are the product.
And so what I would articulate is that we, as corporations, and as Americans, and as humans, should be seriously concerned about this-- the M1 money supply. And as a answer, and I think what we're finding in our communities increasingly-- our faith communities, our corporations-- and the way we are restructuring faith and organizations is that we're creating a decentralization of power and access so that value accrues to all equally, not just to a single body, not just to a single corporation. And that whether you're a corporate level, or a non-profit, or faith community, or just somebody living in their home sheltered in place, it's time for us to play offense when the rest of the world is playing defense in light of the increased money supply.
Great. Thank you, Karim. We are coming up to the point where we'd like to open it up to questions. But I have one last question for you. And if you could answer me just in about one or two minutes.
Could you share your thoughts regarding the notion that capitalism is ripe for change? For example, University Professor Rebecca Henderson has suggested that, in effect repairing a world that is on fire will require reimagining capitalism. My question is, if you could put the broader challenge that's facing society-- such as, justice, sustainability, ethical norms, and human development, within the context of your own faiths and your hopes for 2021-- what would that mean?
And Karim, I know you are-- near and dear are the concerns of justice and prison reform are near and dear to you. If you could get us started. But again, I would ask each panelists to try to confine your comment to roughly two minutes, please. Karim, if you could start us.
Sure. So I guess my answer would be that I do not think capitalism is the problem. But I do think there's a lot of personal responsibility that needs to be generally taken. I'll give you one example. And it hits on the criminal justice stuff.
But we were hiring a large third-party property manager to manage some properties for us. And we didn't have a maintenance person, a porter to work the properties. And we went to a temp service and got a young African-American, must have been in his early 30s, maybe late 20s, to work for us.
He was doing a fantastic job. I had gone by as the owner and just checked on things. And I saw him there working late and his daughter was in the office 'cause he didn't have anywhere to store her while he was working. And I got a chance to talk to her and meet her.
And I said to the large firm, I said, hey, why don't we just go ahead and hire this guy? We're paying a premium for the temp service. And they said, that's a great idea, Karim. We should go ahead and do that.
So I got a call a couple of weeks later. And they said we can't hire the guy. I said, well, what do you mean? We can't hire the guy.
Apparently, he had some interaction with the police at some point, when he was maybe late-high school or recently after that. I said, well, this was probably like 10, 12 years. And I said, yeah, was it anything serious? Probably not.
But our guidelines don't allow us to hire him. And I thought it was just an absurd resolution to a guy who potentially made a mistake, and maybe didn't, that his life should be completely shut off and beyond any mercy or forgiveness because of some interaction, I was unclear that he had, when he was a kid. We figured out a way to hire him by actually hiring through our company and then allowing him to service the property. So he got through the issue.
But I think we need to be looking at who are in these driver's seats and what decisions are being made. And on the flip side of that, I would say that I believe, actually, that the corporate body-- and remember that's also nonprofit institutions like Harvard-- have done even in the face of some of the racial issues and police brutality, whether you like all the programs they have or not, they have resourced many programs and responded in ways, in my view, that have been much faster than our government. And so while I think there is certainly issues in the corporate body, I think that there's a lot to be desired from folks on the government side, and other sides, and even in our faith communities, who have been broken apart by disagreements in politics that they have been much slower to respond to the needs in the communities at least that I come from and that I service.
Thanks, Karim. Katherine--
No, there's such a lot there. I think the two words that keep coming to mind for me are proximity and alignment. And I think this strings together the last couple of things we've talked about here. Whenever I see a layer, whether it's in a business, or in a financial structure, or in a process, or a rule system, that creates more opacity, I naturally just put a little star beside it. Because often it's well intended but it ends up opening up these consequences that are not so well intended over time.
So that's true in the human level. It's true in terms of capital flows. It's true in terms of setting up a rigid rule system that, if you just fast forward 5 or 10 years, has some really strange effects. I'll give you a quick tangible example just to make it clear.
