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The Great Escape (By Mike Riddell)

The Great Escape (By Mike Riddell)

27 Oct 2018
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As if to reinforce our work, this article appeared in yesterday’s FT:

ESG wake-up call for pension laggards

Policymakers are trying to steer more UK schemes towards sustainable investing. In a nutshell, the problem faced by the capital markets is this:

The government’s renewed focus on sustainability comes as many pension funds globally grapple with the role ESG should play in their investment process — not least because the concepts of ESG, sustainable investment, socially responsible investing and impact investing are ill defined.

“ESG” = Environmental, social and governance.

Ill defined” are the words that stand out to me.

The CounterCoin objects clause aims to provide some clarity as to what CounterCoin earning activities comprise:

Earning activities that ‘qualify’, might be differentiated – they might be social or they might be environmental – but they will all be mutually reinforcing in that to qualify they must contribute to community and be seen to be contributing to the community.  

When defining the values-based concepts of ESG, sustainable investment, socially responsible investing and impact investing, The Square Mile and Westminster must recognise that it is only we the people who posses the moral right to determine what is and isn’t of value, to us.

It isn’t just a question of self-determination, it is also one of legitimacy, we must do a better job of making the moral claim as to what is, and what isn’t, legit.

This is where Stoke, and towns like Stoke can and should come together to stand their ground on what a legitimate measure of success should look like. Up until now, no one in community is interested in GDP as a measure of success. Why should we – we can’t relate to it. It doesn’t make any odds to our lives whether it goes up, down or roundabout!

Is it any wonder that productivity is at such a low ebb when we have no idea what we’re meant to be producing in this the age of AI and VR?

For investment purposes, what the capital markets need is an infrastructure through which they can begin to inject capital to produce sustainable financial returns for them and their investors. To me that infrastructure looks like a community of communities.

A network.

A networked-based economy. (e.g. Facebook, or Air BnB, or Google or Snap).

This network must be empowered to regulate the issuance of CounterCoin on its own, without having to doff its cap to London. It must be able to control the flow of CounterCoin and issue it for activities that grow the community’s capacity to develop and bring to market the goods, services and experiences that we the people want to consume.

If there is any sort of market failure it’s one that has failed to see that we have changed. We no longer want to buy cheap crap from Amazon and that if there was an alternative that was manufactured closer to home then we’d buy that instead. A million times over.

But what the impact investment markets also need is a universally acceptable, and commonly understood rate of return, that their financial capital can produce.  

And what it produces, must be of valuable to them and to us.

Social Capital.

Unless we can agree with business what an acceptable metric for Social Capital looks like, the market will go nowhere. Without market participants buying it and market participants selling it, also there is an empty market hall.

Hence the empty high streets.  

There is no market without us

The rate of return must be measurable in a way that values our contribution to community, and it must function as a means of payment for goods, services and experiences that are produced locally and consumed locally.

All hail the Redeemers.

So what we are talking about is establishing a new and shared measure of success that communities everywhere understand and can produce easily. And I include the business and the investment communities in that description.

You guys will know that there are a load of proprietorial measures of social impact and social value out there but a) they are non standard b) not universally acceptable.  

This only serves to confuse the markets, and nothing gets done.

These measures are poorly packaged.

Poorly packaged packets of poor information.

Of course the infrastructure that needs to distribute these packages needs to be digitally enabled. Hence the our last blog post.

So this is where I believe our work ties back to Stoke as a place – and to the CTRL Shift event the programme and itinerary we have been asked to help organise at end of March next year.

We’re still working on the format and programme with the team behind the event, but we’re currently kicking around the narrative of “from Brexit Capital to Social Capital – the role of alternative economics in a city like Stoke'”.

But as far as I’m concerned, and I’m putting this out there as The CounterCoin Challenge, no other region in the UK is as organised at the grass roots as we are. So we have a head start I believe, in establishing ourselves as the vanguard of developing the market for a new social impact investment asset class called “CounterCoin”.

Think of it as a new compact between business and the community. Between rich and poor. Using mutual credit to resolve our differences and make the world a better place.

In terms of partners,  I am not going to reveal them in a blog like this. Suffice to say that we have public sector, private sector and social sector partners. We also have partners from within the academic communities and we have partners who champion and fight for environmental resuscitation. We have partners that are artists, dancers, poets and singers, and partners that run community groups and good causes. We don’t need to say who they are. They know who they are, but they are from Stoke (and Castle, of course!).  
What’s important is that this diverse range of actors are getting behind CounterCoin and helping to establish its legitimacy as a tool for self-determining what good common outcomes look like to us, in this the age of AI and VR.

The point is this – can we collectively present the case to Westminster and The Square Mile for investing in Stoke? I think we can. But we need to rally the troops and communicate the importance of working as one.

Right now, “Social Value”, “Social Impact” and “CSR” are all vague notions that are poorly defined and impossible to measure.

That’s a poor show.

One single metric that everyone can get behind would be a simple solution to a complex problem, and one that could be exported through a digitally enabled civic infrastructure to the other areas of the UK that are suffering from chronic underinvestment in the same way as Stoke is. The North East. The North West. The South West. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.

Some might say that that is too simple. But they’d be the bureaucrats whose job it is to confuse and complicate a very simple truth: the less that you give you’re a taker.  

Oh the importance of challenging Silicon Valley, Shoreditch and the uber tech hegemony.

If you think this isn’t too ambitious and if you think we can rally the troops not just in community, but in positions of influence within the third and public sectors of Stoke, then I think we can frame The CounterCoin Challenge as a journey that takes us from Brexit Capital to Social Capital using alternative economics and people as power as our means to escape the London-based servitude, aka DEBT.

But execution requires teamwork. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned over these last two years, teamwork is what we’re good at. If we back each other and have the faith in ourselves, our legacy will be rooted in the soil that helped Stoke to become the Ceramics Capital of the World.

(Watch out for the next instalment of The CounterCoin Challenge: “Pay With Clay”). Ha ha, we might even make a show about it – eh @Cj_walley and @CulturalSquatters?


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