The Clean Money Revolution Is On!

If you have been following the impact investment movement in Canada, it is impossible to not know Joel Solomon: He is the chair of Renewal Funds, the largest mission venture capital in Canada. Except being a leader in impact investing, he is also an advisor and founding member of organizations vital to Canadian impact community, including Tides Canada, Hollyhock, Social Venture Network, and more. Right before writing this review, I looked up Active Impact Investments for research purposes, and Joel appeared again on their website as an advisor.

As a sustainable finance enthusiast, I have been following Joel on social media. Over the winter break, I had a pleasure to read his book The Clean Money Revolution, and I even had a chance to listen to his presentation at UBC Reads Sustainability last week! Putting the excitement of meeting an idol aside, I have been reflected on some points mentioned in the book:

  1. Patient Capital vs Public Securities

Joel proposed that for money to deliver the greatest impact, we need more patient capital (e.g. private equity) to provide long-term stable support to businesses. Public securities, on the other hand, provide little value to the society. Companies do require liquidity to operate, but the current buy low sell high activities are too frequent as if rainfalls quickly drained into the ocean – animals and plants (businesses and their customers) can barely make use of the resource. While studying the various aspects of impact investing, this perspective is new to me to examine the current financial market. We often pay attention to maximizing monetary result instead of the real value that money creates for us; capitals that stay longer with enterprises would most likely suit the latter purpose.

  1. Mainstreaming Impact Investment / Responsible Investment

Joel mentioned that financial advisors have a crucial role to mobilize the crowd to join the Clean Money Revolution. However, as most people have experienced, financial advisors rarely mention SRI/impact investment options. Why aren’t they doing that? In my opinion, advisors might be concerned that their suggestion would receive negative responses (e.g. “I’m not a charity, so just maximize my returns”), or that they don’t have motivations/related knowledge to do so.

The solutions for this are simple: First, we as clients have to let wealth managers know that clients demand greener, more responsible financial products. We can conduct market surveys, show the growing needs of SRI/Impact Investment to financial advisors, and ask people in our network to do the same. Also, if our wealth managers are tempted to bring up sustainable investment option to their customers, mention the benefits to them. Mention the satisfactory market rate of return and mention that a steady ESG performance will make investment safer. Managers will want to help clients to diversify their risks after all, and a few ESG champions would do the trick. If financial institutions make clean investments as default options, the collective impact would be head-spinning. It is the wealth managers that can help set up that default mode for our current capital market.

  1. Challenge of Perfection

I found the point “challenge of perfection” in the book to be deeply intriguing. Back in Grade 10, I set my mind on becoming a professor in the humanities. However, whenever I encountered debates about social and environmental issues, people “battle with each other over ideological purity”, as Joel mentioned. I found business to have the focus on persuasion and flexibility for collaboration, and that was why I eventually chose to apply to business schools. I want to learn the hard analytical skills while at the same time acquire the soft skills to nudge people towards making better decisions. Compromises are inevitable in fostering major change, but it might be beneficial in the grand scheme of things. I want to thank the author for reminding me that as change takes many steps, imperfection is okay. As I advance in my business careers, I will take this advice when facing difficult decisions.

After the presentation, I had a chance to chat with Joel about some topics mentioned above. He is a warm leader – the encouragement made by a pioneer in the industry would have a long-lasting impact on students like me, who aspire to follow his path. Whenever I encounter difficulties in study, work, or life decisions, it would always be these conversations that help me to continue pursuing my ideal on promoting sustainable finance. Thank you, Joel, for your time and the thought leadership!

 

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Math Rhapsody

Steve Jobs mentioned more than once that he appreciated the intersection of the humanities and science. If I was not concentrating on doing math homework, it’s probably that I am following in the tech giant’s footsteps.

