There is slow food, slow design, slow cities, and slow photography.
And now? There is Woody Tasch. The former venture capitalist-turned-revolutionary, as he calls himself, is the guru of "slow money" - the name Tasch gives to his philosophy that combines a passion for social enterprise with the benefits of locally-grown food. Cause Global caught up with Tasch at New York University a couple of days ago, where he was speaking to social enterprise students about his new national campaign to persuade at least 1 million Americans to donate between $25 and $1,000 each to help create a grassroots, non-profit seed fund to support and grow local food businesses and family farms.
But it's not just healthier food that Tasch is after. He is traveling the country this fall, warning that money moves way too quickly. Billions and trillions of dollars zip around the globe, he says, as if disembodied from the people who invest it. "Investors don't know anymore where their money goes and more and more, they want to see an impact for what they give in their own lives and own communities," Tasch said. He says he wants to build and test the concept of something he calls "nurture capital" — a healthier and more sustainable alternative to venture capital for funding new businesses. It's time, he says, to shorten the distance between investors and their investments. It's also time, he says, to create new economic models that deliver a return but that also put community, soil fertility, and the environment at the bottom line.
"This is really paradigm-bending stuff," says Gabriel Brodbar, the director of NYU's Reynolds Program for Social Entrepreneurship. "Even the most traditional, free market capitalists like [philanthropist] George Soros and [National Economic Council director] Larry Summers have recently admitted in one way or another that our traditional paradigms have failed us."
Tasch is no out-of-left-field gadfly. He is chairman emeritus of Investor's Circle, the nonprofit network of angel investors, venture capitalists, foundations, and family offices that since 1992 has facilitated the flow of $130 million to 200 early-stage social enterprises dedicated to sustainability. Before that, he was the treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. Tasch's slow money movement, which was officially kicked off in September during a conference in Santa Fe, is an extension of that work.
"Right now, it's hard to believe that the Whole Foods Market down the street is still able to exist, given the damage we're doing to our soils, and it's hard to believe something bad is going to happen," Tasch told NYU students. "But [our food production system] isn't sustainable. It's time to slow down and start looking up close at what we are doing not just with industrial agriculture but what we're doing to ourselves on the planet in the name of sustaining our standard of living."
With slow money, Tasch is taking a page from the slow food movement, the 23-year-old movement that calls on consumers to treat the act of eating less as a hurried distraction and more like a family ritual that celebrates community and takes time out to reflect upon the labor involved in growing the food that we eat. "Money should move the same way," says Tasch. "This isn't just about finance but the relationship of finance to culture."
In short? Tasch wants to persuade grassroots investors to "take the power back" over their communities and start putting some of their assets into local businesses they can see and watch and [in this case] even taste. He wants them to measure growth not by numbers of dollars so much as the yield of a local crop and the health of a local community. He acknowledges that investing in sustainable local agriculture will yield below-market returns. But he says nobody will lose money; these returns, he says, will be solid - maybe a 3 percent profit or maybe 6 percent one over many years.
But the real dividend of slow money, says Tasch, is social, economic, and biological diversity. In an era of industrial agriculture, when millions of acres are planted with the same variety of corn and when millions of pigs are bred for their yield, small local farms are "the ultimate hedge fund," he says. "Fix the broken food system, and many other social, economic, and environmental benefits will follow." Tasch adds:
So far, Tasch says, his slow money movement has 700 members, including about 50 people who have sent in $1,000 checks over the Internet and small local enterprises such as Vermont's Butterworks Farm, a $1 million annual yogurt business, as well as Let's Be Frank, a Berkeley, Calif.-based hotdog company, and Sky Vegetables and Local Harvest. At the Sante Fe slow money convention in September, there were 450 attendees from 34 states and six countries, he said. "Now we're trying to get 1 million people to sign the slow money principles and from that, build capacity."
He admits that early investors may not be "big money people" but instead, small money investors who are "frustrated with philanthropic foundations [that can sometimes invest their endowments into places that don't help the environment] and frustrated as philanthropists." Says Tasch: "We must bring money back down to the Earth. It's time to restore a bit of reality back into all of our lives."
For a copy of Tasch's petition of Slow Money principles, click here. For more on Tasch's slow money philosophy, see his March 2009 YouTube video. (For more on the "slow movement" in general, see multimedia artist Douglas Gayeton talk about his new book, Slow, and the flat film techniques he uses to capture the stories of a village in Tuscany.)
— Marcia Stepanek