Investing for All Series

Power Beyond the Voting Booth

November 8, 2016

Today, Americans vote. And while the spotlight will be focused on an historic election, our eyes are on the strength of democracy itself, and how we can take it further.

Democracy is core to our identity. America arguably created its modern form. And while we still have work to do in perfecting it – to make sure all can vote and run for office – it is a tradition we can, and should be, deeply proud of.

Of course, who you vote for matters. But so does the act of voting itself. Democracy traces its origin from the Greek “Demos”, the people + “Kratia”, power or rule. There is an inherent ethic in a group of people choosing their own path, in a process open to all. It is a process with intrinsic value, because when all have a say in what affects them most, better decisions are made.

But democracy does not need to end at the ballot box, and we are inspired by those who harness the democratic spirit to exercise their vote beyond November 8th. Volunteers vote with their time – dedicating their energy to shape causes local and global. They serve soup, deliver groceries, mentor, teach, and coach.

Similarly, Americans are extending this democratic virtue to their finances, using dollars earned as a vehicle to drive impact. The JOBS Act has made it possible for a new group of people (the 98% of U.S. residents who earn under $200,000 a year), to support and invest directly in private companies and investment vehicles, which prior regulations prohibited them from doing. Americans are embracing this newfound freedom and proudly investing how and where they want.

We see the spirit of driving impact through investment choices daily. In a recent trip to Baltimore, we learned that 15 families came together in 2003 to raise a quarter of a million dollars – in ten days – to save an historic building at 900 N. Charles Street from becoming a parking lot. The neighbors obtained a bank commitment and bought the building at an auction. Developers Jubilee Baltimore and Midtown Development Corporation then oversaw a $1.5 million restoration to create six apartments and a small retail space on the first floor. The preservation spurred renovation of the surrounding buildings, which – thirteen years later – are thriving and bringing new life to the community.

Recently, crowdfunding has emerged as a powerful tool to vote with dollars. People are increasingly financing small businesses, real estate projects, or non-profits through crowd funded equity and debt investments. This democratic spirit, harnessed toward investments, is allowing small businesses to remain on their street corners, startups to employ formerly incarcerated people, and solar projects to power our homes. In turn, entrepreneurs are receiving investments from individuals who believe in their ventures beyond their immediate friends and family.

So today, we are grateful for the privilege to vote. But let’s also not forget that tonight’s outcome doesn’t dictate our future entirely, as our ability to drive impact extends far beyond the voting booth.

And with that, may the best man or woman win!