  1. Exponential Curve and Ideal

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If the x-axis continued indefinitely, then y would be extremely close to zero (the x-axis). However, the line would never touch zero. This reminds me of ideals – equality across gender and classes, sufficient access to adequate food and water, a planet free of oppression, halting climate change…although these goals are impossible for individuals to accomplish in their lifetime, people can become closer and closer to their Utopia as long as they do not give up. The belief may seem like either an unrealistic chicken-soup advice or a naive insistence on advancement, but think about it: We have many ways to record and exchange thoughts, and even if individual loses the mental capacity to think, the results of his/her thinking are still there, waiting to be deployed by others. The development of humanities is much more complex than a single graph, but graph has a self-assured authority: This is how things work, doesn’t it apply to you?

 

2.  Scale and the Universe

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When entering functions on Desmos (check out their beautiful graphing calculator!), sometimes with your current scale you couldn’t see any graphs coming out. But if you zoom out, that’s where you can see the overall shape of the graph. This reminds me of the scales that we use in scientific discovery, space travel, and even in our daily life. I agree that there must be times where our premises are simply incorrect, but often when we are stuck on proving something, it’s because we do not have the appropriate tool (or we haven’t used that tool) to do so. Scientific assumptions adjust with the advancement of technologies, and except chances that the initial assumptions are wrong, there is often a possibility that current technologies are insufficient to verify those assumptions.

 

3.  Integration and Completeness

Integration

People long for completeness, especially in traditional Chinese culture. There is even a term for the ultimate completeness, a life full of happiness and without any pain or regret – “圓滿”. 「圓」 means absolute roundness, 「滿」means fulfillment. Is 圓滿 achievable?

I will symbolize the ideal life (圓滿人生) as a perfectly round plate and we assume every individual born with a plate. Rather than holding on to the plate and hope that it will never break, to me it is wiser to recognize that the plate will break as change is inevitable. Therefore, completeness is achieved by 1. Create as many solid plates as possible: Not just the one given to you, but more of those you fight for. 2. Collect every fragments from the broken plates and put them together. As time goes by, the fragment group will become closer and closer to a plate with perfect circle.

台北記:北投獨

小時候對於北投的記憶只停留在地熱谷和凱達格蘭文化館。溫泉蛋香混著烤玉米的氣味、熱滾滾的溫泉在涼亭下流過。國中時期幾次拜訪,遂對這個地方產生了興趣。北投圖書館是屬於夏天的回憶之一,幾次窩在圖書館、出外覓食、再待到晚上。記得有次暑假的夜晚,伊舞集在北投公園表演,涼風下舞者表演「山頂的黑狗兄」以及其他傳統戲劇。觀眾漸漸聚集、扶老攜幼,表演結束那掌聲之熱烈,如今仍然印象深刻,那是我第一次被舞蹈和肢體所感動。

高中隨英辯到北投的薇閣中學打友誼賽,然後是真槍實彈的西賽羅。雖然只是觀摩,辯論賽場上望著同屆或學姊上台的那一刻,我感覺自己除了死命給出正面表情之外無能為力。與社團一起準備比賽、每週三中午一打鐘立馬衝學姊教室門口接受訓練,下樓梯的時候還沒什麼人(順便把數學考卷發下來的眼淚擦掉)。冬、衣、五分鐘看 TIME 然後即席,幾年之後當我在異地迷上英國電影,每當看到主角執著於算試、密碼或各種知其不可為而為之的夢想時,我總會想起那一年的訓練:背對整個操場,在崇拜的學姊面前逼自己講出差強人意的結果。

北投之所以給人遺世獨立的感覺,如今細想,與新北投捷運站周遭的建築脫不了關係。出捷運站後四周的建築沿著山壁和斜坡矗立,高度與寬度不成比例。從粟家食面埋伏到鄰近極窄的肯德基,那一片片歪斜的樓房總讓人想到懸崖從北投通往新北投的捷運,不論外觀或車廂都和普通台北捷運非常不同,這似乎也有意無意、把北投和其他地方區隔開來。

