Doctrine of Discovery Redux: The Vatican’s Plans For Impact Investing

I watched the video of Helen Alford’s talk months ago, and I still can’t get it out of my head. A Dominican nun trained in “human-centered technology” who holds a PhD in engineering management from Cambridge regaling a room full of aspiring impact investors on how the Catholic church plans to be the conscience of big business in the coming decades. Even though she notes there are many peace and justice folks who believe wading into human capital impact investing is akin to taking up with the devil, well…circumstances require it, so better just get with the program.

Alford goes on to say how excited she is that the Church will be at the center of social innovation over the next twenty years; it’ll be just like fifteenth century Florence. She describes bishops using innovative approaches to reduce big manuals of moral economic decision-making, which to me smacks frighteningly of religious Blockchain smart contracts. This moment of existential crisis brought on by climate catastrophe and economic uncertainty appears to be the perfect window of opportunity for the Catholic church to usher in a new age of evangelism. Their leaders intend to tap lay people worldwide to spread the church’s teachings through politics, economics and technology.

This truly feels like the logical extension of the Doctrine of Discovery, white western Christianity calling dibs on a dawning age of cloud-based extractivism. Once again the rich and powerful draw up plans to prey on Black and Brown communities, taking resources that are not theirs, extinguishing lives, and erasing cultures. Just as adoption of double-entry bookkeeping in 1494 coincided with expansion of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, so now does the roll out of self-sovereign identity and Blockchain public benefit systems coincide with new forms of digital bondage that have been devised by financiers intent trading in life outcomes of the poor. This time instead of of shackles and whips, those in power plan to exert their domination using Big Data, machine learning, “smart” environments, predictive analytics, algorithms and behavioral economic nudges. Such is the brutal business of human capital finance.

The conference at which Alford presented was held at the Vatican on June 16-18, 2014. I touched upon Sir Ronald Cohen’s participation here. It was the first of three biennial social impact conferences co-hosted by Catholic Relief Services, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has the largest endowment of any Catholic institution of higher education in the United States and is in the top tier of schools nationwide (source). Scott Malpass, appointed an advisor to the Vatican Bank in 2017, knows $8.7 billion is a lot of capital to keep in motion. Supposed “anti-poverty” initiatives that enable the church to advance its missionary purpose while controlling potentially volatile populations probably look like a pretty attractive “social impact” investment option. It’s not surprising the business school would be interested in growing this sector.

Notre Dame also hosts several programs advancing wireless technology, smart sensors, and social network signals intelligence project underwritten by defense and scientific interests. Of course such systems represent critical infrastructure needed to generate and manage real time data flows for speculative human capital investment. South Bend, the home of Notre Dame, is also home to Pete Buttigieg, a darling of the neoliberal think tank crowd. Buttigieg saw the creation of a “City of Lifelong Learning” pilot program in South Bend, a cradle to gray workforce development effort led by the Drucker (Peter) Institute, with distinct social impact investing overtones.

vatican Impact Conference 2014

Interactive map of above here.

The idea for the first Vatican impact investing conference, “Investing for the Poor: How Impact Investing Can Serve The Common Good In Light Of Evangelii Gaudium,” was originally pitched by Dr. Carolyn Woo, a professor of global business currently working at Purdue. Woo served as the dean of the Notre Dame business school from 1997 to 2011, then led Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016 (she served on the CRS board from 2004-2010). Purdue was the first university to pilot income sharing agreements (Back a Boiler), has launched a global online degree program, and is a partner in Skillful Indiana. Social impact investments in ed-tech and digital skills training certainly sync with her university’s goals. Another Notre-Dame affiliate who participated in the conference was Roger Huang, a professor of global finance and long-time board member of a Baltimore-area Catholic health system.

There were many attendees, and I won’t list them all, but I do want to point out two additional individuals of interest. The first is Tom Steyer of Farallon Capital Management, a protégé of Robert Rubin a Goldman Sachs guy who served as Treasury Secretary under Clinton. Steyer founded Beneficial Bank with his wife Kathryn Taylor and is a mover and shaker in Democratic circles. He’s also a major force in the “Wrong Kind of Green” environmental movement. Tom’s brother Jim Steyer founded Common Sense Media, a non-profit that vets online content for children and is funded by many ed-tech philanthropies including Omidyar Network. Margie Sullivan worked with Steyer at Farallon for over a decade having built a career in federal contracting working for HUD, Department of the Defense, and the Office of the US Trade Representative. After leaving Farallon, Sullivan landed at USAID. She now manages her own consulting firm.

Steyer Vatican

Interactive map above here.

As you can see from the agenda, the goal was to get everyone on the same page about what social impact investing is and line up next steps to develop that market. One of the outcomes of the gathering was the creation of an Advisory Committee on Impact Investing for Catholic Relief Services with four working groups: Education, Communications, Impact Investments, and Relationship to a Potential Private Equity Fund. Goals included identifying areas for potential investment, developing a framework to evaluate options, and recommending a number of pilot projects. Carolyn Woo served as co-chair along with Patricia Dinneen, social justice chair of the of the Boston Archdiocese pastoral council who not coincidentally is also the impact investing chair for the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association. Including the subcommittees there are over 36 members, which you can explore here. Below is a screenshot of a selection of them.

