21st Century Investing Book Summary - 21st Century Investing Book explained in key points
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21st Century Investing summary

William Burckart and Steven D. Lydenberg

Redirecting Financial Strategies to Drive Systems Change

3.4 (195 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

In '21st Century Investing', William Burckart and Steven D. Lydenberg explore the future of sustainable and impact investing. They provide a roadmap for investors looking to align their investments with their values and create positive social and environmental impacts.

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    21st Century Investing
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    System-level investing strengthens the social, financial, and environmental systems that society depends on.

    Close your eyes for a minute and try to imagine your average investor. What kind of person do you see?

    Forget about the superficial stuff like the investor’s appearance. Instead, ask yourself whether the person you’re imagining has a strong social conscience. Is this average investor altruistic and civic-minded? Are they caring and committed to changing the world for the better?

    Unfortunately, the answer is probably no. If the investor you imagined was self-interested, greedy, and just looking to make a quick buck, then you’re not alone. For too long, many investors have matched that caricature – and that’s where system-level investing comes in.

    The key message here is: System-level investing strengthens the social, financial, and environmental systems that society depends on.

    Too many investors have short-sighted and purely self-serving goals. They invest to maximize their returns – and, if they manage a fund, their clients’ returns.

    These investors comply with the law, sure. But as far as they’re concerned, that’s where their obligations to the wider world end. System-level investors, on the other hand, take a different view. Instead of focusing on short-term financial gains, they invest in ways that strengthen the systems that make human life sustainable and fair. 

    If this sounds a lot like sustainable investment to you, that makes sense. System-level investing and sustainable investing do overlap – both have explicit environmental and social concerns, and both suggest that making a quick profit shouldn’t always be the most important thing.

    But system-level investors go further. They’re not necessarily fund managers or high-powered Chief Financial Officers; a dabbling hobby investor can be a system-level investor too. But what sets them apart is that they’re more active, targeted, and relentless than sustainability investors – they don't just buy shares in renewable energy companies and stop there. 

    System-level investors campaign for new public policies to make companies get in line. They advocate for progressive industry standards. And they collaborate with like-minded investors, coming together to make change. In short, they aim at systemic solutions. 

    Short-term gains that come at the expense of vital systems like health care, consumer safety, and climate stability are no gains at all. In fact, they’re serious losses. System-level investors realize this, so they invest in ways that make our fundamental systems stronger and more resilient. We’ll take a look at how they do that in the next blink.

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    What is 21st Century Investing about?

    21st Century Investing (2021) is a guide to ethical and responsible investment strategies. Instead of making money at the expense of our fragile social and environmental systems, you can invest in ways that will actually strengthen them – ensuring societal stability and long-term returns. 

    Who should read 21st Century Investing?

    • Investors wondering how to square profitability with social justice 
    • Anyone curious about the future of investment strategy
    • Savers hoping to future-proof their investments in an increasingly uncertain world

    About the Author

    William Burckart is COO and president of The Investment Integration Project (TIIP), a consulting services firm that advises organizations on systemic risks and opportunities. He coedited New Frontiers of Philanthropy, and his work has appeared in the Guardian and Forbes, among other publications.

    Steven Lydenberg is a partner at Domini Impact Investments. He is also the founder and CEO of The Investment Integration Project (TIIP), as well as the founding director of the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His publications include Corporations and the Public Interest and Dilemmas in Responsible Investment.

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