Gino Borges:

Thank you for joining The Journey to Impact: A Virtual Fireside Chat Series. The Journey of Impact Series is here to tell a different story of impact. While we will naturally address some of the landmarks of the journey, this series is designed to create space for uncovering the emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges and successes along the path of impact. It’s less about the outcomes or results of our actions, but rather the human components of what it feels like to operate in the impact world, illuminating one’s inner journey. Today I’d like to welcome Alexandria and Josephine Korjin who are joining us from Amsterdam in Holland and Stockholm, Sweden. Thanks Allie and Josephine for joining us. I’ve known you for a while through the Toniic Impact Community. Allie is serving on the Board of Directors of Toniic. She’s also on the management board of Soil Heroes Foundation. Josephine serves on the private wealth management advisory board of Triodos Bank, one of the world’s leading sustainable banks. She’s also is involved in a company called Northvolt, a fully circular, 100 percent hydrogen energy enabled, large-scale battery manufacturer in Sweden. Your true power comes in when you guys talk as a family about building the new economy. These individual paths that I just shared, in essence, are being governed by this larger framework of intention. You two are working to build a new economy, one which nourishes all life and influences a new financial system, which serves the new economy. You both founded New AJE capital, a holding company dedicated to solutions to improve carbon capture and reduce carbon emissions within the agriculture and food systems. You also aim to reduce social and economic inequalities through inclusive financial structures. Let’s just begin with this concept of New Economy. What is the inspiration for that?

Josephine:

It’s quite bold for us to think that we know what the New Economy looks like. It’s more of an exploration to discover what a new economy can be. With this intention of trying to find solutions that contribute to the new economy, it’s a challenge for us to identify and constantly challenge ourselves to think, “is this just a band-aid solution within a system that’s already broken or is this actually going to fundamentally shift things towards a new functioning system and the impact that that can have and then the financial system that overlays the new economy?” It’s very much connected to how we invest and the transaction structures that we engage in. How do we make sure that the communities are affected by whatever intervention we’re trying to support along with the employees, or any stakeholders, within the organization that we’re investing in. That is key to the success of this, that whoever is involved is also benefiting from the proceeds of whatever investment will occur. Really making sure that it’s not just a power dynamic within the financial structure or the financial system at large. We see right now where you have a few benefiting from assets that a lot of others have no access to nor will ever reap the benefits from. We are really starting to try to change that from a structural perspective.

Alexandra:

Building on that in terms of what is wrong with the current economy and the current financial system, to counter the expiration of the new one, is this realization that the current economy is supposed to serve society. Currently, it doesn’t necessarily. There’s this constant drive for growth and we’re seeing that it’s already gone over the planetary boundaries that we have. At the same time, that’s all we’re looking to achieve as a society is this constant growth. That’s reflected in our financial system: this constant need for more and more, scaling and more returns. We’re seeing it’s just not in harmony with nature and planetary boundaries. There’s an edge to the ads. There’s this incredible economist, Kate Rohwer that talks about donut economics, considering what economic growth looks like within the planetary boundaries. That’s where that exploration comes from. What would that look like if we’re not constantly growing as an economy and we’re not constantly chasing after more profits through financing that economy? Would we all still be able to live amazing lives that are potentially even more fulfilled than we currently have?

Gino Borges:

That’s a good framing in terms of it being an aspiration. What has happened in your lives that led you both to believe there can be something more than the current system?

Alexandra:

We both have had similar journeys. I’ll start off and then Jo can drop in. We inherited wealth, and I think there’s always this discomfort in terms of “Why me? Why am I so special? What did I do to deserve this capital?” There was this inherent feeling, one that I think children always feel and then lose as adults. It’s this weird sense of “this of not fair.” That is a feeling, for myself, that I’ve had from a young child. It just didn’t feel fair. I was thinking about how I could benefit others. How could I bring other people into the opportunity set that I had, or I enjoyed as a child, and continue to enjoy today? Isn’t there a model where there could be more fairness and more equal opportunity? I started exploring that in university. I came across the idea of social entrepreneurship that really spoke to me because I still loved the idea of business. That’s something we were raised with. Investment was something we were raised with. I really liked that thinking. This was the first time I was introduced to a model that was different and that could marry the two concepts. Initially, I explored this more from a professional perspective. I moved to India to explore this and to really look at what those business models look like. I worked for an organization called [inaudible], getting to work hands-on with social entrepreneurs, which I absolutely loved. It convinced me that this is a viable model. At the same time, I also started convincing Indian families they should invest in these Indian enterprises. There was some sense of hypocrisy in that because I was trying to convince other families to do impact investing as strategic philanthropy. I started realizing that maybe we need to first have a conversation with our own family about how we could potentially do that before I start convincing other people to do that.