Advisory Committee Impact investing Vatican

I do believe the plan is to codify in computer code Old Testament dictates that some will attempt to pass off as spirituality. Their manuals to make “moral” economic decisions will be algorithms. They will sort the “worthy” from the “unworthy” and cast out or smite those unlucky enough to fall into the latter category. They want us to believe that technology is the answer. The Pope has been meeting with folks from Microsoft about using AI to “help” the poor. Catholic University is taking that idea and running with it, pushing a “Catholic Blockchain.” Rick Santorum is developing a Catholic-friendly crypto-currency Cathio. We know technology isn’t the answer. It will simply reinforce the dominant power structures that have been in place for the past four hundred years. Rules will be encoded to maintain existing social order and preference racist ideals and hierarchy and paternalism.

Pope Microsoft

Catholic Blockchain

Cathio Crypto Bitcoin.jpg

What follows are clips from Alford’s talk with transcripts of the sections that informed my introductory remarks. 

Investing for the Poor: How Impact Investing Can Serve The Common Good in the Light of Evangelii Gaudium

June 16-17, 2014: Catholic Relief Services, Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, and University of Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business

Video 9: Impact Investing in the Light of Evangelii Gaudium: Sister Helen J. Alford

Regarding the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization

Timestamp 16:30 minutes to 19:20

Now just to give you quick background on why this arises, the New Evangelization, why is this? Well as far as I know it started, the first time it was used was in a meeting between Pope John Paul the Second, our canonized Pope John Paul the Second, and the Latin American Bishops in a meeting. And he started in his talk, he talked about this idea for the need of a new evangelization. And then it got picked up much later and finally we have this synod on this topic.

What does it mean “new,” because it seems odd in a way. Isn’t it the sort of core business of the church talking about the gospel and spread the gospel? So what does it mean? Well, I think out of the synod documents if you look at them, three main things come out. Just so you have an idea again, I’ll try to be very quick on why this, what the background to this document.

First of all the New Evangelization renewed commitment, renewed preaching of the gospel in parts of the world that have been evangelized for centuries. Okay? “New” can mean all kinds of things. It can mean new ways of doing it. It could mean entering into new sectors, which is the second. Places where the church perhaps hasn’t really entered as fully as it could have. The gospel hasn’t really entered as fully as it could. Perhaps in economics. Perhaps in politics. Um, perhaps in influencing the way that technological development takes place. These kinds of things saw a pushing out into areas; it’s not that there was never any interest, but perhaps not enough. You know it needs to be deeper, stronger, more pressed the gospel in those things.

And then as was already mentioned widening of the actors that are involved, especially as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. Reformed churches are different in this regard, better in this regard. Lay people, all the baptized being involved in evangelization. Each Christian is a bearer of Christ and is in that sense part of the mission of the church. So also connects with the bringing of the church into economics, into politics. All these baptized Christians in these sectors bringing with them the gospel message.

Perhaps we could say just as the last thing, some people would see the new evangelization as a kind of response to an existential crisis in many levels that we experience in the world today. We have climate crisis. We also have demographic crisis. Aging in many countries and problems of dealing with population changes, that kind of thing. Crisis of morality, how do we handle moral questions? In a pluralistic world, how do hand morals off from parents to children? Transmission? So, lots and lots of aspects of this crisis. The new evangelization is a sort of a response.

Breaking Down the Silos

Timestamp 20:00

We have to recognize the crucial role of business and hence in investment in confronting problems of poverty and other social problems. Yesterday, Sir Ronald Cohen was talking about bits of a quick history of how we’ve dealt with social problems. First of all the industrial revolution, and it was largely philanthropy. Then gradually developed the idea that governments should be doing things. Now we’re going through another transformation. It’s just another transformation. The church’s social teachings have dealt with these transformations before and it will deal with this transformation, too.

It’s a new phase in which we’re seeing a break down of these strict divisions between government, business, and civil society. It’s in Caritas Veritate, so we have absolute, you know uh, the seal of approval from the church. If you read Caritas Veritate number 36 around the area around paragraph 40, it’s all about how we need to break down these barriers between these sectors. And we need, for instance, as he calls it a logic of gift coming into business, but we also need business models coming into civil society. We need to learn from each other. Okay? This is a new phase that we’re going into, and the church, we need to take this on board.

You know, Father Seamus, was talking yesterday about how a lot of his justice and peace people would be, you know they’d have their hands up like this at a meeting like this. They never, it’ll be like talking to the devil you know coming in and talking to people who are involved in investment. You know, that kind of thing. You know, I mean, ok. This, we already mentioned, Carolyn mentioned this morning there’s big problems in business. Of course there are big problems, that’s probably why you all are here. So, sort of deal with some of those problems, but this idea that we’ve demonized, that we won’t have anything to do with it, and we should just keep pushing on getting governments to, it’s just, it’s not being realistic about our situation.

Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis

Timestamp 35:30

This was looking at things like impact investing in the light of Evangelii Gaudium. Let’s just look at strengths and opportunities, okay? Uses the primary mechanisms we know for poverty elimination-entrepreneurship and markets. Focuses on that, attracts many different investors and entrepreneurs to solving social problems. So we’re really drawing all kinds of resources into dealing with the major problems that from the point of view of the church, from the point of view of society as a whole, we recognize we have to face.

We have opportunities, because there are so many problems to deal with, and through partnership with local government and NGOs we can create integrated solutions. Those are somewhat responding to a weaknesses and threats from the other side. Then also from Catholic social thought what are the learnings that we can get from impact investing? Well we have a very strong focus on dignity of the human person, which can sometimes be lacking in the business sphere.

And precisely because we have an institution called the church, we have a little bit of distance from business, which we can avoid this problem of capture just being absorbed into, we can have a critical distance as a church institution-a good partner, but also providing as well. That’s what good partners do for each other.

