How Do We Honor Mandela’s Legacy? Investments That Heal

11 December 2013
By Hunter Lovins, Donna Morton, & Cat Jaffee

The Boabab tree has become a symbol of Nelson Mandela’s legacy
(Photo: Cat Jaffee).

We are facing one of those rare moments in time when a true “giant of history” transitions from living to legacy.

As the memorial services for Nelson Mandela linger in our memories, the task of ensuring that his legacy endures is now our responsibility. We have spent days pouring over news release headlines, announcements, photos, and speeches of Mandela’s life. We have devoured magazine profiles full of quotes, labels, and taglines to find the words that will consummate his legacy. And now while we mourn, revere, and thank, we are left with huge questions – what is the legacy we will choose to remember this man by? And what do we do now?

In the world of finance, Mandela is commemorated as one of the early international advocates of Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) for his recognition of the role that finance played in ending apartheid.

In his famous 1990 eight-city tour across the United States, one of his first stops was a university campus where he thanked the massive efforts of student organizations by name (The Motley Fool). Mandela’s last stop was Oakland because he wanted to acknowledge the cities that “have ordinances calling for divestment of stocks in American companies doing business in South Africa and regional longshoremen [who] have refused to unload South African goods” (NYT).

Some have since questioned the effectiveness that SRI had on apartheid, and whether it was worthy of its notoriety (PRWatch). Did divestment actually hurt the poor by taking away jobs? Did it truly close down the large corporations that would have radically destabilized the government (Econsense)?

The role of divestment in attacking apartheid was driven by students, shareholder activists, and public investors, rather than by government embargoes and mandates (Slate). It was people mobilizing finance that put pressure on ending Apartheid from the West – Michigan and Stanford university student groups, corporate board members, cities, shareholders and stockholders. And in spite of lingering controversy, to this day, history remembers public-driven divestment as one of the substantial pieces that aided the end of apartheid. Now, it must be that same critical mass that ends extreme poverty and stops climate change.

As we think about a legacy that we can all own, harnessing the power of something everyone uses every day – money and finance and markets – should be at the top of the list. With Gandhi, Dr. King and now Mandela enshrined in history, their legacy is ours to shape or to ignore. Only by channeling their morality and fierceness and using it to transform our financial choices can we truly honor them.

Reconciliation was one of the defining aspects of Mandela’s titanic career, and perhaps our solution moving forward lies there. Even more than divesting to halt, we must invest to heal. We cannot merely move money from what we do not believe in. Instead we must align our finances with clean and ethical businesses who regenerate earth’s systems and translate work into love.

This is the moment that Baby Boomers, GenerationX and Millennials have each been waiting for, a moment where we come together to do something even bigger and even bolder than ending Apartheid in South Africa. We come together to harness money to heal the world, to reconcile planet and profit, to bridge the gap between rich and poor, and to leave a better world for the future.

As we address the question of how we best honor Mandela, our answer builds on what he did to inspire us to what we must do.

A legacy is not a legacy if it belongs only to one man.

A legacy becomes real when it is carried on through each generation in our words, our actions, and our lives.

About Hunter’s Co-Authors

Catherine (Cat) Jaffee is a National Geographic Young Explorer, a Fulbright scholar, a Luce scholar, Founder of Balyolu, and a Partner at Principium.

Donna Morton is an Ashoka Fellow, an Unreasonable Institute Fellow, a co-Founder of SunDrum Youth and First Power, and a Partner at Principium.

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