You Need to Know About SheEO!

Welcome to She Invests, a monthly newsletter on women, money, and investing. This is newsletter #6! If you have not seen the first five yet, please click herehere, here, here, and here. Thank you for reading and sharing. So far 15,000+ subscribers and I thank you all! If someone is sending this to you, please subscribe.

Take a minute to answer this question. Do you think the world’s financial and economic systems are working? Yes, that is a very big question, but just take a minute to really think about it. If you think the answer might be yes, let me offer you a few statistics to ponder from right here in the United States. The US has the highest economic inequality of all the G7 nations, and in 2019, income inequality was at its highest point in 50 years. Between 1989 and 2016, the wealth gap between America’s richest and poorest families has doubled, and the top 5% of wealthy families are the only income bracket to have increased their wealth since the Great Recession. So my answer to my opening question is no, heck no, and while I personally have benefitted from these broken and biased systems, it is also my work in the world to help change them. Vast economic and social inequality is certainly nothing new, so the question becomes, what can be done about it? And if you are a person who really cares and wants to build something, particularly a financial services something, based on radically different values, what does that look like? 

Well, it looks like Vicki Saunders and SheEO. Vicki is the Founder of SheEO, and she is someone who has spent a lifetime noticing how messed up everything is. And then she actually goes and does something about it. In creating SheEO, she set about creating an entirely new economic model; one that is rooted in the potential of community connections. One that focuses on creating the environments and cultures that allow people the opportunity to thrive. 

A photo of SheEO founder Vicki Saunders smiling directly into the camera.

This newsletter is dedicated to looking at the fields of finance and investing with a gender lens, so doing a profile piece on this amazing woman is right on mission. And let me be clear, there will be an ask at the end, because making an ask is one of the things that Vicki believes in. In fact, she will not end a call, including the one we had, without making one.  

So to begin with, who is Vicki Saunders? She’s Canadian (#soamI ) and her pronouns are she/her. She is an entrepreneur, award-winning mentor, advisor to the next generation of change-makers, and leading advocate for entrepreneurship as a way of creating positive transformation in the world. She also happens to be one of the most quotable people I have ever met, and she started our conversation with a doozy. 

“Every 400 years there’s a reboot of what we as a society value, and guess what Adam Smith? The era of self interest is over.” 

Who is Adam Smith you might ask? Heis primarily known for a single work, The Wealth of Nations (1776), which included Smith’s description of a system of market-determined wages. He is credited with being the father of capitalism, which, no surprise, Vicki does not think is working, because it is fundamentally based on the pursuit of self-interest. So if this new and better world she aspires towards is not based on self interest, what is it based on? “Easy,” she answered. “It’s based on Radical Generosity.”

Radical Generosity is the simple (but sadly still radical) idea that we should all be kinder to ourselves and to others. “There are no power words for being kind,” Vicki laments. And believe me, this woman is all about power. “Everything in finance and business revolves around sports or war metaphors. You ‘killed’ it. You ‘crushed’ it. You ‘nailed’ it. Where are the words for being kind and generous?” Matching words like generosity and kindness with capital and funding? Revolutionary. As Vicki describes it, Radical Generosity is a very personal concept, and will manifest differently for every person. The scale of it doesn’t matter. It’s about starting where you are, and then doing a little bit more for both yourself and others.

When it comes to the current economic model, Vicki’s assessment is extremely blunt. “Everything we invest in to make money creates inequality.” My argumentative radar went up with that claim, but when I challenged her, she was quick to say, “Think about it”. And I am. She went on to talk about how over 90% of most countries’ economies are made up of small and medium sized businesses. In the US it’s 90%, and in Canada it’s 98%. Take that in for a minute. The lifeblood of our economies flows through these businesses. If we want to care for people, we need to care about the wellbeing of these types of businesses, in all their forms. And yet the dominant narrative continues to focus on venture capital (VC) funding and unicorn (companies that reach a billion dollar valuation) companies. A disproportionate amount of time, attention, and money goes towards trying to find the next Bumble (shout out to Whitney Wolfe Herd!), but as you already know from my last article about the Cheerios, this system of allocation capital is riddled with bias and inequities.