We, we as a church I think, several people have said this, we’re going to move even in the next twenty years from a rather defensive position with regard to the modern world to being in the main stream, to being one of the institutions which are going to carry forward social innovation.

It will be more like fifteenth century Florence in the future with the Catholic Church right in the middle of all kinds of innovations. The bishops are reducing big manuals on how to deal with moral problems in economics, you know. I mean this is going to start happening more in the future, just because of the situation that we’re in. And business increasingly recognizes its need for partnership.

Ok last thing, last page. We need to create a more solid dialogue. You can see here, many of you will say that’s a bit naïve some of the little things you said. It’s just the beginning of the time. We need a more solid dialogue between the church and faith communities and impact investing. We need to ask what to the various members in the church need to do to promote a business culture that puts the poor at the center. That puts inclusion right at the center. Okay? How could the business system be converted to serving the poor?

Big Brother, Blockchain Babies, Coded Religion, and “Good” Behavior

I wrapped up my previous post about the blockchain social impact platform noting that digital identity is THE KEY element required to make speculative markets in human capital data function. The game of gambling on life outcomes requires:

1) unique personal identifiers

2) predictive analytics protocols to set the odds

3) constant monitoring of those receiving services, including inputs and outputs

4) fluid cross-border payment systems tied to real-time data flows, and

5) data aggregation and deal fulfillment platforms.

If you don’t have the first item, the unique identifier, the game cannot even start. That is why developing scalable digital identity systems is crucial. Ironically, much of the discussion we are having now around data privacy, including GDPR, is being used to advance the case for digital identity. Once adopted it will be a sea change. At that point each person will be transformed into a digitally-branded commodity available for speculative trade (based on social/reputation scoring) in the global marketplace. That is the reality of what is being built right before our eyes, and yet so few people see it for what it is.

Below are some of the sixty members of the Decentralized Identity Foundation. Most of these companies have emerged just in the past three years. Evernym, listed at the bottom of this screenshot, has partnered with the state of Illinois on a Blockchain birth certificate registry program. See the full list here.

Decentralized Identity Foundation List

The infrastructure needed to run human capital futures markets has been developed via “humanitarian” aid to countries that have long suffered under colonial rule. The first “Blockchain baby” was born in Tanzania in 2018. Mother and child were each assigned a digital identity, and the health care provided during that pregnancy was tracked on Blockchain. An article from last June, Aid:Tech and PharmAccess Deliver World’s First Blockchain Baby, describes how the Blockchain platform could be set up to incentivize desired pregnancy behaviors. The article goes on to say a similar “loyalty” program was set up by Mastercard to encourage medical compliance in Hepatitis C patients.

Tanzania Blockchain Baby

Tanzania Blockchain Baby Map

Interactive Map: Tanzania Blockchain Baby / Digital Global Aid HERE

Mastercard has gained prominence within the global aid community for its digital payment systems. It also holds biometric security and Blockchain identity patents. The company is a member of the Better than Cash Alliance, a program housed within the United Nations that advocates development of digital payment systems for the global poor; Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, a think tank working to scale global poverty “solutions;” the Decentralized Identity Foundation, a membership organization that promotes technology based identity; and the Domestic Security Alliance Council, a public-private intelligence gathering partnership.

Mastercard Global Aid

Interactive version of the map above here.

The company is well positioned to benefit from a shift to Blockchain aid distribution just in time for mass global unrest stemming from climate catastrophe, economic instability, and militarization. A key feature of Blockchain technology is the ability to deploy smart contracts, the same types of contracts used in the platform.

Using Blockchain identity and smart contracts, an organization could gamify compliance fairly easily. As individuals demonstrate required behaviors via digital networks, they “unlock” value, benefits, or privileges. While the idea of gamification is novel, we must recognize that those in positions of power will be the ones coding the game. These are people whose goal is to obtain wealth and power at the expense of the subjects compelled to play their “game.” Their intent is certainly NOT to redistribute the assets they’ve already accumulated.

Another key area of concern is the fact that VALUE SYSTEMS have begun to be written into smart contract code. Last year former Augur CEO Matt Liston devised a Blockchain RELIGION, which he dubbed 0xΩ. His technology allows believers to vote on sacred texts, select leaders, fund missionary work, and commission works of art. In a Forbes article Liston said “The idea is that you can take an existing religion, and you could place the scripture in the Blockchain.” People can then vote by proxy, changing the nature of the enterprise as the group evolves. Other Ethereum enterprises with a religious bent include Jesus Coin, Lotos, and BitcCoen.

This is important, because in the “pay for success” world we now inhabit, public services are being outsourced to non-profits and NGOs, many of which are FAITH-BASED. What will it mean if “success metrics” linked to “evidence-based” programs demand a person’s behavior comply to a specific value system? Will those needing assistance have their activities circumscribed by Blockchain-code? Will AI screen individuals for compatibility? As these contractual systems become automated via DAOs and DAFs, they are becoming further and further out of reach. It will be increasingly difficult to refute the terms of coded computer smart contracts. Where exactly does one protest this new world of cloud-based domination?

Value Based Healthcare Smart Money

This is highly relevant to sexual and reproductive healthcare access. Our nation’s health systems are moving away from fee-for-service to a values-based payment structure-pay for success. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including electronic health records, laid the groundwork for this transition. As hospitals are closed and consolidated, communities many only have access to religious-affiliated (often Catholic) health systems that may limit what treatments are available.

Ascension Catholic Healthcare

One might argue that improved reproductive health outcomes justify the Blockchain solution imposed on these mothers in Tanzania. But once again, we need to consider if the “solutions” offered materially improve the conditions of impoverished families or if they instead impose expectations of “proper” pregnancy behaviors on expectant parents without providing additional support.

