The Frugal Economist, investing socially

I have been on a search to find affordable, ethical business attire. Not as easy as you may think, but definitely an interesting experience. And for the most part when I think business I think economics. Which got me thinking. Have  you ever wondered why ECO is the prefix in economics. Is it perhaps because initially economics was supposed to be a sustainable and ethical pursuit which allowed humans to grow and prosper as communal society?

I did a little research to determine the root meaning of economics. The prefix eco can be understood from its Greek translation meaning house(hold) and can be understood to mean habitat. Nomos is translated to mean custom or law. Therefore economy can be interpreted to mean the administration of household goods.

So what does economics actually mean in a tangible sense? Simply the exchange of money for goods, or the mere understanding and analysis of the consumption of goods and services? We speak of growing and building economies, again linked to the root word ‘eco’ in the sense of a natural process such as growing, or building a strong structure to promote and sustain long term growth.  Again and again it is rooted in sustainability. To sustain an economy. Of course, nobody can argue with the desire to do that. However, where many differ in views is in how to sustain an economy and more specifically what constitutes ‘sustaining’ said economy. Is it simply a matter of financial growth or should the economy factor in the human element?

Despite ‘eco’s’ link to sustainability, it has not transcended into a initiated sense of economic sustainability i.e. in regards to the earth and to people. James McNeill, a Canadian regarded as the father of sustainable development encourages the idea of sustainability as defined in the Brundtland Report as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The concept of needs is defined in two ways:

the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

This understanding regarding the symantics of economics was part of a discussion I took part in last Thursday at the Ashoka Everyone A Changemaker forum at the Mars center at the UofT. Our talk centered around Social Impact Investing and breaking down the barriers of ‘social investment’. Many barriers exist to this type of financing, a major being the language and metrics used. Simply put there is no common language to speak of or an agreed upon metrics system to measure the outcome of social investing. Even within a small group we will differ on what ethics, sustainability and social benefits entail.

That being said, what may help to create a greater understanding of social investment is transparency across the board. Not just in terms of so called ‘social projects’, but for all investment. If a company looking to improve the society it exists within has to demonstrate how it will be financially and socially beneficial, should a regular profitable company not have to do the same? Can we begin to create a shift where we place as much emphasis on social well being as that of financial gain?  I believe this could be a start. As an individual way to make sure your money/investment makes a social impact while being saved my roommate and I figured out the perfect solution. Invest in KIVA an individual way to support micro-financing. With the money you lend, you can look at it as though you are simply storing your money, allowing it to benefit others until you need it next. BRILLIANT!

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