These past couple of months I have been catching up with the founders of my 17 portfolio companies, and I have seen in real time how this narrative plays out. All of them have taken in investment capital in a traditional way, and for many, it simply is not working given the nature of their businesses. This is a topic for a separate article, but for now, just take my word for it. Vicki is spot on. 

So if traditional venture capital does not work for up to 99% of businesses, and if you are not a white male with a powerful bro network to get access to capital, how exactly do you get the support you need to grow your business? Where is the help you actually need, keeping in mind that this may not just be financial help? Enter the SheEO model. 

SheEO is a global community of radically generous women building a $1Billion perpetual fund to support women working on the World’s To-Do List.

In keeping with her theory of creating new language to create new behaviours, SheEO is not backed by investors. “Women don’t tend to see themselves as investors. We wanted a different mindset coming into SheEO, so we call you an Activator,” Vicki explains. Activators contribute $92/month or $1,100/year into SheEO’s perpetual fund. You do not get that capital back, so it is in effect a donation, but you won’t find the word ‘charitable’ in the language of SheEO. There are currently over 6,000 Activators who all have resources to share. And again, not just financial resources. They share every available resource at their disposal, including their time, networks, and knowledge.

Companies, on the other hand, are called Ventures, and they must meet one basic requirement. All Ventures must in some way be working on the World’s To Do list. In other words, how is this Venture changing the world? Once again, Vicki is brutally honest in her assessment of our current economic reality. “Not a single penny should go towards things that aren’t on the world’s to do list. In order to be accepted at SheEO, a Venture has to be able to articulate how they are changing the world for the better by solving one of the world’s to do items.” SheEO is currently using the UN’s SDGs for this criteria, but they are working on creating a more expansive and inclusive model of just what exactly is the world’s to do list.

So how does SheEO work? Every year, Ventures that are women-identifying majority owned and led apply to the program, and Activators vote in two rounds to determine which Ventures are selected. A number of Ventures are selected each year based on the number of Activators, and the selected Venture leaders are brought together to decide how to divide up the money. The two rules for doing so? You can’t give it all to one (no winner takes all) and they can’t just divide it up evenly. Coaches and mentors are on hand to support the Venture leaders through the negotiation, and once the pot has been divvied up, Ventures have five years to pay back the money at 0% interest. The money is then loaned out to the next cohort, and so on and so on, with all Ventures collectively being responsible for repayment.

To date, SheEO has a 95% successful repayment rate, and Vicki credits this to the shift in collective thinking when it comes to which Ventures to fund. “The number one question we ask Activators is, ‘Would you buy or recommend this product to others?’ Some Activators look at the financials and some don’t, and we don’t worry about that. No one really knows how to pick a winner. We trust the intuition of hundreds of women to vote. Collective intelligence has been proven to work better than experts, so we go with it and it’s served us well. Remember, women control 85% of all purchasing decisions. If women get behind something, the probability is high that it will work.” I nearly did a fist bump when Vicki said this, because it’s exactly what I’ve been saying for years. Women’s purchasing power is one of the greatest untapped potentials for enacting social change. To hear it being used to dismantle structural financial inequity made me want to whoop with joy.

SheEO is also unique in the way it approaches Activator/Venture relationships. As Vicki notes, Activators are not getting their money back, meaning it removes the conditions that exist, often to the detriment of companies, in traditional investor relations. “We believe that the innovator at the helm of these Ventures should set the rules. Activators are not here to set parameters for your Venture. Instead, when you walk into SheEO, you inherit an army of people ready to help and support you in any way they can, on your own terms.”

To say that SheEO is an innovative organization would be the understatement. Financial innovation is at the heart of everything they do. They are disrupting systems both literally and more figuratively. When it comes to traditional investment, SheEO is forcing a collective shift in thinking, and forcing Activators to re-examine what actually matters when making decisions.