Africa has become a lab for mobile health or mHealth interventions, many of which are directed at maternal health outcomes. Programs like MomConnect send SMS messages with branded content from Bay-area based BabyCenter, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. Many of these digital interventions have been developed for the sole purpose of disruption and advancing behavioral economic approaches to intractable social problems.

The “impact” economy envisioned by the Davos crowd anticipates a small percentage of the world’s population will have access stable, fulfilling, living-wage work in the coming decades. Most families will be dependent on some form of assistance to survive: food, shelter, education, and health and mental health treatment. Those benefits will most likely be issued electronically and linked to digital identity systems. The system will demand to be able to compare resources expended against a person’s economic output. Software to query on encrypted data has already been developed by MIT. It’s called Engima.


This dystopian vision is a future where “labor” for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, disproportionately Black and Brown folks, will consist of navigating increasingly intrusive “evidence-based” training, social service, and health care “solutions.” These systems will codify behavior in ways that advantage those in power. All of this hinges on digital identity, tech-based surveillance, and outcomes-based contracting. If we want to avoid this future, we must educate one another about the infrastructure that is being put into place and attempt to block its imposition.

Alice & Automated Poverty Management

At the end of my previous post I introduced, an Ethereum Blockchain software platform investors developed to automate payments to “charitable” projects that prove “measurable impact.” homepage

The platform employs a “pay for results” structure, an approach adopted by numerous governments including ones in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia. After years of data-driven austerity, it is becoming more and more acceptable for public services to be outsourced to non-profit and faith-based partners. Reimbursement for services can then be tied to outcomes-based government contracts, an arrangement that has garnered support from both progressive and conservative quarters.

To get the data required to run their human capital, life-outcomes gambling enterprise, financiers intend to digitally engineer the lives of the poor and compel vulnerable communities to conform to racialized systems of domination that extract profit from misery and dispossession. Black and Brown communities will bear the brunt of ever-more technologized systems of bondage imposed by hedge fund traders. Though rising income inequality and expanded militarized policing ensure a majority of the population will eventually come under scrutiny. Below is a screenshot of an impact dashboard similar to SocialSuite is backed by Salesforce and operates in Australia in partnership with IXO Foundation.

SocialSuite How It Works

Source here.

Impact investors claim charitable donations are dwindling because the wealthy don’t trust service providers; they are not transparent enough with their data., apparently, solves this problem for them. It collects lots of data and makes it readily available for impact analysis. But really, the rich don’t actually want to GIVE away assets, preferring to leverage them to accrue even MORE wealth. That is how the machine of capitalism works. Every “social impact” effort, however progressive it may appear, is ultimately about redirecting resources away from the multitudes at the bottom to a few powerful interests at the top.

Service delivery must, by design, get leaner and leaner as the poor are squeezed for more and more data, their lives increasingly circumscribed by imposed interventions. As each round of of supposed “success” concludes, profit is taken, thus guaranteeing the next investment round has even fewer material resources to offer the poor. Those at the top do not intend to redistribute their holdings, only increase them. To do otherwise would fly in the face of the “investment” premise. To do so would, in fact, be “charity,” and the age of unconditional charity has evidently come to a close as has the age of living-wage, dignified work.

For these reasons’s functionality will very likely extend into the “what works” public sector. One of the first proofs of concept for involved services for fifteen “rough sleepers” or unhoused folks in London. If you want to take a deep dive into the broken-on-purpose nature of pay for success finance, I encourage you to read social justice accountant Cameron Graham’s seven-part series. It lays bare the sinister mechanics of the St. Mungo’s social impact bond featured in the image below. It can be read on his blog, Fearful Asymmetry, here. This SIB was advanced by Sir Ronald Cohen and Social Finance in 2015.

While housing is an area of keen interest to social impact investors (supportive housing providing a useful node through which data-extracting services can be deployed), success metrics are also readily applied to chronic illness, addiction/mental health, youth services/foster care, end of life care and education/training. Much of the technological infrastructure needed for automated “pay for results” is being refined through “humanitarian” global aid channels, also featured in the screenshot below. projects

Funding for’s development came from Social Tech Trust, originally the corporate foundation for Nominet and later spun off as its own venture. Nominet manages the Internet domain registry for the UK. The company is also deeply involved with emerging technologies that can manage, track, and predict people’s behaviors in ubiquitous computing environments: Internet of Things sensors, Smart City initiatives, autonomous vehicles and drones. has the support of the UK government’s innovation program, firms involved in venture capital, as well as digital payment systems. For a time it maintained a US presence in Philadelphia.

Interactive version of the above map here.

Below is a 17-minute presentation on made in 2017 at DevCon3.

With, organizations set up to process the poor via “evidence-based” “solutions” agree to share impact metrics and progress towards goals by uploading regular reports to a Blockchain platform with a public-facing dashboard.  With the platform, investors may opt to provide seed funding up front with remaining payments held in escrow until “success” is proven digitally. Only after conditions of blockchain “smart contracts” are met, will subsequent payments be released. validation

Source page 33.

Instead of relying on a third-party organization to evaluate the “success” of a project, is meant to automate the evaluation part of the “pay for success” process. This will supposedly reduce costs and speed up the process. Impact investors are always seeking “solutions” that can be inexpensively brought to scale. Blockchain becomes the “trusted third party;” instead of an entity like Palantir reviewing the data, it is done automatically. Of course, that means that “success” must be defined as a number on a dashboard, and personal data on individuals accessing charitable services must be harvested and uploaded to “prove” that success.

