After-Action Report: RVM #58 with Julie Cane

Many thanks to Julie Cane (UVA ’89), CEO and co-founder of mission-driven asset manager Democracy Investments, for occupying the RINGKNOCKER speaker’s chair this week to tell her story!

In every period of history, civilizations have reached beyond their borders to influence other civilizations.

The methods of influence vary, from military conquest to religion to mercantilism to colonialism to idealism. So do the agents of influence: governments and criminal empires—often hard to tell the difference there—as well as commercial organisations, religious institutions, social movements, and more.

The one thing you can say historically about both the methods and the agents of influence between civilizations is that they employed people in the aggregate. Say what you want about the Roman Empire or the Catholic Church or the the British East India Company or the International Communist Party: they are organizations, not individual actors.

It is only recently—and by recently I mean just the latest eye-blink on the historical timeline—that it has become possible for an individual, literally ANY person with sufficient talent or means, to exert influence and create measurable change at an international scale.

Now that’s thinking big. And it is that kind of big thinking that Julie shared with us this week. How can an individual actor promote the advancement of liberty and the decline of tyranny in the world, in a measurable, meaningful way? Julie presented alongside Democracy Investments Partner & Chief Economist Rick Rikoski, and their answers were compelling.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index assigns a value to every country in the world based on its performance along dozens of dimensions related to the effective practice (or not) or representative government. Nations that rank highly enjoy free speech, religious tolerance, freedom of movement, and all the other hallmarks of liberty one might expect.

The Democracy International Fund (DMCY) has been in operation for just a couple of months as of this writing. Its investments are driven by their proprietary Democracy Investments International Index®, which (among other complexities) ranks each member of their asset universe according to the EIU Democracy Index value assigned to its declared Country of Risk.

In English: DMCY causes investment capital to flow into countries that practice some version of democracy, and away from those that don’t.

The conversation this week was wide-ranging and intense. In no particular order, we covered:

  • The back story. Just how does one put something like this together?
  • Assumptions. What are the core beliefs that have to be true in order for this experiment to bear fruit? Do they pass the smell test? (If they don’t, we might ALL be in trouble!)
  • Critical mass. How big do they have to be to move the needle? (Quite a bit smaller than you might expect!)
  • Trade-offs. Do investors have to compromise performance to achieve the fund’s ideological goals? (Apparently not.)
  • How can we help?

The answer to that last question deserves a paragraph of its own. Democracy Investments is working hard to reach the $30M Assets-Under-Management threshold that would open the gates for institutional investment. To get there, they seek to make contact with private organizations and high-net-worth individuals who support the mission and have the means to put them across the line.

This one feels like a rare opportunity, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase vote with your wallet. Let’s help Julie and her team make the case for democracy!

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