By some measures of sustainable investing, the first thing you do is have no affiliation whatsoever with any company that is a major user of hydrocarbons. And there's good reason for that. I mean, I think it's pretty intuitive probably to everyone listening.
If I do that as the first rule, it means I never talk to any of those producers. I never can engage with a big utility, for example, that is transforming its entire fleet from hydrocarbons to renewables. You can't really be part of the shift. Right? Because I'm just succeeding.
And so this reconnection, again, I think relates very directly to the alignment of, how is this system created? And what are the natural consequences that come from it? When we ask the question, is capitalism broken? Those are the two things that I always find as root causes.
The current form of capitalism is not so great in some ways. But it's pretty awesome in other ways-- same for democracy, same for education. I mean, you can say it for almost every big system that exists at this point.
And so the diagnosis to me is to get back to that proximal level. So like Karim just mentioned, once the person, you can figure out a solution. Once you see the investment opportunity, you can figure out a way to actually connect the dots. But if you can't see it, if you're not that close to begin with, that's a real systemic-structural issue that I think we can all play our part in resolving.
Thank you, Katherine. Al-Husein--
Sure. I think we're restructuring capitalism and its impact to the little person in Silicon Valley. And technology is a great disruptor there. I think we are going to find a future that is decentralized, financed and decentralized, opportunities are decentralized. And more value will accrue to the individual not to the whole.
We're seeing that in the way social media is restructuring. We're seeing that in the way investments are restructuring. And we're seeing that in the way stocks are being traded today.
The two words that come to mind for me are grace and shame. And I think we, as humans, experience shame in this society. And as leaders our responsibility is to provide grace in our corporations, during this tumultuous time as a recession, even outside of this is find opportunities and avenues for grace.
Within the system, everybody carries shame. Everybody carries some level of shame. And often it is due, in fact, to a work environment, a systemic environment that they have put themselves in in order to provide for their family. My response is with grace. And as leaders, that's where we should focus our energies.
Great. Thank you. Thank you all of the panelists for your time and your input and to our guests who are participating across the internet
We're excited to continue this discussion with a little engagement from all of you who are here. We have one question to start [INAUDIBLE] a reflection and question from Bruce McEver, saying, doesn't a lot of this boil down to the Golden Rule in business-- treating others as you would like to be treated-- and running your business like that? And I think you touched on that, Al-Husein, even in your remarks about grace. But if you or anyone else want to just share any other reflections on that or how you think about that, that would be great.
I think it's a good point.
So I would just ask us, in our daily lives, as we walk through the halls of corporations or go through Zoom, after Zoom, after Zoom meetings in our crazy back-to-back schedules, to think about grace and to think and realize that people do carry shame. That's all. Just recognize the humanity of those on this two-dimensional Brady Bunch view of the world as a start. Karim--
No, I think it's a good point, especially in seeing humanity. I would just say that also on the question, I think there's a lot that can be done better when it comes to the corporate body. I think it's really interesting with all the police brutality stuff, how quickly the corporate folks made policies and put resources behind various things, whether it's too little or too much can be debated. But I think that oftentimes you also have to look at the notion of the Golden Rule even outside of capitalism, right?
Capitalism doesn't survive in and of itself, it's still subjected into a government system. Right? And so-- to the extent that people care more about being elected than they care about their mission and duties or in the faith context, not having the Golden Rule mentality. That all affects us, not just affects capitalism. And so I think it goes beyond just whether we should be running a business, a certain way I absolutely believe that. But we have to look at society as a whole, I think, before we can just say, OK. Hey, capitalism needs to be focused in on. I think that would be my comment.
Yeah, 'cause it's often the case that elected officials' first action, when they are elected, is to staff their re-election campaign. Right? Because they are overly focused on being career politicians rather than serving and answering the call to service.
Well, and I think, Bruce, your comment brings up a really important reflection we've all touched on in different ways. I've been trying through my Divinity studies and elsewhere to ask a different question when these kinds of disconnects come up. Like, hmm, that's totally true that politicians do that. Why?