That data-mining might happen when an individual’s caseworker enters information into a social welfare system, but increasingly compliance-monitoring will be managed through Internet of Things sensors and xAPI / apps. Indeed, wearable tech is becoming normalized to the point that in 2018, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, a pioneer in impact investing policy, hosted a webinar to discuss the ethical and security implications of linking innovative tech to global human capital investment programs. You can watch it here.

This “transparent” data will drive a free market approach to global impact investments. You may recall from my post on the possibility of a Pre-K TARP (Toxic Asset Relief Program), that NPX has devised an impact security structure where social service entities may issue debt for their operations in the form of bonds.

Investors purchase the bonds, and when “success” metrics are attained, donors repay the investment plus interest. Such bonds can be traded on secondary markets. A similar approach has been built into Debt is tokenized on blockchain and can be bought and sold with payment flows changing in real time.

The screenshot below was taken from the NPX website.

NPX Impact Security

This screenshot is taken from the white paper. secondary markets

In this new world of human capital speculation, social welfare services will be underwritten by far-flung amalgamations of pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, venture capital funds, and insurers. Such was the case I wrote about in Connecticut where a French bank and an Australian insurance company put up money to fund “family stability” interventions for Connecticut families where a parent was experiencing addiction and had involvement with Child Protective Services.

It is possible that in the not too distant future “philanthropic” entities could be set up as DAOs, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations or DAFs, Decentralized Autonomous Funds. These are legally incorporated entities written in computer code that once activated proceed according to their set purpose, distributing funds with no human input whatsoever. Let me repeat-once a DAO is set loose, there is no human involvement. None.

The concept for automated charity was put forth in a 2015 white paper prepared by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), an partner based in the UK, called “Giving Unchained: Philanthropy and the Blockchain.” CAF heralds this advance, positing a future in which “internet of things, underpinned by blockchain technology, lead to a world in which smart machines emerge as a new hyper-rational donor class.”

If the actions of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff, and Pierre Omidyar concern you now, imagine a future where they set up DAOs or DAFs to carry out their social impact agendas. Few people realize this is even a possibility. It is terrifying. I’m really not sure why progressive and Left movements are so in the dark about all of this. We need to be discussing in very serious terms how to stop it.

Charity Aid Foundation Giving Unchained Blockchain Text

According to their white paper: “Alice uses the blockchain to record almost every parameter of projects run on the network, tokenizing impact data into “impact facts” that live on into perpetuity thanks to the blockchain’s intrinsic qualities of data-immutability and tamper-resistance.” Imagine how many “impact facts” might be collected on a low-income family trying to survive multi-generational trauma in a city of deep poverty. For impact investors, broken people and broken families are valuable commodities. Valuable that is, IF predictive analytics indicate they can be “fixed” inexpensively. Poor people whose metrics indicate a good “growth” profile will be sought out and cultivated, while the non-compliant poor will be pushed into carceral systems or abandoned and and left to their own devices.

This processing of lives through privatized, prescriptive, “evidence-based” interventions is central to the continued expansion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s “knowledge economy,” one defined by concentrated capital, financialization, rising levels of poverty, and surplus labor. I fear if we do not strongly contest the current framing of the social impact investing as a public “good,” the future of “work” for many will be navigating predatory social service systems, subject to predictive profiling and intrusive surveillance. transforms the world into a treacherous of augmented-reality game, a maze the poor and those servicing them must navigate. Players must not only attempt to live in the game, but hit agreed-upon targets, unlock rewards, and level up. In order for these systems to function, organizations must be able to keep track of people. In this game of impoverished “Life,” each person is their own token, avatar, piece in play. Those in power expect to be able monitor the resources being invested into them and quantify the “success” metrics that person produces. Self sovereign digital identity is another piece of the puzzle. I’ll discuss this concept further in my next post on the world’s first “Blockchain baby” born in Tanzania last year.


What About Alice? The United Way, Collective Impact & Libertarian “Charity”

It seems the United Way is planning for a future inhabited by a mass underclass of precarious labor. In fact, this “future” may already be here, it’s just not evenly distributed as the quote attributed to William Gibson suggests. For the past few years United Way chapters nationwide have been mobilizing awareness campaigns around ALICE. The acronym stands for Assets Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE does not signify just female and female-identifying adults, but instead the masses of the working poor and their families. ALICE is the raw material that will be fed into the United Way’s “collective impact” machine. ALICEs may be pregnant teens, foster youth, single parents, indebted students, veterans, the disabled, the chronically ill, the elderly, the addicted, or families holding down multiple jobs who still cannot make ends meet.

ALICE Group Photo

United Way Impact Investment Products 1

Stephanie Hoopes, who earned a PhD in government and international relations from the London School of Economics, developed the ALICE campaign, which is housed within the United Way, and has served as its director since 2015. She taught in the UK early in her career, then became the treasurer of the New Jersey public television network. She also taught at Columbia and Rutgers where she served as director for the Rutgers-Newark New Jersey Databank. Social impact investing runs on data, especially interoperable data.

This January, Hoopes participated as a panelist in a “Prosperity Symposium” in Philadelphia, hosted by the Federal Reserve. Michael Nutter, Bloomberg’s “what works” government sidekick, was co-host. Not surprisingly there was much discussion of the need for additional research, but little mention of redistribution of resources to those in need. Federal Reserve branches across the nation are in the process of launching “economic mobility” initiatives, swift on the heels on the passage of the Foundations for Evidence Based Policy Making Act, the Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act, and their companion program promoting Investing in Opportunity Zones.