Today, SheEO is announcing its next US cohort, and Vicki is proud to note that 24.2% of all applicants were Black and 44% were BIPOC. SheEO has been working hard to establish relationships and trust with marginalized communities, and she credits the testimonials of two previous Venture leaders, Kai Frazier and Wakumi, as helping to open the floodgates of applicants. In particular, there was a 46% increase in Black applicants, and after two rounds of voting among thousands of Activators, all five Ventures of the new cohort are Black. I just met all the founders on a ZOOM call and holy moly! I can’t wait to dig in and offer them additional support as they are all looking for champions, business connects, capital and more.

Listed below (and pictured above) are the winning companies and I encourage you to check them all out. If you feel compelled to try to do something, anything, to help these founders succeed, just do it! Reach out to them directly.

  1. Courtroom 5 – Sonja Ebron – https://courtroom5.com/ – Automated legal toolbox for people in court without a lawyer (SDG targets #10.2 & 16.2)
  2. Mahkers studio – Wanona Satcher – https://makhersstudio.com/ – Green manufacturing and design-build firm that specializes in unique modular shipping container real estate. (SDG targets 11.1 + 9.4)
  3. 100K incubator – Arielle Loren Palmer – https://100kincubator.com/ – The first business funding app for women in Apple and Google’s app stores (SDG targets #1.4 & 9.3)
  4. COI Energy – SaLisa Berrien – https://coienergyservices.com/ – Energy management platform that detects, prevents and eliminates energy waste in buildings to improve efficiency and provide marginalized communities with equitable access to clean energy solutions (SDG Targets 7.1, 11.6, 12.5).
  5. Brown Toy Box – Terri-Nichelle Bradley – https://www.browntoybox.com/ – Children’s educational products company that centers and celebrates Black children to expand ideas of possibilities for their lives (SDG target #4.4 & 10.2)

SheEO is currently operating and supporting cohorts in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, but Vicki knows that this model is easy to replicate in countries around the world. And you’d better believe that’s her goal. “Every single country is in deep trouble when it comes to figuring out how to get money into the hands of small and medium sized businesses, the engines of their economy,” she says. “That’s why we want to scale up and replicate the model in every country. All you need is to find the right people who are locally connected and our model works. At the end of the day, we want to find the innovation and spread it globally as soon as possible. That’s how real change will happen.”

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I am an Activator with SheEO. I believe wholeheartedly in the model and Vicki’s vision for disrupting power systems in the financial systems. At one point in our call, Vicki mentioned that she wanted to start her own bank in order to reinvent the system, and all I can say is that I hope she does exactly that one day. In the meantime, I urge you to check out SheEO, and if you can, please consider becoming an Activator. SheEO aims to create a $1B perpetual fund through 1M Activators that will change the course of women owned and led ventures for generations to come. That’s an incredible legacy, and more importantly, community, to be a part of for just $92/month.

It is easy to do nothing. It is also easy to do something. Why not let today be the day you do something? You may have been thinking “what can I do to economically support women, and in particular women of color, in a real and tangible way?” Well this is one option. Just do it. And if you do join, please let me know in that comment section. And.. thank you.

“We are never going to fund more women if women don’t start writing the checks. But if we can change the process, we can change the outcomes. At SheEO, we are not here to win. We are here to transform.”

She Invests #5 – For The First Time EVER – A Woman Holds The Most Senior Financial Position in the United States of America

A photo of Janet Yellen standing in front of an American flag.

As published as She Invests newsletter #5 on LinkedIn Influencers.

It was almost a year ago, March 8th to be exact, that I published an article with the title Finance. The New Frontier of Feminism. It was International Women’s Day, and I had written yet another article about why women’s rights are human rights, and how tools of finance, or simply put, money, are the most underused resources we have in the quest for gender equality. This article also announced the release of the latest version of my Best Reports list. It featured 650 reports, organized into 21 different categories, and spanned nearly 175 pages, all in support of Gender Lens Giving, Investing, and Action. You can download that list HERE. Little did I know last March, but less than 12 months later, we would have the FIRST EVER female Treasury Secretary of the United States, Janet Yellen.

A photo of the cover page of Jacki Zehner's Top 650 Reports on Women and Girls.