Under what conditions does that make perfect sense? And is there something we could do about those conditions? Right? I think we're in a very polarized time right now, especially in the US where it's just us and them, good and bad on every issue and a much more interesting question usually is, how did that come to be? Why does seem sensible to these folks that I so strongly disagree with on this topic?
It at least opens you up just a little bit more to seeing something that you might not fully see otherwise. And that's a big piece of what's embedded in your comment, Bruce. The idea that the revised Golden Rule, the platinum rule, is do unto others as they would have done unto them-- not imposing your thoughts of goodness.
I would just say, if I can be a little controversial, that so what is the role of the faith community? Have we stepped up enough in these times and been a guidepost? I was listening to, I think, an NPR podcast. And they were talking about evangelical churches and how they've had to figure out ways to discuss all of the political bickering that's happened there around Trump versus Biden and all that kind of stuff.
And what is the role of the faith community to continue to serve these communities? We do have nonprofits playing a larger role than ever in communities. And in some ways, doing things that we had to rely on the church to do many, many decades ago.
And so I think we have to look at faith too and a call to action there, and a renewal, and saying, hey guys, we can't just sit and preach the same thing. We can't just we can't just sit and teach the same thing. We have to figure out how do we make this relevant to the world that people live in now, which is inequality. It's injustice.
You still want people to pursue happiness. And it's confidence. And so all of this stuff to me is important for us as faith leaders to be dealing with and having relevance about.
I would just add that we, as faith leaders, have to go to the conversation. We can't wait for the conversation to come to us. And more often than not, it's happening online and in diverse and decentralized communities off of the main thread, as it were.
And it's not happening, necessarily, not only happening in brick and mortar institutions but are actually happening when people are self organizing in communities online. And our role should be to go and bring the conversation, host the conversation there. Not expect it to come to us.
Flowing in a related but slightly new direction, there's a question focused on access. And the background for the question is, who can and cannot participate in capitalism for profit is the problem. And she says, most minorities participate as consumers. Money leaves the community quickly and spends more time providing for whites in their communities. How can we get banks to provide loans to minorities for their community businesses?
Well access to capital is a huge issue in the African-American community. And it has dogged our ability to be entrepreneurial but so has criminal justice. We have many of our outsized amount of men and even women were going to jail and essentially being stripped of their rights. How can you have sustainable communities that can grow economically? And then education are huge issues, right?
And I would say though, I believe, in the African-American community basically there are tremendous, tremendous thought leaders and innovators that have not been able to access capitalism in many, many ways-- maybe because of liquidity, maybe because of situations. And so that absolutely has to be addressed. And I think some of the banks have begun to look at programs to deal with issues of inequity, and in capital raising, or in liquidity or access to capital, and that's a conversation.
But I think what we've learned as an African-American community is that, as when we were shut out of the corporate world, we have to figure out ways to get into it. And then we have to make change and show that we can be valuable contributors there. I think that the answer is that we have to open up those access to capitals.
And we have to allow folks to be innovative. And that means we have to give them opportunities to indulge in their talents. And that means keeping them out of prisons and giving them access to education. And so to me, those are the key things.
And I don't think we can demonize capitalism. We have to allow folks to celebrate it. Because, whether you're a kid on the street and you want to see somebody doing well, or if it's in sports, or if it's in music, or whether it's in business, they should be able to see all those role models-- or in politics rather-- see all those role models, or faith leaders, they can see all those role models and figure out what it is that they want to do, and be able to achieve those things.
So that's my view on it.
One thing that I'm observing when we talk with big financial institutions who are at the heart of some of this challenge, one thing that's shifted that is very encouraging to me-- and again, hard to fit on a spreadsheet-- is that we seem to be moving from an era where the response would be in some cases positive but very limited. So we have a new initiative. We have a new loan pool. We have a new program. All of which can be wonderful.
But they're only wonderful if they are bridges to a bigger, more systemic solution that is a truly inclusive underlying system. And so one thing that we've been discussing with some of the major banks that are investment candidates for us, which could not have been a conversation even, I'd say, five years ago is, OK. You've got these initiatives that I can see like out in the press release. Awesome way to get some energy and focus.
