These days, everyone is trying to find their meaning and purpose in life, and are more conscious and intentional with their decisions. Perhaps we’ve thought about making meaningful choices with food, lifestyle, and overall health. But when it comes to money, we often separate our purpose from our finances. How would it feel knowing that every dollar you invest is a reflection of you as a person?
In her new book, The Good Your Money Can Do, Eva Yazhari introduces her concept of impact investing and shares a story of her own mindset shift towards investing with awareness. Both philosophical and other times instructional, Eva’s book shows you that your money has more potential than you ever thought possible.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey, listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Eva Yazhari, author of The Good Your Money Can Do: Becoming A Conscious Investor. Eva, thank you for joining. Welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Eva Yazhari: Thank you, it is so great to be here with you.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off. Can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Eva Yazhari: Absolutely. I’ve worked on Wall Street, mostly working with hedge funds, and I was principally focused on what are known as the activist hedge fund managers, basically, the fun ones–those that are investing in companies and rallying for change, and mostly change around the stock price. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to think about what more change there could be with companies, and then I moved into what’s known as conscious investing, which I talk about in my book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to share the stories in the book? Did you have an “aha moment,” something really inspiring out there? Or was it something as simple as you had a lot of time on your hands because of COVID?
Eva Yazhari: I have two children. So, I don’t have that much time on my hands, Drew. But I have to say, I think it’s an excellent question, and I did have an “aha” moment. I actually became an impact investor, which is an investor that considers more than just financial return and considers the social and environmental return of her investments, in 2009. I was using the skills that I had gained in Wall Street and in the finance world. All around me, I had a community of fellow impact investors that really did believe that money could be a force for good, that business could drive the change that we want to see in the world.
But on the other side of my life, I had friends who had investment portfolios and they didn’t even know that they could align their values with their money. They didn’t even know that that was a possibility. So, I would flip-flop between these two worlds and felt extremely split down the middle as a person.
For me, the aha moment was one of a few. But ultimately, it was when I spoke at a luncheon where I was talking to the creative world about impact investing, and one of the heads of a well-known dance company in New York City said to me, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even know I could ask my advisor what my money was invested in beyond just the stocks and bonds that he or she had put it in to make a financial return.”
That really opened my eyes to the fact that there had not been a greater awareness of thinking about how to bring more into the equation of one’s investments.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, a lot of authors have the idea of the book they want to write rattling around in their heads, and they’ll outline that idea. And something happens during the writing process, maybe by digging deeper into some of the subjects, that they will have some major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any of these along your writing journey?
Eva Yazhari: I did. And after that “aha” moment, I took a couple of years to think about how I could speak to a wider audience. And this book is a part of that strategy to get out the message that money can be a force for meaning and purpose in one’s life.
Getting back to your question, though, I really became bolder as an impact investor. The process of writing the book allowed me to think more deeply about where I wanted to align my own values, not only with my investments, because that was actually my starting point, but maybe with my consumer choices, or the community that I spent time in, or even think about what it meant to be an “activist” and question that term in today’s world.
So, I actually think that there couldn’t be a better time to launch this book, especially after the pandemic, as we all have been forced to rethink our roles in the world and think about every action that we take, and how those actions actually do have an impact in other places, and it allowed for me to do exactly that.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you were writing the book, in your mind, who were you writing this book for? Is this only for investors who have a million dollars? Is this something that someone with an average salary that makes average investments? Can they have takeaways from the book as well?
Eva Yazhari: Yeah, so I always like to say that you don’t need to be a billionaire to be an impact investor. You don’t need to have a quarter of a million-dollar check to write into a startup company, and potentially risk losing it all. I believe that impact investing, and conscious investing, and the use of all of a person’s resources for good is for anyone with resources at their disposal. It could be a 401(k). It could be a small savings. It could be a large investment portfolio.
The ultimate problem that we’ve had is that the focal point of our existing paradigm of investing has been only money. So, we’ve only been using the barometer of who has the most money to be the most influential impact investor. What I would actually like to do within my own community with this book, is to change the thinking around the fact that everybody can be an impact investor. What I mean by that is, there are many opportunities that are no different than traditional investing, where you can integrate your values into your money. One of my colleagues whom I write about in the book puts it perfectly, she says, “Unless you’re planning to put your money under a mattress, impact investing is for you.”
Drew Appelbaum: Now, I want to dive into the book, and I was about to ask you to define impact and conscious investing. So, thank you for doing so. Now that people know exactly what it is, how does someone change their mindset in terms of just what money itself actually is?
