Pointing Positive: How Impact Investors Can Learn from American Rivers to Navigate These Times



Last week I had the great privilege of joining OARs to raft the Green River through the Gates of Ladore in Utah. In addition to being an impact investor, I serve on the board of American Rivers, a national non-profit organization combining advocacy with field work in key river basins to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers to bring back wildlife habitat, and conserve clean water for people and the environment. I am proud to be a part of this group of practical problem solvers, working with both governments and local communities, with positions informed by science.

As a solutions focused impact investor, it is important for me and my Nia team to be aware of the most pressing issues facing our natural ecosystems and stay up to date with the most current environmental research. Partnering with and spending time with the experts is one way that we stay current on ecosystem research, field work, policies, and activism. Getting to do all of this while river rafting might just be the best summer time event.

A well known river practice is “pointing positive,” a term kayakers and river rafters know well. Because verbal communication over loud raging waters can be difficult, paddlers use various hand signals to communicate with each other. “Pointing positive” is a common custom or understanding between paddlers. Rather than pointing at obstacles to avoid, while on the river we point toward the desired destination or where we want the other raft or swimmer to go. For American Rivers staff, pointing positive means aiming for what they want to achieve, away from obstacles and toward a positive direction for healthy rivers.

At Nia we also invest from a “pointing positive” approach and this manner of choosing companies sets us apart from many in public market portfolio managers. Rather than start with an index with hundreds or thousands of companies, we focus on where we want to go, on the economy we need, on the companies that are playing a key role in the transition to the next, just sustainable economy, Most public equity product offerings are still built from large muddied indices, with portfolio managers using negative screens to filter out “obstacles” or companies that investors may not want to hold. While the practice of passive indexing has become ubiquitous in investing since the 1980’s, choosing companies based solely on the country location or their cap size does not point us to the sustainable future we need.

At Nia, we encourage impact investors to take the “point positive” approach. Rather than focus on and filter out the negative, we start with what we want to achieve, and find those companies building sustainable solutions. We set our targets at the next, just, sustainable economy, and use research to guide us toward best in class companies addressing and solving for our world’s largest risks. We begin with our six solution themes and design positively oriented, solutions-focused portfolios from the ground up. In structuring our investment offerings, we are much like American Rivers in that we design them to meet multi-benefit requirements. Not only is each company in the Nia Global Solutions portfolio working to address one or more of the Nia solutions themes, each company also embraces diversity and includes women in leadership positions. We achieve this “multi-benefit” approach by partnering with fellow asset managers to move the needle on social change, partnering with nonprofit organizations doing work on the ground, and engaging directly with our portfolio companies seeking even more inclusive and sustainable business practices.

Like American Rivers, we see the interconnectedness of different aspects of our work: climate solutions, our financial system, and where we as individuals, and institutions choose to invest our capital. At Nia Impact Capital we are practical problem solvers building research-based portfolios moving us toward the new inclusive and sustainable economy. We encourage all portfolio managers and impact investors alike to keep the end goal in mind and to invest in those companies and teams that are solutions-focused. Join us in pointing positive and investing for the future we want to see.

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