Gino Borges:

How did that go?

Alexandra:

The biggest lesson that we learned is, initially, we really approached it from a theoretical perspective. We talked about this whole philosophy of impact investing, and we had this amazing theory. They were academic ideas that we were exploring, but also real theories that we’re seeing in practice. That resonated less. There was confusion about what we were talking about. It wasn’t until we started coming with real deals that were practical to show that there was an investment proposition. This is what the team looks like, this is what their experience is, this is their cash flow, and this is their business opportunity. That’s when we started to really get traction. I wish we learned that earlier on because I feel like the conversation became much easier once we started talking about tangible solutions rather than this theoretical idea called “impact investing.”

Josephine:

I can take it even one step back. Before we got to the point of wanting to explain it theoretically, we were quite frustrated inside as well, if I can be very honest. There was a dynamic of this is the old economy, this is the new economy, this is the old financial system, and here is the new financial system, but there’s this mindset that investing is to make money. Why are you trying to change these boundaries? For us, we were so passionate and doing this professionally. Our lives were impact investing and social enterprise. This was the way forward. This is the future. Then, to be within a structure that is more traditionally-focused, there is a difference. You have a foundation. That’s what your foundation does. This is so exciting to do this within the foundation and we thought, but we have all this capital and this is where we’re going to make the change. It was a frustration on our end that we couldn’t have our family members see the vision of the future that we had. Trying to explain it theoretically, as Allie said, is not the way to go. I forget who it was who told us, “Just dip your toe in. Just make the first investment.” It doesn’t matter what it is, just do it. It was so scary. Then you realize, this is just an investment. I’ll have it in a portfolio for a while to come. What does this mean? How do I interact? It suddenly became real in many ways. Being an advisor to, or advising and supporting social enterprises, it’s a different role to play than trying to shift capital within a family office structure. Suddenly, your skin is very much in the game.

Alexandra:

How much pressure on that first one!! You really feel like everything’s riding on this one investment. As we all know, some fail. That’s the whole game of investing. It was, like Jo said, very, very scary making that one first investment. But then, after that, we started getting the hang of it and started feeling more confident and we thought “Oh! We can do this.” It doesn’t mean we were not going to have failures. Obviously, there’s the whole intimidating language around investing that you need to come to grips with, but ultimately does the business make sense? Is there a good team and does its business model make sense? Those are conversations anybody can have. Once we realized that, we started getting excited and wanting to play more capital.

Gino Borges:

Is your family 100% impact across the board? Is there still a significant portion in the old economy? How do you confront this reality that in every family, there are some family members that really want to press the gas and go and then there are some family members that are not ready to go?

Josephine:

In the beginning, as Alexandra was explaining, it was too theoretical. At some point, we took a step back and said, “You don’t need to invest with us. Can we just have a small portion that we can start investing and we will continue to keep you informed as we go along?” We presented them the first investment we were going to do, which is an amazing organization based in Uganda doing solar home systems. Both of us felt very strongly about this female entrepreneur that was running it on the ground who really thought things through differently. She was really unique in structuring from a transaction perspective when the exit actually occurred to make sure that all of the employees equally benefited from that transaction as the investors did. An amazing, very lucky, first example. As we’re now reflecting back, it has a lot of the characteristics in it that we’re looking for in our investments in the future, as well. At that point in time, when we presented that opportunity without soliciting, there was quite a lot of investment, quite a lot of family members that said, “Actually I’m quite interested in that as well.” Suddenly, it wasn’t us pushing anymore, and it was very much like “If you’d like, we are going to be looking at deal flow. We more than welcome your participation, come join me.” We did it in the beginning very much as a “It’s your option. You don’t need to change your whole portfolio.” For us, it was actually quite a quick transition to 100% impact. It didn’t make any sense to carve out 50%. To be very honest, I felt quite disconnected to the capital. It wasn’t mine to be earned. I should just be a steward of it for the next generation and for the planet. It wasn’t forcing the family members into becoming 100% impact. It was very much “This is our journey, and as we can see more capital within our portion that we own becoming available for us to distribute into 100% impact, then that is where we want to put our capital.” It’s more of an invitation to the rest of the family members on a deal by deal basis if they want to join or not. It’s helped Alexandra and I be more radical in our thinking without having to have the burden of making sure that it accounts for everyone else’s concerns and risk levels, et cetera. We’ve done it, in quite a noninvasive way, once we overcame a few of the other hurdles and steps with the family. Although we have the desire for 100% impact, we actually still have quite a lot of pieces that are stuck within legacy investments that we physically cannot liquidate yet. The second that we can, we look forward to it. We look forward to redeploying that into something that is aligned with the future that we want to create. There’s a reality of a journey that we just need to be on, so everyone’s journey is their own. We see the same with our family members where if you make it an invitation that is not intimidating and nonjudgmental, there was actually much more interest. Nine of the 15 family members invested in the first investment that we did. Even from the first one onwards, these types of investment opportunities can actually be extremely exciting. That’s been our journey with the family thus far.

Alexandra:

The more that we did to mold that, the business case also became really clear. The initial phase is logical, asking the questions of “What is that trade off? What does that look like?” There’s all these concerns, and yet you don’t know until you’re in it. Once we started investing in enough of these, there was an understanding that you could see in live-action how mission and profit can be super aligned that there is no decision to do. The better the business does… For example, the solar energy company, the more people that have solar energy, there’s this intricate link between the two. The business case becomes more and more evident as you go along. There is such a big demand for renewable energy. There’s such a big demand for fish, and there was no supply of it. There’s more demand for plant-based food, and there’s not enough supply. These constant needs are business opportunities. As you start delving into this world of impact, you realize just how many there are that are completely untapped at the moment. That’s where you get that excitement around these business opportunities. It becomes less about any trade off and really about, “Wow, how lucky am I to be able to step into these opportunities early before anybody else has potentially seen them.” To get to be the first mover in these areas.

Gino Borges:

I really liked that idea of the invitation. You guys could go on an entire speaking circuit to a lot of families just on that framing for people in a similar situation. There’s a large part of the conversation in the impact spaces that is family dynamics, especially in a group like Toniic, in particular, that actually invites that conversation. You often hear about this particular struggle. You won’t hear about the family dynamics at a more traditional type of impact gathering, which is more about the silos, et cetera. One of the things I’m impressed with is the mission statement that you guys came up with for your investment platform. How did you derive this mission statement? What was that process like for you?

Josephine:

I have to be very honest, the naming of New AJE is probably the biggest failure of an experiment that my parents had when we were younger. Trying to encourage us to think that philanthropically, they said that they wanted us to start a foundation. They would donate to our foundation, and we would have to set up the name of one of them. One of us would have to be the president of the organization. The other one would have to take the notes. The other one would have to make sure that things were kept in check and balances. They really tried to help us structure. It took us about two years to just think about the name. At some point my parents said, “You know what, if you’re not going to donate the capital, we will. You have to start moving this money.” That’s how the origin of the name came to be. I’m happy it took us two years to come to the name because I’m still very happy with it. But, the framing around it definitely wasn’t the best of the examples of us as a family being very effective with our capital. Allie can explain how it evolved into what it is today with New AJE Capital.

Alexandra:

We’ve kept the “E” in there for my brother Edward, just so he knows the door is always open and he can always join us. That’s an open invitation like you were talking about earlier. The open invitation is still there for my brother. I hope he’s listening. As we were touching on earlier, our journey started very much with just figuring out this thing called impact investing for ourselves and putting our capital to work. What are those really cool enterprises where we can also get capital from our family into it and really test its viability? After five years of doing that, we looked at each other and said, “We now know this works.” You can make an investment and make impact and still make a profit. That is great, and we’re very happy that we can do that, but what’s the next thing? What’s our next challenge? That’s where we really started on this new journey with the help of the Orit & Lital of BEYOND Family Office. We engaged with them in thinking about what that new chapter could look like. What is it that we would like to look back in 50 years and say, “Wow, I’m so happy that we were able to contribute a little bit towards this larger vision in this way.” We wanted to be able to look back and measure in one way, shape, or form to be more intentional in terms of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. That’s the journey that led us to that mission statement that you keep referring to. It’s really about building a new economy, and one that actually nourishes all life, going back to what the economy was really meant to do. With that, then influencing a new financial system that actually serves a new economy versus being completely detached from it such as we currently have. We use all of the resources that we have available to us. It’s not just our investment capital, but we’re really looking to see how we can use our voice, energy, time, investments, grants, as well as personal strengths towards building this new economy and financial system. That’s something that we’re still working on. The investment part is more straight forward. The consumption part is also something that we’ve been in our own way, shape, and form, journeying for a while. Thinking about “Where does the food that I eat I come from, what about the clothes that I buy?” How are they either contributing or not contributing to this new economy that we would like to have? Some of these other areas such as grant giving, as well as our voice, energy, and time, we’re still figuring out how we use those in the best, or most effective way. We do want to focus ourselves a little bit because the economy and the financial system is very broad. We’ve narrowed it down a bit on the food system and effective land use as the two pillars in terms of how we want to, at the very least, focus our investment portfolio.

Gino Borges:

Your personal resources are finite in terms of your money, but have you looked at how your network itself could potentially be amplified through, like voice and time and effort to accomplish the mission? How do you navigate that migration between your own investments in land projects versus seeking a more holistic approach, considering you’re spending enormous amounts of time here. You have an enormous amount of access and have been enormously educated on these issues. How can you activate the nodes to amplify this mission so that it’s beyond Allie and Josephine?

Alexandra:

That’s really where these networks come in, such as Pymwymic in the Netherlands. It stands for “Put Your Money Where Your Meaning Is Community.” Also, Toniic, the really global community of impact investors. Those are the two that we’re most active in, but there are some amazing other ones, as well, that we’re active in. That’s what I see as the collective. There’s no way that we’re going to be able to create anything ourselves in terms of changing the new economy or changing the financial system. We need to work together. If anything, with our new adventure, we hope to see how we can do even more collaboration than we’ve done. We at least see these networks as a first stepping stone in terms of working together. How do we co-invest, use our voices together, use our energy together? Ultimately that’s where I feel like we can make a change.

Josephine:

It’s been part of this journey of looking at our strategy moving forward. This is an area that we want to grow within so that we become even more intentional in using our voice, energy, and time. In many ways, Alexandra, through all the various board positions that she’s in and through the various activities that she does as well, is very much focusing on an ecosystem level. How do you create this movement? How do you ignite it? How do I make sure that this continues to grow? That is one way we can share our energy, time, and our voices. There is so much more that we can build. We want to dive into more and explore more. One of the ways in which we could start to think about this even in our investment portfolio, is how we build bridges across the various companies that are all working towards one end goal. How do we build this collaboration so that we can ultimately change the system? That involves a lot of energy and a lot of time to really make sure that you can create a platform, or start igniting a platform. Maybe we realize that our voice is best heard if we purchase a stock and go to that general meeting and explain statistically what is going on or from the heart what we feel what we experience as a consumer or as a human, if you will. There are more ways in which we can be more active and more intentional in these areas. I personally very much want to continue to explore. Traditionally, we were so focused on these exciting investment opportunities. Then, you build this beautiful portfolio of all these sexy impact investments and then you ask, “What’s next?” That’s where we started thinking more broadly. We are human aside from our investment capital we consume. That was a piece that we were already very aligned on. So, across the board, what are we doing with our capital? Then, we have our energy, time, and voice. I want to continue to explore more. I see brilliant role models that use their voices in ways that are so powerful and provocative where you can see elements of change occurring in the room. That would be a goal, a dream.

Gino Borges:

Do you have an example?

Josephine:

A close friend of mine in Denmark, she is actually on stage three or four times a week, and she’ll be the one in the room that will also just raise her hand and just make one small comment about the gender diversity on stage or the sourcing of the food of the event; or when she’s speaking in front of pension funds, making one comment about the reality that she experienced when she was in Greenland. She is able to move people emotionally and shake minds in a way that I find extremely beautiful. I would love to learn from her ways.