At the time, that article was my declaration to myself, as well as the world at large, that my focus was shifting away from philanthropy. I was making a promise that I would use my time and talent to be a champion for Gender-Impact Investing. About a week later, the world changed completely with the realization that we were facing a once in a century global pandemic that would uproot and turn upside down every facet of our lives. And then the pandemic landed in my own house. I was COVID case number 60(ish) in Utah, and while my case was mild, the impact of this deadly virus has been anything but. We can all make endless lists of how things are different now because of COVID-19 and how things have changed. I, like so many of you, can share stories of the sadness and loss of the past 10 months. If you want to read a poem I wrote in the early days of the pandemic, please click here. Yes, a poem. Poetry is one of the many things that has kept me going this past year, and it helped me land where I am now, in such a place of HOPE! And for that more hopeful poem, click here.

Back to this week. We have a new President in the Oval Office, Joe Biden. Kamala Harris is the first ever woman and woman of color to be the Vice President of the United States. And Janet Yellen is the first ever female Treasury Secretary (pictured above). While I celebrate VP Harris to the hills and back, this is a newsletter about money, so Ms. Yellen is the focus.

For those of you who may not know what a Treasury Secretary (TS) does, the role is very important. The TS oversees the Department of the Treasury, and acts as the principle advisor to both the President and the Cabinet on most economic and financial issues. In short, the TS is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the Federal Government. Or otherwise put, the CFO for the American people! And so this is a very big deal.

It also has a very personal meaning for me given my background as a partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs, as well as being the first female trader to have that title. Treasury Secretary, in my view, is the most senior position in finance in the country, male or female, and for the very first time, just to say it again, that position is currently being held by a woman. As a former bond trader, I would hang on to every word that was uttered by the person in this role to look for direction as to the future of interest rates, and while this newsletter will not be a primer on why the rate at which the US borrows money matters so much, maybe a future one will be. For now, just trust me, it matters a lot. It could even be argued that it matters now more than ever, considering the current level of national debt related to support measures that have been provided during the pandemic.

So who is Janet Yellen? Her bio from The Balance reads, “Dr. Yellen graduated summa cum laude from Brown University with a degree in economics in 1967. She received her Ph.D. in economics from Yale University in 1971. She received the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale in 1997, an honorary doctor of laws degree from Brown in 1998, and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Bard College in 2000. Dr. Yellen was an assistant professor at Harvard University from 1971 to 1976 and a staff economist for the Federal Reserve Board from 1977 to 1978. She was a faculty member at the London School of Economics and Political Science from 1978 to 1980. She was a Fed Board member between 1994 and 1997. President Bill Clinton appointed her as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers between 1997 and 1999. She was the chair of the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at the same time. Dr. Yellen was the president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco between 2004 and 2010. She became vice-chair of the Fed Board of Governors between October 2010 and February 2014. This four-year term coincided with a 14-year term as a board member. From February 2014 to February 2018, Yellen was the Federal Reserve chair. She was the first woman to hold that position.” And by the way, she is 74.

Her accomplishments and knowledge base are beyond impressive. While we may know a lot about her leanings from a policy perspective, I can’t say I know much about her track record when it comes to championing gender equity and inclusion. A quick google search on the topic did not help me all that much, but that’s certainly not to say that she does not have one. Ms. Yellen likely has a good one, and I can only hope that not only will she do an amazing job as our CFO, but she will also utilize her platform to be a role model and change agent for so much more. Already, it looks like she will be making racial equity a priority, which is amazing.

I have written endlessly about the lack of women in decision making roles in the financial sector, and Ms. Yellen, as the most senior woman ever in finance, can do a lot to change that. In the famous words of Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Now, we will finally see a woman as the Treasury Secretary of the United States, and that is incredible. But if you are wondering what I’m referencing when it comes to the lack of women in finance, let me point you in the direction of my last newsletter, which was a bit of a rant about the lack of capital flowing to women fund managers and entrepreneurs. Please read it here. The Cheerios photo below is fully explained in that piece. I also wrote this piece, titled “Happy 150th Goldman Sachs and a Call to Collective Action”, and this one in 2016, called “Gender Equality in Finance? Nope. But Times Are Changing”. There’s also been about 100+ other pieces over the 10+ years that I have been writing on this topic. All can be found in my blog archive if you are looking for some late night reading. And of course, the 650 reports list, many of which are on this topic.