While they may dangle “prosperity” in front of the ALICEs, the social impact investment scheme relies on folks never attaining stability, let alone “prosperity.” The ALICEs are going to be compelled to jump through hoop after hoop, digitally monitored of course: workforce training for non-existent jobs; addiction treatment that never offers a permanent cure; preventative health regimens that fail to take into account the toxic environments in which the poor are forced to live.

That is how the game of human capital speculation goes. The ALICEs may be allowed to improve their lot in some small, but “measurable” ways. Growth metrics after all ARE needed to fuel impact markets. We also know few ALICEs will ever be allowed to grasp the brass ring. Widespread prosperity would mean conditions suitable for impact investing would cease, and they will not allow that to happen. Those in power demand this macabre game continue. Why? Human capital investments are one of the few remaining places that can absorb concentrated flows of wealth that must continue to be circulated. ALICE management is a crucial element of this next phase of biocapitalism.

Prosperity Symposium 2019

Interactive map of the Prosperity Symposium held in Philadelphia here.

A prominent supporter of the ALICE concept is Senator Cory Booker, also from northern New Jersey and a major player in education privatization. He has an interest in social impact investing, having served on the board of the Bloomberg Family Foundation and co-sponsored the Social Impact Partnership Pay For Results Act, which I wrote about here.

As mayor of Newark, Booker worked closely with Mark Zuckerberg on “innovative” approaches to transforming the city’s public schools, which caused grave harm to the children of that city. While many labelled the effort a failed investment, if Zuckerberg’s end game was actually to test interventions and further destabilize the system as a way of laying the groundwork for a broader program of impact investing, he might actually consider it a “success.” Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have put considerable dollars into scaling the Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust in San Jose (more here). Such an interoperable data system is exactly the type of infrastructure needed to track and evaluate the “pay for success” deals that will be imposed on those fitting the ALICE profile.

ALICE Northern NJ.jpg

Interactive version of ALICE / Northern NJ here.

The ALICE initiative is backed by a variety of corporate and philanthropic interests working in the areas of fin-clusion (predatory lending), healthcare, insurance, energy, technology, and education. Several are members of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and have ties to social impact finance, including Deloitte, which published a whitepaper on the importance of impact investing for hedge funds, and UPS, the corporate arm of the Annie E. Casey Foundation I mentioned in my prior post. For impact investment predators, ALICEs are a vast pool of untapped potential. If only they could be properly profiled, packaged, and processed through “pay for success” “collective impact”systems,  their dire situations would be somewhat ameliorated, netting a solid profit for those with the resources to underwrite “evidence-based” “solutions” to “fix” them.

ALICE Sponsors

Interactive map of ALICE Advisory Council members here.

ALICE National Advisory Council members include:

Aetna: insurer, healthcare innovation, digital identity systems

AT&T: ALEC member, ed-tech, “smart-city” 5g, Educare Pre-K

Atlantic Health System

Deloitte: Consulting firm advancing edge computing, social impact investing, collaborating on futures initiative with Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund and Singularity University

Entergy: ALEC member, energy company

Johnson & Johnson: ALEC member, digital health, global aid, maternal mobile health innovations, corporate arm of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Key Bank: Regional Ohio Bank

OneMain Financial Holdings: Sub-prime lender

RJW Barnabas Health: New Jersey-based healthcare system

UPS: Corporate arm of Annie E. Casey Foundation, globalized supply chain tracking, labor automation, US Impact Investing Alliance

US Venture: energy company

In my next post I will discuss another Alice, is a blockchain platform designed to support peer-to-peer “social impact” charity. It was bankrolled by the Social Tech Seed Fund , the charitable arm of Nominet Trust, which is the entity that manages internet domain registries in the UK. The Ethereum platform partnered with the UK government’s innovation hub and has a satellite office in the United States. In 2017, their US base was in Philadelphia as noted in this petition to the FCC, but their website seems to indicate it has since relocated to Burlingame, CA.

Interactive map of here.

The services proposes are eerily similar to those floated in a 2018 Libertarian white paper crafted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation: “Blockchain & Government: Using An Emerging Technology To Reduce Government’s Interference In Your Life.” In it automated systems track the supposed impact of private donations to charitable programs or individuals in need of assistance. The infographics below give you a sense of how they envision it operating. Imagine such a system overlaid with specific sets of values written into computer code and automated. That technology exists in a basic form. Fortunately, it is just not yet scaleable or socially acceptable.

Libertarian blockchain welfare 1

Libertarian welfare blockchain 2

When We’re The Packages: UPS, Annie E. Casey Foundation & Impact Investing

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the United Way, and the Aspen Institute are in the process of rolling out a “two-generation,” coordinated program of data exploitation designed to enmesh poor families in ongoing systems of digital monitoring. In order to secure their most basic needs for survival, families in need will be expected to demonstrate compliance with boot-strap, neoliberal interventions grounded in behavioral economics.

Not only will intrusive personal information be fed into cloud-based dashboard systems by social service providers (educators, healthcare providers, therapists, social workers), increasingly wearable technology and Internet of Things enabled devices will be deployed to extract data in real time. Such “solutions” place the burden on individuals to “fix” themselves within systems that have, in fact, been designed to oppress them. As the poor attempt to navigate rigged, “pay for success” social “welfare” interventions, their digital exhaust will be harnessed and used to fuel hedge fund speculation. Predatory investors are now aggregating portfolios of “evidence-based” “solutions” through vehicles like the Green Light Fund (more here).