Eva Yazhari: That’s a really important part of becoming a conscious investor. One of the chapters in the book centers around wealth consciousness, and understanding that money is currency, and currency is energy. In fact, the foreword was written by my very good friend who is an executive coach. I’ve also worked with her as my coach, and she really drives this point home in the foreword of the book, that money is effectively a source of energy.
When we think about the emotional connection to the energy that money brings us, everybody has kind of a different view of what that is for them, but what I’m challenging the readers to do is think about money as a force for good. What that requires the readers to do is to go a little bit deeper in understanding their relationship to money. If the reader believes that the pie is finite, or investing is only a zero-sum game, then conscious investing will be hard for them because they won’t be able to see the social and environmental impact as being in line with financial return or driving financial return.
So, I think there are some mindset shifts that are needed. But again, coming back to the Zeitgeist and where we are as a society right now, I think there are many examples of ways that we can expand our horizons, to think about what more investing can do for us.
Drew Appelbaum: Do you see a thought difference in investing from different generations? I know my parents really just look for a return, they’re really trying to hit their retirement amount and date. And meanwhile, I’d like to hit that return and date as well, but also, I would love to save the planet at the same time.
Eva Yazhari: This is tricky because some thinkers that I really admire don’t believe in generational exceptionalism. So, this is where I actually had to dive deep in the book and come to a conclusion, which wasn’t necessarily that obvious.
I think that it is true that millennials and Gen Z are asking for more of their money. They really are looking for ways that they can express their values in new ways. In fact, 77% of millennials have stated that they have already made an impact investment in a fidelity study.
However, I don’t want to over-focus on the youth and the youth population, because I do think that it is, to use a controversial term, is a slight copout for older generations to say, “Oh, that is just for millennials. It is not for me.” The case that I make in the book is that there truly doesn’t need to be a trade-off when it comes to financial return, which I think means that it can be for all generations and that it doesn’t only have to be for generations that arguably put social and environmental factors sometimes ahead of financial return.
But to answer your question more plainly, I have hope that the next generation, including some of the young individuals I profiled in the book who have pioneered impact investing in many different ways, using their time, their money, and their consumer choices, and even their very large portfolios, to drive change. I have hope that they will help us get to a better place.
Conscious Impact Investor
Drew Appelbaum: If you begin to become a conscious impact investor, does that necessarily mean lower returns? And if it does, how hard is it to convince someone to take that lower return in order to give back to the greater good?
Eva Yazhari: Yeah, so the answer is, it doesn’t generally mean lower returns. There are situations in which there is a greater subsidy required, perhaps for an educational opportunity to get off the ground, or even a new green technology to be pioneered. But ultimately, the markets are more robust now, twelve years after I started conscious investing, to mean that in most areas, there is not a trade-off with financial return.
I think the biggest body of evidence comes around what we call environmental, social, and governance investing, which is known as ESG. It is essentially a screening process whereby companies that are doing harm to the environment, as well as many of the other sin sectors such as tobacco, occasionally firearms, and other sectors like that, are taken out of portfolios in order to be more environmentally, socially, and governance-related and sensitive.
So, with ESG, those are still public market stocks. There’s an incredible, now, canon of studies and articles that have pointed out, a number of them mentioned in the book, that there is not necessarily a trade-off. One of them that I really like, it’s a small sample size, but it is out of the 17 companies that went bankrupt in the S&P 500, since the great financial crisis of the last decade, 15 of them scored poorly on ESG, and I think that that says a lot.
So, in general, the answer is no, unless you’re being very niche, or you’re doing something really risky. I think for most investors starting out, doing something that I think is more tried and true, is probably a good starting point.
Drew Appelbaum: Do you think the rich, or folks who are more well off, is there some sort of obligation that they have to help the less fortunate or to take up social and economic causes?
Eva Yazhari: Well, one of the chapters in the book is called “The moral imperative for doing good.” For my work, I am a venture capitalist in East Africa and India, and I’ve been doing that for the past 12 years. I’ve been really inspired by the moral philosopher, Peter Singer, who basically says that the value of the small choices that we make in the global north or the US or Europe, are pretty much values that could have a very big impact if reinvested into what we would be calling the global south. So, countries where I actually invest in my day-to-day. And that means, access to small things like health care, or women’s health. They really make a material difference on almost half of the world’s population that is not at the same income level as the other half.
So, I think my view is, yes, I do think that we have a moral obligation to think about the consciousness of our money. I believe in the climate emergency. I think that impact investing is one thing that allows me to sleep well at night because I know that innovation can reverse some of the damage that we’ve done and definitely help to not make it worse. But as a mother, I think my resolve in having an obligation to be an impact and conscious investor and really think about the consciousness of my money has been strengthened, as well, as I think about what the next generations will have to face and how we can help solve some of those challenges.