A photo of a pile of 100 Cheerios on a countertop, separated into piles for men, women, and people of colour.

Here is what I know for sure, and in particular, why this all matters so much.

Philanthropic capital will never be enough to solve the world’s problems, especially when fighting against traditional investment capital that continues to fund businesses that create and perpetuate the problems that non-profits and governments exist to solve. Financial tools and products have been created and used, bought and sold, without enough accountability for outcomes and impact. In a world increasingly defined by inequality more generally, and income and asset inequality specifically, we simply have to do better. Our very lives depend on it. 

But it’s not just Janet Yellen who brought me hope this week. President Biden’s Cabinet is the most racially diverse Cabinet in history, as well as the one with the most ever women. Obviously, it is far too early to know what will come of this, but it is a great start for President Biden’s administration. This quote by Abraham Lincoln from the Gettysburg Address has been on my mind all week: “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” In my book, having a cabinet that more fully represents the people that it is designed to serve is a very good thing indeed.

That being said, while it is very true that policy decisions made in Washington matter a lot as it relates to our economic and financial well-being, so does what you and I do every day with our financial resources. Every time money moves from our bank accounts, our wallets, or our purses to either pay for something (good or service), give to someone, or invest in something, we are transferring our financial power. The more we see it this way, the more we can see ourselves as powerful economic and financial beings. And if you want to live in a more just and equitable world, using your money more intentionally is a surefire way to make a difference. This election cycle proved, maybe more so than ever before, that every vote matters. So does every financial decision we make. They all add up. The billionaires of the world are just that, billionaires, because people buy the products, the services, and/or the stocks of the companies that those very people started or run. Without us, they would be just like us. Sit on that one for a while.

So a year later let me repeat my mantra: Finance is indeed the new Frontier of Feminism*. Welcome Treasury Secretary Yellen, I look forward to meeting you. And by they way, I sure as heck hope you call yourself a feminist. You may have once said that you prefer to ‘quietly’ break gender roles, but now that you have busted through the biggest glass ceiling of them all in the world of finance, I hope you come to shout it from your rooftop. And for all of you who think feminism is an old, dated, and politically charged word that you choose not to use, I refer you to the actual definition. Feminism isdefinedin Merriam-Webster as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and as the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” So might we stop hating on the words feminist and feminism, especially as women? It is time to reclaim the word for what it truly means. Because I promise you. When we more fully combine the beliefs of feminism with the power of finance, we will have a more just and equitable world for all.

………………………………………

Fun side note: This incredible video deserves to go viral. Please enjoy and share!

Interesting side note: the outgoing Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was my direct manager at Goldman for a period of time. In fact, he threw an engagement party for me and my husband Greg when we got engaged, as we both worked for him in the mortgage department. I also worked for Hank Paulson, who served as the 74th Treasury Secretary while he was CEO of Goldman, and very distantly for Robert Rubin who was the 70th Treasury Secretary and also the CEO of Goldman. When I first started at GS in 1988, my cubicle was right outside his. #funfactsaboutjacki

* I once again credit Ruth Ann Harnisch for this term.

2021 – A Year For Dancing Dreams

Photo purchased from Shutterstock

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 14th, 2021.

Well, 2020 is officially behind us. This is not to say that the problems that plagued us in one calendar year magically disappear with the turn of a page, but for me, this has always been a time to hit the refresh button. For the past several years, I have posted a New Year’s resolutions article, wherein I take some time to reflect on the year that was, and look forward to the year that might be. That said, 2020 was so unlike any other year for so many reasons. It certainly was a challenging one for me on a personal level for many reasons, and so this year I wanted to do something different – share a poem! While I have written poetry for as long as I can remember, 2020 was a year where not only did I write a lot of it, but I read a lot of it as well. Last year made poetry a necessity for me, and it showed up right at the top of my self-care list. There are so many great quotes that ask, why poetry? And especially, why poetry now? Below are a few of my favorites before I share with you my poem to start a new year.

