The Unused Voice

I find myself speaking and writing publicly about the role that forward-looking individuals and families play in the life and prosperity of cities across North America. Many of these individuals are remarkable in the modesty with which they live. They are influential and affluent far beyond their appearance and demeanor, a humility we must claw back as a social and cultural norm.

While most would not self-describe as change agents, many have played a seminal role in the founding and leadership of non-profit organizations that have defined their hometown’s response to everything from homelessness to education to dynamic public spaces that – in many instances – have transformed increasingly dense and complex urban areas and made them magnets for entrepreneurs, makers, home-grown businesses and economic development unimaginable just a decade or so ago. These are America’s city builders. We need lots more of them.

It’s not as hard as it sounds. Well-informed citizens of almost any metropolitan area can tell you where to eat and drink, and why they eat and drink there. They can also tell you about the food they buy and why it matters. Some can tell you more about that jacket they are wearing than you might want to know or the boots they bought and the story behind them. In most cases there’s a local bent, a narrative or an intensely personal connection that drives their own consumer behavior.

Strangely, almost no one of this description can tell you a similar story about their investment portfolio. This leaves the biggest lever of their societal influence largely adrift and ineffective. Why does this happen?

The key reason: finance is too often opaque and untouchable, the numbers overwhelming. When asked about what they invest in and why, the common refrain from audiences – who, in every other aspect of their lives, are societal change agents – is that they have simply directed their advisor to do something “safe” with their money. When further pressed it becomes clear that, in their minds, the term “safe” is somehow not associated with investments that might be purposeful as well as profitable.

Let’s take a closer look. Returns data from well-managed, purpose-driven portfolios present a different picture altogether. In fact, some of the top-performing equity and fixed income funds are themselves managed by teams for whom ESG (environmental, social and governance) screens are a priority.

It follows that the companies in which they invest that care about these issues care also about integrity of supply chain, treating their employees fairly and giving back to the communities in which they operate.

So, next time you put on that jacket and think about its reflection of your personal ethos and priorities, pause a moment and think about the voice you may not be using when it comes to your investments and what you are supporting (or not supporting) by owning them. It may be the most powerful tool you have to make the world you really want to live in.

Christopher Knapp ’84 serves as chief executive officer of Collaboration Capital. A stalwart believer in the importance of active community engagement and civic leadership on the part of corporate citizens, Chris serves or has served as board member and/or in some leadership capacity at the Honors College of the University of Houston, BridgeUp at Menninger, Hermann Park Conservancy, Houston Parks Board, Memorial Park Conservancy, Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation, Workshop Houston, Stewardship Council of The Cultural Landscape Foundation and Advisory Board of Breakthrough Houston. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.