But tell me what you're doing behind the scenes? What are you changing in terms of policies? What are you changing in terms of ongoing guidelines? What are you doing in terms of changing your own processes to really make this a more permanent shift and not just a neat program that when it ends, it ends?
And so again, that sort of reconnection and that willingness to look within, as opposed to the mentality of, I'm going to do you a favor by offering this gift. It's a big shift to go from, I'm going to do this thing voluntarily, to like, oh, we need to change our ownselves, our own systems internally. So I'm very encouraged by that. It's early days. But just the recognition that one-by-one special program is not going to get at that root is a really, really big shift.
And I would just quickly say, it's going to take sacrifice. And it's going to take a lot of time. And so take a long view. Take a long view and recognize that we also have to see it to be it. Find those mentors, find those coaches, and find those leaders that we can model ourselves after to find perhaps a quicker path to individual success so that we can create family success and then success in the community. It will take sacrifice though.
I totally agree with that, Al-Husein. It's a great point. I mean, if I look at my business, we have suffered from access to capital. But we've grown through that.
But we hire a very diverse workforce. We hire a lot of folks who live in the communities. And so I can make a change, go to the thought process of, hey, money is flowing out of poor communities and minority communities but we can change that. I can hire folks in those communities.
They can now have stable jobs. They can now have families and go to their families and, hopefully, educate their kids, and be a good father, and be a good mother. And we're giving them those opportunities by employing them.
So I feel like we can be on the front lines as business owners. And it goes outside of, to me, racial-identity politics. Now, it's not necessarily doing it because I'm black or because somebody is white for doing it.
But they have to be thinking about, OK, how can I make a change? And how can I actually institute policies-- to Katherine's point-- that do change? And I'm not going to solve the world's problems.
But the folks who, I believe, are working for our firm, have a good living, and are able to have a living wage, and are able to grow, and to have stability, which is the concept. Right? If kids don't have stability at home, they can't go and get educated. So I think it starts with the building blocks and taking personal responsibility for doing the good stuff.
We could talk all day. We'll have to find ways to continue this conversation. I think we'll start to wrap up there.
John, I want to give you a chance to say any concluding thoughts. And then I'll just share some final final remarks. And we'll sign off.
Thank you, Lori. And thank you, panelists. If we had three more minutes, I would ask you one last question. But I will give you the preface to the question and let that be my closing comment.
In my private conversations with each of you, I detected a keen awareness if not a personal identity with an empathy for some of society's biggest challenges. But I also noticed in your voices and your demeanor is something called hopefulness. I think this is the one area that I wish we could have explored just a little bit more for each of you to share how you had managed to remain hopeful in this period in which the pandemic, social unrest, and pronounced discord, seemed to be uppermost in our public and private conversations.
So I thank you for the message of hopefulness, some of which I believe came through in our conversation this morning. And it's a conversation I hope to follow with each of you at some later point. But thank you ever so much. Thank you, Lori and your team. And thank you to our guests for joining us.
Thank you, John. My thanks to you, to all of you, Al-Husein, Katherine, Karim, and to the DER team who put this together. I wanted to conclude with the exact same feeling. I feel more hope after this conversation than I have felt on many days of late.
I love the reference to Amanda Gorman's poem, Al-Husein. And the-- just believing that we can keep moving forward. And we can take a long view. And that there are good people who want to find ways to work together and make the most of capitalism and democracy in all aspects of our society.
So thank you. Thank you so much. Everyone, I know that the panelists are happy to hear more questions. If you have questions and you want to email them to us afterwards, you can reply to the original event invitation or whatever works for you. We can share more questions with them and happy to connect you individually.
Also I want you to look out for an article, John had the wonderful thought to share, Clay Christensen's article, "How Will You Measure Your Life?" as a follow up to this discussion to just provide some more food for thought and reflection. That's all for today. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Lori.
Thank you, Karim--
Al-Husein and Katherine.
Thank you, everyone.
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