Sustainable Investing Companies - Altruist League
The Altruist League – more than just s sustainable investment advisory firm
Altruist League is a membership organization. The journey to a membership model was very long. It originally started as a foundation, financed in totality by its four founding partners themselves, aimed at creating social change around the world through investing in grassroots movements, the kind of work that Guerrilla Foundation or Chorus Foundation might do. It worked very heavily on belief and sense of mission and very light on strategy, in retrospect.
We realized quickly that our effort was just a drop in the ocean. However strategic we were trying to be, our money had no chance to stop the post-Great Recession political and socio-economic forces pulling societies apart. Nor were we managing to influence traditional philanthropy, stuck with decades-old models, avoiding political issues, hoping that investing in a handful of innocuous NGOs feeding a hundred people in Africa would somehow in the long run end hunger. Most people we spoke to didn’t even see a problem. We did – our climate was on the brink of collapse, racial tensions were peaking, wealth inequality was astounding and women were still far from equal.
Towards a sustainable finance consulting model…
So we then created a wing of the League that specifically dealt with advising other foundations, helping them define and implement their strategies and understand and measure their impact. This was a learning experience both for our clients and for us. On our side, it was also a very humbling one. It obliged us to do a lot of introspection and homework so as to be sure that we are delivering value. We had to truly fine-tune our change theory, anchoring it, through collaboration with think tanks at Harvard and Stanford, in the approach of supporting activist, non-violent grassroots movements.
It then dawned on us that we had very little understanding of what those movements do and where they are. Apart from the few most prominent ones globally, or the ones we were funding directly, the rest felt like elusive neutrinos would to a physicist – millions of them around, but incredibly difficult to detect and track. Activist groups rise and fall quickly and can be very informal, existing only on social networks and through in-person gathering, without any infrastructure, sometimes not even a bank account. We needed to find them.
…and then a technology-driven sustainable investing firm
There was no other way but to go and find those movements and understand what it was they did, who was running them, how they operated. It took us two years to construct the world’s biggest dataset of this kind, mapping the worldwide civil society and activist movement scene. Today, it takes more than a hundred analysts globally to maintain that dataset and keep it up to date. It takes people embedded in local communities who can go and visit the organizations we track, speak to them, watch them work in real life.
The next logical step was to use technology to try and extract lessons and tendencies from the analysis we were doing. Which movements are on the rise? How is the popular sentiment changing? Who is funding which causes and why? This inevitably led to heavy use of predictive algorithms and artificial intelligence / machine learning models.
At this point we knew we had something that philanthropists who cared about their impact would want. We had also learned two lessons in our years of dealing with initial clients and other sustainable investment advisory firms.
The first was an unfortunate realization that many clients instinctively treated anything that was nonprofit as less valuable. Many foundations were holding their donors in high regard but treating their grantees a bit paternalistically. We instinctively understood that when facing such organizations the League should not present itself as a nonprofit.
The second lesson we learned from looking at the sustainable investment consultancy market was that we couldn’t sell the services of our advisory wing as just simple consulting. The competition in the philanthropy consulting business was already fierce, and the costs incurred by a typical competitor very low – such agencies usually consisted of just a few individuals using their professional experience to try and advise philanthropists on producing impact. We had something much more powerful in our hands, but also much more expensive, given the high cost of paying all the analysts and the engineering teams. Such a product needed to find the right niche of partners who would value it.
And finally – a League of members passionate about sustainable investing Companies
Everything, then, pointed to our current membership / subscription model. For the price of a yearly membership our members receive our cutting edge research, have the opportunity to recalibrate their portfolios as new promising grantees appear, exchange with like-minded peers and receive regular advice on philanthropy and sustainable investment directly from our team. We do the heavy lifting of sourcing investment for them and calculating the impact of their combined portfolios using our trademarked methodologies such as the Systemic Changemaker Score. For an additional fee we actively manage all or parts of their giving portfolios.
Corporations and institutional investors receive in addition best-in-industry strategic advice on managing holistically their sustainable investment risks, a service that goes far beyond a typical ESG advisory, so they can prove to their shareholders, clients, employees and the society that they are good corporate citizens.
…carefully selected members
The path to becoming a member is long. We ask that our clients have a Systemic Changemaker Score of at least 70 before joining. This might take quite a bit of work on their sustainable investment footprint, which the League usually accompanies them on. Likewise, for foundations and individual philanthropists, it is essential for us to see a clear systemic approach to philanthropy as expressed through the portfolio. By focusing our membership on quality rather than quantity we ensure that the members care about and can directly benefit from the work that we do. This way we also ensure that the peer group of members is world class.