Hustle Score

It is a brutal enterprise suited to our current moment, one in which the purchasing power of the masses is no longer sufficient to maintain global capital flows and innovative systems of finance linked to digital technologies  are on the rise. The “two-generation” strategy being advanced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in coordination with the United Way and the Aspen Institute will vastly increase the amount of data collected, imposing family-level surveillance via “soft” (social welfare agencies) and “hard” (law enforcement) systems of policing. As befitting our nation’s legacy of genocide and enslavement, Black and Brown communities are on the front lines of this newest manifestation of racial capitalism.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose board is dominated by UPS executives, is the philanthropy that jump-started the field of social impact investing (aka poverty-mining). Jim Casey and his siblings created the foundation in 1948. Casey grew a Seattle-based courier business into United Parcel Service, a company that has come to dominate global supply chain management. The Casey family has been involved in myriad private welfare programs over the decades, targeting foster care, “opportunity youth,” and low-income families.

Annie E Casey Foundation Map LittleSis

Annie E. Casey Foundation board members interactive map here.

The foundation conceptualized the Mission Investors Exchange in 2003 and refined it in partnership with other global philanthropies including the Ford Foundation. The organization was incubated within Philanthropy Northwest, its fiscal sponsor, from 2008 to 2015 when it became an independent entity. Mission Investors Exchange now boasts over 200 members, including twenty-six of the nation’s largest philanthropies, plus asset managers, private wealth funds, community development funds, consultants, and legal counsel. There are many wealthy, powerful interests who anticipate making a lot of money off technocratic poverty management.

Social impact investing runs on data, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a lot of it. The foundation funded the creation of a data center to track the well-being of children starting in 1990. Each subsequent year they have published updated “Kids Count” datasets, which I anticipate will be leveraged in the development of baselines to advance pre-k “pay for success” investment schemes.

Kids Count Data Center Annie E. Casey

The foundation moved from Seattle to Greenwich, CT in the 1970s and has been headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland since 1994. The location is notable. Baltimore is also home to Catholic Relief Services, Johns Hopkins School Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Yet Analytics. All have extensive ties to human capital investment, data analytics, and performance metrics through global aid channels and domestic social service delivery. The US surveillance community also maintains a large footprint in the corridor between Washington, DC and Baltimore.

In 2012, the year the first social impact bond was executed in the US, Johns Hopkins University hosted the annual conference of Stewards of Change. Stewards of Change is the main promoter of the interoperable data systems that will undergird the burgeoning human capital investment sector. Their 2012 conference had a systems engineering focus and featured talks from experts affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, a human-computer research hub that maintains contracts with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Among these is the “Ground Truth” project that uses simulations and social media analyses to make predictions about future social movement activity. Pictured below from the conference trailer video is Charles Pickar, former defense contractor and principal staff of the Applied Physics Lab.

Stewards of Change at Johns Hopkins

The Annie E. Casey Foundation maintains close ties with Knowledgeworks, promoter of learning ecosystems, and Strive Together, its “collective impact” human capital management spin-off (more here). Lisa Hamilton, CEO of the foundation, sits on the board of Strive. Hamilton led the foundation’s Kids Count program for many years and prior to that managed public relations for UPS. Jeff Edmonson, former manager of Strive who now works for Ballmer Group (Steve Ballmer/Microsoft), was trained by the foundation in data-driven results for children and families. The Casey foundation made significant financial contributions to both Strive and Knowledgeworks over the years. The foundation was also an investor in True North, one of the first capital aggregation funds launched in 2012 with support from the federally-backed Social Innovation Fund.

Strive Annie E Casey

Interactive map here.

Those setting up social impact markets have a morally bankrupt understanding of the poor. Somehow the systems engineers carrying out the bidding of global finance disconnect from their humanity and are able to reduce the poor to data commodities. The poor are thus consigned to attempt to live lives engineered for “measurable” “success,” at least according to the terms of the outcomes-based contracts through which they are processed.

SIPPRA PFS ConnecticutSource here.

The “impact” exerted on their lives is not intended to materially benefit them, but rather serves to further concentrate global capital into the hands of the elite. The poor will be digitally monitored and predictively profiled so that any symptoms of unrest can be neutralized pre-emptively. The poor must exist for the the social impact game to function, but minimal investment will be made in them-only the barest essentials required to keep the enterprise running smoothly. In Baltimore we see how “philanthropic,” higher education, and state interests have converged to carry out the bidding of transnational capital in a dawning era of mass labor automation.

UPS itself is an innovator in labor automation and sensor-based tracking. According to a May 2018 article “UPS Makes Brown The Color of the Internet of Things,” the company intends incorporate “smart” IoT sensors and data analytics to “optimize” every aspect of its  business operations for “smart” city redesign. As with Amazon warehouse workers, employees of UPS are increasingly subject to digital surveillance and monitoring on the job. The Teamsters ratified a new contract with UPS in the fall of 2018, even though a majority of the union’s members voted against it.

Workers have a growing sense of unease about lean production, precarious labor, and ubiquitous digital surveillance. Their worries are well founded as evidenced by a recent contract IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) signed with Lockheed Martin, Notre Dame University and the University of Southern California to develop persistent, passive monitoring systems that can be used to an predict worker performance. The project is called MOSAIC (Multimodel Objective Sensing to Assess Individuals with Context).


For now, enough of the US population is able to purchase items online and have them delivered, often by UPS. The system continues to limp along. Eventually that will change. There won’t be enough people with credit to buy enough things to keep the machine of global capital running. Once that happens, the sophisticated supply chain tracking systems developed by UPS will no longer be used on Amazon packages. At that point, the masses become “packages” tracked for “impact” whether they wish it or not.

