Impact Currency: why Forbes needs new impact investments ratings

Фото Getty Images
Фото Getty Images
Forbes is preparing a new ranking and invites businesspeople to participate in a broad discussion.

Money can be measured. And money itself is generally viewed as a measure of success. Counting and comparing wealth is exactly what Forbes excels at. But doesn't the world need a completely different currency? Not just a number of zeros reflecting wealth, but rather money that measures the ability to give, not take. Currency that assesses not just «net worth», but actually «noble worth». Such a currency can change the world for the better.

Our planet needs saving, or at least improving, because, for example, a significant part of the Earth's surface will soon be covered in waste and flooded by the oceans. But world leaders and nations are mired in a tug-of-war. So who will help the planet?

Money for a rescue operation is easy to find. According to the United Nations University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), the richest 1% owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and today the world’s three richest people hold more financial assets than the poorest 48 nations combined.

So the planet has problems, and businesspeople have the resources to solve them on a large scale. The question is how to find a «win-win» solution: one that benefits both sides. Redistribution of wealth through revolutions and communism has been tried: it doesn’t work long-term and will not create a «win-win». We need a different, more voluntary and sustainable, path.

Impact investing and philanthropy have already become de rigueur for entrepreneurs. «Impact investing» broadly speaking means funding projects whose primary goal, in addition to financial gain, is to achieve a social, environmental or other globally beneficial result. Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have spearheaded a billionaires’ movement in this direction, by committing publicly to bequeath the majority of their wealth to philanthropy and encouraging others to follow («The Giving Pledge»).

Unfortunately, this new initiative is not catching on quickly enough. Businesspeople from all over the world are gradually joining this movement, but in ten years the number of participants has grown only from 40 to 211 (on average fewer than 20 people per year). And in 2020, only 25 of the 400 richest Americans made the Forbes «Impact 50» list, while the other half of this group is not even among the richest. What of the remaining 375 of the 400 wealthiest Americans?

This is why «Impact Currency» is needed: to launch a movement to incite more of the wealthy to do more good.

Impact Currency should, to the extent possible, draw on notions that are already familiar to billionaires, and therefore, in my opinion, should meet the following three main criteria. First, businesspeople are used to measuring success with money, and so Impact Currency must be expressed as money. Second, for many, the pursuit of wealth is a form of self-expression and career in and of itself, and thus Impact Currency should reflect this motivation. Third, Impact Currency should remind billionaires, in the starkest terms, of the need for them to contribute to future generations. Saving the planet will also save their own children and descendants, but so far billionaires’ steps in this direction are too frequently incommensurate with their fortunes.

Forbes is the very embodiment of capitalism and a widely-recognized arbiter of wealth measurement. That is why it would be appropriate and fair for precisely Forbes to be the publication to implement a ranking based on Impact Currency. A dollar value reflecting contribution to socially significant and environmentally beneficial projects and charities could be added to the traditional ranking of the richest businesspeople — this is what Impact Currency is. The concept meets all three of the criteria outlined above.

Expressed as money. Impact Currency will allow us to measure social good in dollars — the language businesspeople are most familiar with. It may be tempting at this point to get distracted by details of calculation methodologies or fanciful possibilities that imagine Impact Currency as bitcoins, currency that is capable of being converted on currency exchanges or for carbon credits, or even currency entitling its holders to unique privileges. But for the moment, this is not where the urgency or importance lie: the most pressing task is simply to start measuring the previously unmeasurable — the good one does for the world. 

The self-expression criterion. According to the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the rich gradually come to realize the limitations of mere wealth. A Forbes list member once remarked to me over a meal: «What is the point of money… you can't eat three lunches anyway». But could he allow himself to fall in the Forbes list? Many people get rich not because they need money, but because it is a means to express themselves, a kind of career in and of itself. And it seems embarrassing to drop in the Forbes lists, so they must continue to strive upwards. The purpose of Impact Currency is to redirect the self-expression of the wealthiest not just to peaceful, but global goals.

The vivid reminder criterion. Billionaires like seeing their names on the Forbes lists, since the whole world reads them too. So there could be no better place to draw their attention to saving the planet and highlight their contribution to its future. Moreover, noble motives are powerful motivators. So the rich will have the opportunity to think about them more often.

Impact Currency can heighten businesspeople’s sense of responsibility and their desire to solve the planet’s problems. A movement that goes «beyond money» could harness billionaires’ already well-honed spirit of competition to raise their level of consciousness. The new Impact Currency ranking may not raise awareness in all billionaires, or immediately. But it will start a trend by making their contribution to future generations measurable, rewarding and public.

Impact investing is becoming one of the top priorities for the editors at Forbes Russia. In the past two years, Forbes introduced two new social rankings: the 50 best employers in Russia (stressing enterprises that are socially and environmentally responsible) and the 20 best charitable funds of the richest businesspeople in Russia. And now Forbes Russia plans to make history with the introduction of a ranking based on Impact Currency. The editors are planning to release this ranking simultaneously with the list of the 200 wealthiest businesspeople in Russia in May 2021. And then to propagate the idea throughout the world!

The concept, the methodology and even the name of the ranking itself are being elaborated, and we plan to invite readers to share their ideas. In the meantime, businesspeople can start collecting evidence of their environmental, social and philanthropic projects for submission to the editors. With a view to making a dignified appearance in the Forbes billionaires ranking not just in terms of net worth, but also socially significant wealth.

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In ten years the number of The Giving Pledge participants has grown only from 40 to 211. The increase is on average fewer than 20 people per year.

Many people get rich not because they need money, but because it is a means to express themselves, a kind of career in and of itself. And it seems embarrassing to drop in the Forbes lists, so they must continue to strive upwards.