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Josh Levin, Chief Strategy Officer, OpenInvest

 
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Please give us a bit of background on yourself, and how your organization plays a leadership role in the impact investing space.

OpenInvest is a YCombinator-backed startup on a mission to democratize capital. We have built the world's first automated online platform for Socially Responsible Investing (SRI).

The founders are old friends, with a unique combination of skills. Our CEO is a technology leader from the world’s largest hedge fund (Bridgewater). Our CTO is the founder of a consumer tech unicorn (Deliveroo). And my background, as the Chief Strategy Officer, is in sustainable finance, including the last six years at the world’s largest environmental NGO (WWF). Together, we are committed to truly mainstreaming ethical investing, with proprietary technology that makes it easy, personalized, and social. For the first time in history, anyone can divest-invest with a swipe, vote proxies, participate in mass campaigns, measure their impact, and claim the power that is rightfully theirs in public markets.

How well are companies adapting to the mainstreaming of purpose-driven finance? What ways is impact investing making headway, and where is it lagging?

Valuable headway is being made to build out the impact investing ecosystem. I'm honored to be in the company of such brilliant people who also truly care. But there has been a failure of imagination and ambition in terms of true mainstreaming. Having spent years lobbying many of the world's largest banks and investors to incorporate sustainability into their decision-making, I can tell you that they are typically the impediment, not the solution. They're the first to tell you that real change will happen when their clients, the actual owners of capital - you, me, your friends and relatives - rise up and demand transparency and impact when it comes to our investments. We need to rapidly create awareness among, and tools for, non-accredited investors.

What is the role of public markets in impact investing?

SRI in public markets is not a side-show but the main stage. Most folks are already impact investors, they just don't know it. If you have a brokerage or retirement account, you own pieces of the biggest, most powerful companies in the world. You're helping employ millions of people, moving materials all over the globe, and producing the goods and services you use every day. CEOs work for and report to you. 

Your investments are by far one of your biggest tools to shape the world. But people are currently just letting it sit there on the shelf, while powerful intermediaries make decisions that are not in their interests. It's time to give public markets back to the public. That's impact.

What challenges do you see for the future of purpose-driven finance?

The primary forces driving the uptake of sustainable investing are largely irreversible: technology, transparency, and demographics. 

What will you be discussing at The Economist's Impact Investing event in New York on February 15?

I look forward to the event and will be discussing true mainstreaming, the disruptive role of technology, the true potential of public markets, and finally, the nascent collapse of traditional finance, SRI, and impact investing into a single market of democratized capital.

To learn more about the Impact Investing event, click here.