Drew Appelbaum: Are there any notable conscious or impact investors out there that folks would be surprised to hear?
Eva Yazhari: The answer is, yes. I actually think that the most under-the-radar impact investor is Al Gore, and after his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, he started an asset management firm called Generation Wealth Management, which invests in mostly impact aligned investments. It invests not only his own capital, but you know, he has been a principal in this firm, and they’ve been able to grow the assets under management quite substantially. I think that he, for me, really does exemplify a conscious investor that is thinking about the impact from multiple angles. So, he’s not only involved with Generation, which is investing directly, but he is also thinking about media strategies with the documentary, and using his profile as a way to elevate his key issue, which is climate change.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s say you’ve heard the podcast and you’re excited, and you call up your financial advisor, and you tell them you want to change around your investment strategy. And advisors make money when you make money. So, would you say they are okay with this type of change? Will they back you on this? Or are they fundamentally against these kinds of investments that are not the traditional?
Eva Yazhari: It depends on who your financial advisor is and what institution they are with. I think it also depends on their demographic. This is where I think generational exceptionalism really actually plays a role and matters.
So, my financial advisor is young, and she’s female. And even though I am currently working with a larger institution, she is willing to ask the questions that I am posing to her to the people on the investment team to find out more. I think she’s really personally interested in this space.
I think that for those who are looking to become a conscious investor, it is really important to start asking questions all the time, and to be okay with the fact that sometimes the first answer might be, “No, that’s not available to you.” Or let’s say you’re using an online broker, and allocating your capital based on a selection of funds that are available to you, maybe you actually have to pick up the phone like Mathilde did, who is a colleague of mine that I write about in the book, and ask your 401(k) provider directly, “Do you have any sustainable options?” Because you might be surprised. The answer actually might be yes, and they are just not advertising it.
So, the answers will vary. But I do think that the market is growing, and if anybody who has been excited about this podcast or the book and wanted to ask that question, I would be really surprised if you got a super hard no, where the market is right now, and really, there’s no better time to become a conscious investor.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you’re reading the book, is this a step-by-step system, a way to invest consciously? Or does it build every chapter? Or is it something where you could read the book and take bits and pieces that could potentially fit how your financial portfolio is set up?
Eva Yazhari: Well, the book does not constitute investment advice. And so, it is set up actually as more of a mindset shift, and a guidebook for those that want to change the way they think about their money.
So, part one walks through the basics of what is impact investing, the case for meaning and purpose, as well as the moral imperative for doing good.
Part two is more of a playbook, walking through defining your values, how to even think about what your values are, what areas of your life might inspire your values, practicing wealth consciousness, what that even means, and establishing a mindset of what’s known as abundance–to know that when you win, other factors such as the environment or people around you can also win, and that is a part of being a conscious investor as well.
Then there’s a very long chapter about investing with awareness, which does walk through the nuts and bolts of impact investing. Then we get into finding a community to be able to sustain that investing, and looking at other ways that we can be conscious investors such as conscious consumerism and activism in your life, and really standing up for what you believe in.
The book actually could be consumed in parts. It could be consumed in part one and part two, and part two could actually be taken in steps. So, somebody could read each section and then go out and implements that in their lives.
Drew Appelbaum: We just touched on the surface of the book here. But I want to say, writing a book that can help folks invest for good is no small feat. So, congratulations on having your book published.
Eva Yazhari: Thank you. It feels really good. I have to say, it’s definitely been an incredible time to write this book and I feel grateful to spread this message. I think we are lucky enough to live in a time where we can have a material impact on a social problem with little sacrifice to our own lives. And I hope that my readers are inspired by the concept of conscious investing, how they can ask more from their money, and how they can ask more from themselves.
Drew Appelbaum: I do have one question left, and it’s the hot seat question. So, be prepared. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Eva Yazhari: The main message is that conscious investing is a reframing of how our money can be utilized to express our desires and intentions for a better society.
Drew Appelbaum: Eva, it has been a pleasure, and I’m really excited for people to check out the book. Everyone the book is called, The Good Your Money Can Do and you can find it on Amazon. Eva, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Eva Yazhari: I can be found on Instagram, @theconsciousinvestor, and I can also be found on LinkedIn. And my DMS are always open. I would love to hear from those that are listening today, and the readers of the book.
Drew Appelbaum: Eva, thank you so much for coming on the show today, and best of luck with your new book.
Eva Yazhari: Thank you so much, Drew. This was a lot of fun. Thank you for your time.