這次暑假在北投公園某溫泉飯店附近,看到穿著飯店和服的女服務生站成兩排。等了一會,一輛黑頭車從兩排服務生之間駛出。兩排人一看到車子馬上鞠躬喊了一串道別的日文,全體員工動作一致,九十度揮手只微微揮動手掌,直到黑頭車消失在視線之外。我感覺北投就是那間飯店:傳統含蓄的等人來,散場後再假裝沒事的繼續忙著自己的事。

是故獨。

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台北記:士林森

記憶中前往士林的路上總是魔幻的。小時候,士林於我而言非常神秘,必須經過兒童樂園、繞過圓山飯店,才能開到那有紅色捷運穿過樹冠層的大路。大路的左邊是淡水線,中間是行道樹,右邊是一落一落的「高山」。說是高山其實也不過丘陵,只是那些至今尚未造訪的神秘步道非常陡,再配上神秘的保齡球館,無形中給人不可親近的感覺。國小時有次看電視,「高山」裡傳說藏了驚人數量的黃金,至於是不是真的在那裡、為什麼在那裡,沒有證據,不便多說。

想都沒想到,國中的時候跑去陽明山讀書。每當被開車送上山時,總是會穿越上述路線,在車水馬龍的路口經過麥當勞,然後義無反顧地直奔山上。入山前總會經過泰北高中、白鳥聚集的至善公園、以及無數次想像在那裡散步、夜晚閃閃發光的大河。每個星期天晚上,我背著所有行李爬上宿舍斜坡,在夜讀燈下準備下一週;每個星期五下午,我抓著週成績單和一瓶手搖飲料擠上校車,慢慢塞回士林捷運站。不住宿的那年,六點多就起床,在捷運上背下一個註釋時,中山足球場就從眼前晃了過去。

其實現在仍不曉得當初為何如此 obsessed with numbers. 時過境遷,國中最後悔的事莫過於用太多時間讀課內書。不過現在的我若回去讀國中,應該會適應不良:那裡再怎麼美、再擁有至今仍感謝的老師與朋友、再舉辦多麼「五育均衡」的活動,到底是體制下的前三志願工廠,也無可避免有著各種形式的壓迫,不論對象。我當然懷念那段因為無知而專注的日子,每天只要打球、參加活動、念書就可以的日子。蟬聲隱隱,晚風颯颯,外面的世界,跟浸泡在山坳裡的人沒有太大的關係。

模擬會考和基測都是在百齡高中考的,第一次烏雲密佈,第二次豔陽高照。考完之後一個禮拜便在中山樓畢業,充滿硫磺味的禮堂座位上我正看著小說;也許到了盡頭,一切都太多了。畢業後回了兩次學校,體育館外晚上仍然滿天星星,但是從前身心毫無保留捨給一個地方的感覺,再也無法從呼吸之間攫取。

暑假回台時,跑到山上游泳了一次,上下山時必然會看見學校。

「這是你念了三年的地方。」爸爸指著壘球場邊外露的、高高的網子。

「是啊。

林,林,當局者迷,旁觀者清。我想我還是未曾攻略這座深山,一如那個純樸的、浮萍般的、無法解釋的十三五歲。

是故森。

 

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Discuss the Usefulness of Neuroscience in the Courtroom

Speaking of the usefulness of neuroscience in the courtroom, I would consider neuroscience to have limited function on helping to assign fair, appropriate penalty on criminals. There are two reasons to justify my statement.

Firstly, it is difficult to get neuroscience involved in legal cases because the basic assumptions of law and neuroscience are essentially different. While law generally assumes that people are capable of making rational and moral decisions, neuroscience and psychology have continually proven that a large portion of human behaviours are involuntary. For example, in the renowned behavioural science book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman emphasized how System 1 dominates our instant decision making, perception, and emotional response. If law was to recognize that a huge portion of human’s actions are involuntary, then it would be impossible for it to set punishment for crime since law does not punish innocent mistake. Therefore, if either law or science does not adjust its premise or compromise to one another, neuroscience would have limited use in terms of assigning punishment in the courtroom.

