The real motivation behind impact-driven investments and businesses: Spiritual capitalism.

At the core of woke businesses, impact-driven investments, and ethically-conscious consumerism is a concept that’s less socially comfortable, namely, spiritual capitalism. 

The term has been used loosely among conscious capital groups, and it came to enjoy mild popularity when Michael E. Hendren wrote about it in 2007 in his book, Spiritual Capitalism. Since then, the rise and current spike in impact investing and mental health awareness points to the fact that all things—especially how we interact with the world on a daily basis—is deeply connected. Something that links these things together is missing; we are not connecting on a global scale. 

Many love the benefits of physical yoga but do not take deeper steps to study the Bhagavad Gita. Many believe in the power of meditation but ignore its roots in Hinduism and Judaism. Many know the value of mindfulness but don’t study Buddhism. Many have adopted approachable practices that have been filtered to make them palatable but have lost their religious or spiritual affiliation. But to be sure: to believe in something or someone—even of its ourselves—feels really good. 

Having a spiritual belief is to have, at least, the hope that things, circumstances, and people can be better than they are now. Whether “religious” or “spiritual”—or not—a person can still acknowledge the benefits of feeling that they have faith in something, even if it’s just themselves. 

So when it comes to the intersection of spirituality and capitalism, is it possible to merge the benefits of these two beneficent forces? 

In Spiritual Capitalism, Hendren outlines the core principles of the ideology and how one can integrate them into the fundamental structure of any operating business. The first commandment of the growing movement is this: Taking care of business means taking care of others.

It makes perfect business sense. To take care of one’s company means to take care of the people who “make” the company. Studies show that employees are happier, perform better, and are more productive when they participate in spiritual-based practices like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. It’s simple math: When we take time to care for ourselves, we are better at caring for others. 

I’ve come up with my own variation of Hendren’s definition: Taking care of business means putting humans first.

Isn’t that what we all want? To be part of the conversation and considered when large shifts happen that can affect humanity? When businesses were run by a neighbor or local grocer, they had a reputation to uphold. The owner was likely a recognizable face to their customers. I believe that this same missing link between big capitalism and modern economics created the wealth disparity and lack of mass community elevation and societal momentum that we witness today. When businesses are too large and no longer look their customers in the face, it’s easy to skim, cheat, and act in a morally-depraved or unconscious way that most of us would never engage in face to face. 

Unfortunately, today’s businesses and consumers are equal victims of this dynamic. Consumers look to faceless global organizations and companies to be socially responsible, to make a difference, and to be leaders in social and environmental change. This is because to acknowledge the individual’s participation implies personal responsibility. After all, we are these businesses—we decide where to work, what we buy, and what we give our attention to—these are all contributing components of the larger state of humanity, and the economy. The responsibility lies on both sides of the fence. 

So, what’s the solution? Will impact investors and socially-conscious businesses help turn things around? Can spiritually- or impact-driven businesses ultimately put humanity in a better place than it is now? It might be too soon to tell at scale, but there are small-scale examples that can give us hope and tangible outcomes. 

Ultimately, people are the creators of true social and environmental change, and business and impact movements are the vehicles that can be used to correct economic factors. But humans are the captains of these ships. So when deciding who we want to drive change forward, we need to start with ourselves. In his book, Principles, Ray Dialio spoke about his personal process for creating core principles that helped him become the uber success he is today. We learn that by predefining personal guidelines or spiritual morals, we can operate in the world in a way that feels right. These self-defined parameters can also help us bucket things into categories of right and wrong and  educe decision fatigue.

Ultimately, the benefits of a spiritual capitalism approach to a new economy starts with each of us? taking steps to create or even shape our personal spiritual parameters and guidelines and deciding how we can positively influence the world through how we operate in business, what consumer choices we make, and how we engage with the world around us.

Cynthia Dalagelis

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