By Felipe Witchger & Elizabeth Garlow

Over several weeks this Spring, 20 U.S. Catholic asset holders gathered on six different occasions to wrestle with the rarely-posed question: What would bold action in impact investing look like, if we use Catholic Social Teaching as our starting point? 

The cohort included Kayoko Lyons, Director of Impact Investing for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Chicago, along with leaders from the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Mercy Sisters, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of St. Joseph, Ascension Healthcare, CommonSpirit Healthcare (these latter two being among the largest such Catholic organizations, the Center for Action and Contemplation, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative, FaithInvest, Wisdom & Money, and FADICA.

The Economy of Francesco

The starting point for the 8-week workshop was Pope Francis’ May 1, 2019 letter on the “Economy of Francesco”:

  • “I invite you to… enter into a “covenant” to change today’s economy and to give a soul to the economy of tomorrow.”
  • “Your organizations are workshops of hope, creating new ways of understanding the economy and progress.” 
  • “I invite you to be protagonists of this transformation” ~ Pope Francis

The idea was to draw on heterodox economics, ethics, and Catholic Social Teaching (the documents, the history, and the principles) and begin to see how we might develop a set of principles and questions to guide our investment decision-making.

The materials and readings of the workshop drew from thinkers and practitioners ranging from Anthony Annett (Cathonomics), Anna Rowlands (Intro to CST 17-minute video), Morgan Simon (Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change), Luke Bretherton (Being Alive: A Primer to Christian EthicsChapter 13: Provisioning), Brendan Martin (non-extractive Finance from SEED Commons), and Kate Rayworth (Doughnut Economics).

The exciting part was when we realized as a cohort that so much of our Catholic teaching can be translated into a set of practical questions that can help us re-orient our financial and investment decision-making. In an effort to make Catholic Social Teaching practical for diligence on specific investment opportunities, the workshop drafted up a set of 12 questions, summarized here:

Most interesting was how energized many participants became by learning of real “investable” opportunities to re-deploy capital in ways that share ownership and wealth. The workshop offered exposure to cooperatives, employee owned firms, as well as the funds supporting their growth. 

The conversations opened up new horizons for more transformative impact investing focused on democratic shared ownership models with accountability to communities, workers, and the environment. 

At the conclusion of the workshop, many recognized the need to continue this work by actively noticing how nearly all our investments are structured with capital’s interests first — “capital supremacy” — and the interests of workers, communities, and the environment minimized in service of capital. Together, we began to see how “capital reciprocity” is not only possible — but necessary if we want to invest in a livable future. 

An Emerging “Francesco Collaborative”

We (Elizabeth and Felipe) have continued to accompany workshop participants through our facilitation of “Investor Circles” that gather every few weeks. In the two months since the workshop concluded, six participants have moved resources into funds focused on cooperatives and employee ownership. Our aim over the next 3 years is to help hundreds of Catholic and other faith investors see how their capital can transform our economy by more deeply embodying Catholic Social Teaching with their investments. 

Our view is that bold action in impact investing — when seeking to embody Catholic Social Teaching as your starting point — looks like more cooperatives, employee ownership, and purpose trusts. We believe bold CST-embodied investing can restructure conventional ownership, governance, and leadership to have the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity integrated into business.  

We define “Shared Ownership” as the ecosystem of cooperatives, employee owned businesses, perpetual purpose trusts (or steward ownership), “Just Transition” enterprises, place-based anchor institutions, and organizations focused on repair and healing for past harms.

The big challenge is that Shared Ownership entrepreneurs need values-aligned capital to be able realize their systems-change ambitions. Similarly, impact investors need education and support to learn about and assess cooperatives, employee ownership funds, purpose trusts, and the intermediaries that support them. 

We’re inviting investors to join us at the “Francesco Collaborative”, to help us organize other investors and entrepreneurs to tackle the cultural, institutional and capital market barriers that hold us back from the world we seek. You can join us by subscribing to our newsletter at OwnershipMatters.net

Our hope is that it will become culturally normative for impact investors to invest in ways that restructure firm ownership and governance relations to bring about greater social and environmental justice. By converting existing businesses to employee and community ownership, we hope the Francesco Collaborative can help more than 500 Black & Immigrant families build good assets (that they wouldn’t have otherwise had) with help from Apis & Heritage, Project Equity, and other Shared Ownership funds. Over the next 3 years, we believe our workshops can lead to an increase in aligned impact investing shifted to Shared Ownership entrepreneurs.

To make this possible, we hope to adopt and integrate the Cabrinian Charism, bringing the missionary zeal we feel around Shared Ownership investing to more people of good will.

In October 2020, we first met Kayoko Lyons, Director of Impact Investing at the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Immediately, we knew we found a kindred spirit. Kayoko is widely recognized as a leader among Catholic impact investors in the U.S. because of the way she is focused on immigrants and on asking thoughtful questions about the financial and economic systems that continue to force more migration. Her missionary zeal would make Mother Cabrini proud in how she shows compassion, makes investments, and builds community to make it easier for others to follow. 

Kayoko and other leaders from communities of women religious are courageously showing us what investing looks like that flows from the values found in the life and teaching of Jesus.

About the Authors: 

Felipe Witchger

Co-founder, Community Purchasing AllianceRead More

Elizabeth Garlow

Faith & Finance Fellow at New America FoundationRead More

Together, Elizabeth and Felipe facilitate workshops and investor education as Co-founders of the Francesco Collaborative and the U.S. Hub of the Economy of Francesco. 


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