Next, neuroscience would also have little help on determining proper adjudication because the definition of normality for a human brain is unclear. In law we assume that if a person’s brain is impaired, then the judge should lessen the penalty because the criminal did not commit the crime with a normal mind. However, whether or not there is an arbitrary, clear criteria of what defines “normal” in medical science and psychology is controversial. Normality does not necessarily mean “being average” or “being indifferent from others”. Also, it is hard to say to what extent should a deviation of one’s brain from others to be considered “abnormal”. As a result, if we could not objectively define normality and abnormality, then any act to adjust punishments based on the abnormality of criminal’s brain would be unfair.

I believe my opinion is in some way similar to others in the class as well as Dr. Stephen Hart in the guest lecture. When in discussion, people mentioned how abnormal behaviour in the brain do not necessarily serve as the evidence of either a person has mental illness or we should give her a different treatment in the courtroom. In the guest lecture, Dr. Stephen Hart stated that law and science conflict each other given each of their distinct perspectives of viewing human behaviours. In conclusion, I hold a doubtful attitude towards the usefulness of neuroscience in the courtroom, and some of my peers and professionals have similar skepticism. In order to make neuroscience and law go hand in hand, the premises that consist of both of them must be adjusted in a way that they tolerate one another, and either the definition of normality should be carefully chosen or the law itself should be amended.

台北記:松江清

松江路是小時候第一條認得的路。所謂「認得」,並不只指記住路名、記住方位而已,而是知道路頭路尾會接上怎樣的路、每個交叉路口各是什麼樣的路、那些路又通往哪裡。長安東路、南京東路、長春路、民生東路、錦州街、民權東路、民族東路。我的宇宙觀從點、線、面,漸漸擴展成如今認識的世界。

國小每天上放學的時候,必然會經過松江路。學校距離家裡極近,因此自己總是那個剛好在打鐘前十秒進教室的學生。上學的路上,還沒有上班族的影子,但回家時一群群西裝筆挺的大人便會從(小小的)自己旁邊快步走過。在信義區大規模發展之前,部分人稱松江路為「台北的華爾街」,夏天放學經過銀行時,自動門打開吹出的涼氣、以及某種銀行獨有的味道,總讓人想頑皮地再次經過。

銀行之間的縫隙裡夾雜了越來越少、幾乎已經消失殆盡的小店。原本有幾家車商、一兩家萊爾富、以及各種規模較小的餐廳,在我走過又走過的歲月裡,或許是經營不善,更可能是因為頂不住一再上升的店租,紛紛關閉。路上總是有店面在拆卸、但只有砍掉,沒有重練,前業者無法負荷的店面,大部分變成不動產業者或通訊業者的分店。

午餐時間時,上班族擠在巷子裡尚能生存的小吃店,聊著各種公司裡的事,大多時候都是關於一個可惡的同事。有天突然好奇:那些被講的人都到哪裡去了呢?

然而那樣的經驗已經是好久以前了。感覺所有事都發生在一個安靜遙遠的下午,沒有什麼是剛剛經歷。小學放學打球、小學跟國中連在一起時必須走過的童軍教室、暑假游泳過後活動中心放出的熱氣、那些跟大人一起上英文日文的晚上,都是很久、很久以前的事了。也許對這個地方的記憶,已經在某個時刻永遠的定格。而定格之後所發生的事,都不在記憶所承認的範圍之內。陽光熾烈,這些年回去時,在那一帶所從做的所有事情都像是染上了調得太白的濾鏡,沒有聲音,人們的臉亦模糊不清,餘下的,只有樹的影子。一顆球落下、在操場上發出聲音的時間,如今對我來說,已經太長。

