On January 13, 2021 Stephen DeBerry, Founder and Managing Partner of Bronze Investments, led a joy-filled, virtual conversation on converting disparity into opportunity with the CASE i3 Initiative on Impact Investing at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business during the first CASE Executive Speaker Series of 2021.
“Our work at Bronze Investments is to create a more just and joyful society,” said DeBerry.
Here are the top three takeaways on how others can follow Bronze’s lead:
1. Impact investors benefit from anthropological training.
Originally trained as a linguistic anthropologist, DeBerry said that learning how to really listen – to founders, to communities, to diverse stakeholders – has been key to his impact investing career. Because impact investing requires a nuanced understanding of the social rules, customs, and landscape of social enterprise ecosystems, “an anthropological toolkit is my secret weapon,” said DeBerry.
2. Move closer.
In addition to impact investing, DeBerry’s career has included roles an entrepreneur, researcher, and philanthropist. “Everything I’ve done has been about trying to address the gap between those of us who have the most and those of us who are on the opposite end of that spectrum.” In order to do that, DeBerry referenced a campfire metaphor from his 2018 TED Talk that has been viewed more than 1.6 million times. Across the U.S. there is too often a correlation between the west to east flow of wind and wealth of communities, where the eastside is often more materially poor. “If we build a campfire,” DeBerry said, “the prevailing wind means that people to the west of the fire get warmth, while people in east just get smoke in their faces.” The remedy? Structural change, driven by proximate innovation and imagination. “If we get closer to each other and sit in a horseshoe, nobody has to live with the smoke,” said DeBerry.
“We need a more courageous, collective imagination, catalyzed by innovation that drives us closer to each other so that we can get better outcomes for everyone,” said DeBerry. Bronze Investments contributes to this vision through an investment strategy of seeking out disparity – across lines of race, gender, geography, ability and more – as an entry point. “We need more financial institutions to have a strategy focused on addressing these disparities and populated by people who have experienced these disparities. Bronze is working to be that.”
3. Love is a competitive advantage.
“To work on a project from a place of very deep meaning,” said DeBerry, “changes the way that project behaves.” DeBerry spoke of creating social change by starting with those already aligned and then “have so much love and joy coming out of that work that those who aren’t aligned wonder what’s going on!” DeBerry said that this culture of love and joy helps Bronze both internally with recruiting and in their investment choices. “Love is an instrument as we drive innovation,” he said.