Alexandra:

Another example is our very instrumental mentor, Margaret Mary Van Beuningen-McGovern, who was one of the co-founders of Pymwymic. She’s also one of those power women who was just always onstage. She did a lot of moderation. She unfortunately passed away three weeks ago which has been tough. She had this power where whenever there’s a conversation on stage, she cut through the bullshit and she didn’t let people blab on. She would just cut them off in a very polite way and say, “Okay, but that wasn’t my question. My question was…” She would go straight back to the question, and she would repeat it until somebody actually answered her question. It’s such a skill that I admire and would love to learn myself.

Gino Borges:

Can you speak to why you admire that, and as a result, also explain why aren’t you there yet? What’s holding you back? What is the inner, physical, or cognitive limitation?

Alexandra:

I sometimes struggle with the idea that to get people to go along with you, you have to speak their language. I find tension between conforming to the old financial system, their language, and their way of doing, at least to make impact happen. It’s easier to digest if it’s added to something they’re already doing. It’s easier to understand for somebody that potentially comes from the traditional financial system versus the whole new financial system or the way we want to go. That can be really off-putting, intimidating, and scary, particularly if you’ve been working in the financial system for your whole life and somebody comes and says “No, everything you say we need to throw away, and we need to change everything.” That’s really scary. I struggle between talking about the new financial system in full boldness and calling out what I think is needed to build that new economy in terms of financing and speaking the language that people understand and feel comfortable with. That’s where I constantly feel myself being held between.

Josephine:

From a voice perspective, I’m an executioner. I love being able to walk the talk. In some ways, Alexandra and I’ve made a beautiful journey to where we are today, but there’s so much more that we need to do and there’s so much more that both of us have to learn on this journey. Speaking about it, it has a level of confidence where I would first love not to be able to have a cheap date, but just be closer to it, where I can really start to feel it. Maybe it’s just a personal struggle speaking about it as boldly as Alexandra was before. That’s something I will have to work on internally. From a time and energy perspective, my time and energy at this point is quite limited given my involvement with Northvolt. That’s something that has been limiting, but that’s nonetheless an excuse. It’s an intention, and it’s a very deep-seated intention. I’m sure it will start seeing something grow from it.

Gino Borges:

You guys are enormously busy as you’re occupied with fulfilling these intentions. People do look up to you and listen to you. How do you stay centered in the midst of all of this? What practices do you have that we don’t even know about amidst that insecurity, shame, or unfamiliarity?

Josephine:

I turn to my sisterhood. Aside from this amazing sister that I have here, I’ve also just a beautiful group of soul sisters around me. There is a beauty of being able to share without someone trying to solve your problems, just listening, resonating, and continuing to rebuild. I turn to my sisterhood in those moments, not to discredit my boyfriend. He’s also beautiful and supportive of me in those moments when I feel down, but the first thing that pops into my mind is my sisterhood.

Gino Borges:

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the audience as we culminate today’s chat?

Josephine:

A fun way to round things off is that the Swedish word for economy is “närande liv,” which literally means nourishing life. We need to go back to the roots of what we all know is already there and see if we can make it real again.

Gino Borges:

That’s a good word. What a concept!

Josephine:

Radical.

Gino Borges:

It’s interesting that you use the word, Josephine. You talked about not sounding radical early on when talking to family members. It’s interesting the burden of what we’re doing is considered radical. To me, the real radical illness is the one dimensionality. I’ve been really challenging that term “radicalness” because I know it’s just a pejorative interpretation.

Alexandra:

That’s so good you say that too because I find, like Jo was saying, going back to the root of the word economy and going back to the root of how we used to do things. Right away, I thought about an investment made in EcoTrust and how the radical approach there is going back to indigenous people and asking them how they’ve always managed the land and actually listening to them. Isn’t that radical? People think that’s scary and crazy, like “No, we don’t do that anymore. That’s just not how things are done.” That’s the radicalist. I love that you wrap things up that way because you’re right. I do feel sometimes, by questioning the system, you’re the radical one when exactly like you say, it’s actually the current system that is completely out of whack and the people that are doing that every day, maybe they’re the radical ones that continue doing that.

Gino Borges:

Beautiful souls, beautiful conversation. This is going to be such a wonderful contribution to the ongoing conversation amongst the other beautiful souls of impact, whether they’re founders or investors. So, thank you both so much.