Poetry,” Audre Lorde tells us, “names the nameless so it can be thought.” This is pulled from my favorite poetry podcast, and said in the most beautiful of accents by one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, amazing humans I have ever met, Pádraig Ó Tuama.

Photo taken in Belfast where I, we (my family), had lunch with Pádraig

And this, pulled from another podcast from another one of my favorite humans, Krista Tippett. Martin Farewell said this: “I think poetry evolved to save us from ourselves. It questions our understanding of what it means to be human and, in the process, deepens our humanity. History teaches us — and the daily news reminds us — how easily we forget what it means to be human. Probably no other art form is better than poetry at getting us directly inside another’s mind, experience, perspective. The ability to imagine someone else’s inner life is where compassion begins.We could certainly use more of that nowadays.”

Krista goes on to interview Jericho Brown and leads with this quote: “Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.

My poem ends hopeful, so please consider sticking with it until the end. I hope you enjoy the poem, and please feel free to share your favorite one or ones in the comment section.

My Dancing Dreams

My dreams
As a child
Untamed and unmanaged
Without boundaries
Limited only by my imagination
The dance, begun
Wild, so wild
Free, so free
 
My dreams
As a teenager
A young adult
Such a driving force
Inviting courage and audacity
Only supportive and always unquestioning
My invisible companion leading me boldly forward into the rewarding place of achievement
I learned steps, moves
But the choreography
Was all mine
 
But with age
And change of circumstance
Comes responsibility
True and imagined
 
Responsibility
real and perceived
and its dance partner
accountability
A salsa turned into a waltz
With time, and thoughts, and people
and things

The thing about dreams is that
If we try to control them
Manipulate them
Manage them
They become something they were not meant to be
 
But.... And .......2020 

A year for me, for many, for most
Where dreams disappeared
or, got put in a corner
Even our tamed dreams
 
This year, 2020, like no other that came prior
taught me many things
important things
life changing things
needed...................things

I took pause, maybe you too took pause
I turned away from my hopeful dreams, ignored them, hid from them and them from me
and then, finally
When I realized how much I missed them, needed them, I invited their return
I called out to them, loudly, "please come back"
And they did
I received them. I listened to them. I learned from them.

What my dreams taught me is that at some point
I surrounded them with rubber bands
Designed to tame their reach
They stretched and then snapped back
Based on so many things 
That should not really have affected them
And yet
They did .............. they do
That is on me
For I am the one who bound them
I am the one who said
"too big" "too unformed" "too ......"
or
“no no, not now”
“maybe.. later”
Or
“one day”
 
But ahhh… 2020
Teaching me, maybe teaching you, that one day may in fact mean
Never
 
But ahh... 2020
Teaching me that dreams contained are not living into their purpose
Dreams
Are meant to be big and wild and driving and energizing
Not small and captured and passive and painful
But that is what 2020 tried to do to all of our dreams
By trapping us in our homes, the temptation set in to trap our dreams too
And of course, responsibility and accountability were our dance partners more so than usual
And they invited fear to the floor
And they invited fear to the floor too...

I get it, I was in it, and it happened
They were all my unwanted companions
 
I stopped dancing
Maybe we all
Stopped dancing 
 
But as we shed the memory of a year filled with pain and suffering and loss and constraints
Let us let our dreams out
Let them lead
Let them invite our company once again
Knowing
Of course
That much of what was true in 2020 is still true
So much suffering and isolation is still present
We remain in our homes
But our dreams can leave
Our hope can leave
Still attached to us
Not by rubber bands but by kite string
 A sky full of my dreams and your dreams
Dancing separate and together
Colorful and abundant
Pushing away the dark clouds that have surrounded your home, and mine
 
So take leave dear dreams
For you must
Let me open the door for you
And I will follow
And we both
We will all
Be free...