Next Frontiers through the lens of steward-ownership


Maike Kauffmann


One day at the Next Frontiers conference felt like a week, and left me both invigorated and exhausted, inspired and disillusioned. It left me feeling part of a movement and quite alone, moving forward and standing still. 

A great group of people came together with concrete ideas, formulated challenges, practical approaches and solutions. From our side with the Purpose Foundation, we brought the concrete alternative ownership model of steward-ownership and aligned financing into the conversation – a rethinking of ownership and financing in a way that the purpose of companies, not shareholder value, remains in focus in the long run – and consequently fundamentally changing the power and incentive structure of business and its role in society. So we felt quite at home when Kirsten Dunlop of Climate KIC in the opening panel said that we need to get to the root causes instead of fighting symptoms and that while we need to move finance in a way that challenges underlying structures and incentives, we also need “hope financing”. In our work to inspire and enable a movement around steward-ownership that includes amazing and inspiring steward-owned companies like Ecosia, Patagonia, Wildplastic as well as investors at the forefront of alternative finance, I would say we work on a connection of both.

When talking and listening to the other participants, it felt like we are all dealing with very similar overarching topics – a good sign in my opinion. Steward-ownership automatically brings the questions of “who should have power and why / who is actually the right steward?” and “how much is enough?” to the table, questions that were prevalent throughout the conference on different levels. For example Dana Bezerra in a session on the “wealth defence industry” asked “why is accumulation always the end goal?”, and power dynamics and stewardship were a topic in most of the sessions I was able to participate in. 

At the same time, it also felt like we are all facing the same questions around how we can bring those ideas to life on a bigger scale, make them more accessible and help others to put them into practice. In particular, a session on ‘Humanising & Organising Wealthy People’ triggered thoughts in this regard. We – and apparently a lot of other organisations working on transformative approaches – are often struggling with a tendency that is prevalent in society today: Polarisation and alienation of other groups. We believe that it needs a clear standpoint and a diversity of independent and different approaches but also more stories, more inclusive, sensible, accessible and cross-community communication and more compassion for each other’s perspectives to make more togetherness possible vs. a separateness of conversations that we see in society – and also saw in parts of the conference. 

Sophia Parker, head of JRF’s Emerging Futures program, ended the conference with the message that while there are great emerging ideas and practices around different ways capital can be used to serve people and planet better, we need to get moving now. The question I am taking away mostly is how can we at Purpose Foundation help to empower people to take stewardship over their wealth so they can use it more intentionally and in more alignment with their values?

Maike Kauffmann is the Co-Lead Non-Profit at the Purpose Foundation

Tagged in: #NextFrontiers2024

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