住在國小對面的老婆婆從前總是與我聊上幾句,現在看到我仍然是笑咪咪的,像看一個陌生人一樣。假日的松江路總是沒有人的,但現在就算是平日的松江,路人雖然個個張著口,卻已經聽不到聲音裡的細節。

是故清。

*後記:也許是親近了記憶中土地的關係,這次回來之後,突然看待這個區域的眼光變得相對溫柔了。雖然各種人事物總讓人有種在吊橋上跑,每跑 n 步身後就掉落 n-1 塊踏階的感覺,但最近慢慢地理解到,那個感受並不是永久的。首先你是一個天真無知的人,再來隨著年紀漸長,慢慢察覺出完美生活裡光怪陸離的現實;再來會因此覺得一切都在失去、並決絕地認為過去永遠好於現在;而最新的階段,則是認知到即便你去了再遠的地方,即便發生了任何事,過去與未來仍然有相通之處,而一切仍然有轉變的餘地。不管是何種轉變,時間所帶來的變化,其實不是一條直線。

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A Solo Trip to the Gentle Seattle

If you ask me to describe Seattle in just one word, I would say gentle. And if you ask me to further clarify that, I would probably first delve into my memory, and likely provide you some aesthetically intriguing descriptions to back up my point.

I can say the roads exist truly for both the cars and the pedestrians; the sidewalks are always filled with leafy, medium-sized, thin-branched trees; and the colourful but calming buses run around the not-so-crowded city.  Yes, these are important factors that define Seattle as a comfortable urban space, but I found myself dissatisfied with these answers. It is as if something bigger, more subtle behind the environmental settings, that gently accommodate a nineteen-year-old, novice(and sometimes careless) self-traveller.

Friendliness. Cliche answer. Yes I agree, and that’s also not the exact word to convey what makes Seattle gentle. In most part of the world, locals are friendly to travellers both in ways that will influence or not influence their GDP: There will always be welcoming locals that tell you which bus to take to get to the attractions, and there will also be locals that are nice to you so that they can introduce you to their family-owned restaurants. Friendliness, by itself, is not sufficient to make a city unique and memorable.

So what is it?

For me, it will reside upon a slightly longer portrayal: The understanding that you and other people are different from each other, but you can still be good friends without changing yourself to a certain type of person. In other words, people accept the “true you”. They understand that everyone has their own story and cultural burden, and they will not walk away from you because of that. Everyone, regardless of their class, ethnicity, “accent” of speaking English, years of living in North America, are folks that you can chat a bit about everything, almost unconditionally. The level of maturity and openness for intercultural interactions is fascinating.

My Airbnb host was a perfect example of being gentle(by the way, if you need a place to stay in Seattle, feel free to reach out to me!). We exchanged not only our views of Seattle, our impressions of the Americans and Canadians, but also all the stories that we have as a person – dreams, values, and the pain of living in a city with high housing price(sigh…)- all immediately after we met. We totally recognized the difference between each other, yet we treated each other with equal respect that neither of us have to comply to a cultural norm.

The gregarious UW students were also gentle: When their student council was reminding people to vote and kindly asked me about my opinion regarding the election, I said I was not a UW student. Surprisingly, the person who was busy taking care of the booth did not leave it there. Instead, she chatted with me in a patient, welcoming manner as if I was one of the voters. And needless to mention the two girls that I met when one of them helped take a picture of me – we went for bubble teas and snacks three minutes after we chatted. The speed of people getting connected to each other without a sense of urgency to get anything out of the connection is what makes Seattle seductive.

I would very much like to point out that I have only been in Seattle for two days and it would probably be a mistake to comment on the city’s culture. But if forty-eight hours are not enough, how long should it be? I don’t really have an answer – and if I don’t have an answer, any answer suffices. A sense of wonder has took me to a place(not necessarily physical) that I have never experienced, and if my mind was emptied out before arriving that place, it has refilled me with gentleness and the belief of a wider possibility of lifestyles and human interaction. Thank you, Seattle.

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