The global elite are investing in technological systems and legislative measures they hope will allow them to maintain control during times of economic and civil unrest. They are watching the Yellow Vests. That’s what MOSAIC is about. That’s what “Ground Truth” is about. That is why we’re seeing increased digital surveillance and militarized policing in our communities-“smart” cities. It will be a challenge to maintain control of the masses once they realize they’re the raw material for social impact investing processing. The elite are getting ready. Meanwhile, the masses remain oblivious. They are managing day-to-day crises with little comprehension of what is on the way.

The Opioid Crisis In CT: How Family Data Collection Grows Pay for Success Profit

The next logical step in the evolution of pay for success finance is broadening the scope of interventions from individuals to families. Rather than focusing on a child that needs educational support, an incarcerated person planning for re-entry, a veteran’s PTSD, or a substance user’s recovery, investors are developing new models that expand targeted populations and capture “impact” data across MULTIPLE lives. In this way investors will leverage targeted (limited cost) investments in privatized public services to capture more metrics of “success” and thereby increase profit-taking.

An example of this is the Connecticut Family Stability project. This pay for success effort was launched in 2016 and targeted households where a parent was identified as having a substance use problem, and the child had involvement with the state’s Department of Children and Families. The Family-Based Recovery program was used, an in-home treatment developed in 2006 by the Yale Child Study Center in partnership with Johns Hopkins University for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.

Connecticut Family Stability SIB

Interactive map of the Connecticut Family Stability Pay for Success Project here.

The deal, lauded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, attracted investment not only domestically (the Non-Profit Finance Fund, Arnold Ventures, and the Reinvestment Fund), but also from overseas, namely, France (BNP Paribas) and Australia (QBE Insurance). As far as I am aware, it is the first US venture taking advantage of the tragic opioid crisis to create a global impact investment vehicle using pay for success finance. The deal was particularly attractive for investors, because impacts were captured on BOTH the recovery of the parent AND improved outcomes for the child.

BNP Paribas Connecticut Family Stability

The above op-ed was written in the spring of 2018 by Tina Rosenberg, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network (read more on impact media here). It speaks glowingly of the project and the $11.2 million investment BNP Paribas made in it. It’s a puff piece promoting innovative finance, that provides background on social impact bond mastermind Sir Ronald Cohen, and pitches the wonders of his “what works” approach and data-driven outcomes.

Rosenberg describes teams of social workers deployed to hundreds of people’s homes. Parents were required to urinate in a cup three times a week. The counseling provided to these families, most of whom earn less than $10,000 per year, could last “up to an hour.” The piece attempts to make it sound comforting and convenient, but having an official of the state in your home every other day for six months monitoring your parenting and deciding whether or not you can keep your family together must have been a harrowing experience.

The “success” metrics for the program were 1) clean screens 2) fewer reports of mistreatment and 3) reduced foster care placements.  It’s easy to see how those metrics could be gamed, and in the end, even if the parents were able to stay clean for the specified period of time, they were still left attempting to care for their children on an impossible income. Of course that essential fact is not addressed by the “family STABILITY project;” as if one could achieve STABILITY without a living wage and ongoing family support. But the government and the investors are the ones that get to set the terms of “success,” and in the business of speculative human capital finance, metrics are not established to serve the interests of “at risk” populations.

A 2016 Obama White House report describing “opportunities” for leveraging Pay for Success to address the opioid crisis is shown below the map. Page twenty-one outlines “next steps.” The depravity of the “pay for success” approach can be seen in the language used. The authors recommend identifying “which AGENCIES would benefit from a reduction of opioid misuse” and “potential sources of ECONOMIC BENEFIT.” There is nothing about the people being harmed. There is no moral argument made about providing treatment merely because everyone deserves to be treated humanely. No, the primary thing that matters is identifying a cost-offset that can be easily tracked and will generate a solid rate of return for investors. They don’t care if people are truly cured as long as the numbers on the dashboards allow them to claim “success” and take their profit.

Pay for Success Opioid White House

Read the full report here.

These folks never let a humanitarian crisis go to waste. Predators made fortunes improperly prescribing pills. More money was made on recovery programs, but even that wasn’t enough. To that they added “creative financing solutions” that permit MORE profit to be extracted based program outcomes. And thus the tentacles of pay for success continue to extend their reach, grasping at the misery of the masses and using their pain to further concentrate wealth and power in the greedy hands of an elite transnational class.

All the profit accrued from the supposed “success” of “evidence-based” interventions ultimately gets redirected to those at the top. Everyone at the bottom is compelled to attempt to survive on fewer and fewer resources. The Connecticut families struggling with addiction on less than $10,000 this year are likely to be in the same boat next year, but with a few thousand fewer dollars in their pocket. That money, of course, will be sitting as an outcomes-based “success” payment in the coffers of BNP Paribas or QBE Insurance or some other financier, ready for the next go around.

Pay for success does not advance redistribution of resources. It does not ensure people have access to what they need to survive. It is not designed to ameliorate the harm wrought by manufactured poverty. It is a false promise, that concept of “success,” if “succeeding” means the rich always get richer and the poor always get poorer.

Connecticut Family Stability Project Social Finace Tweet

Source of tweet here.






Anti-Abortion Legislation and the Perverse Logic of Human Capital Impact Investing

If an increasingly automated Fourth Industrial Revolution economic system demands an abundance of poverty data to keep global capital markets moving, it makes sense that those in power might seek to increase births resulting from unwanted pregnancies. I do not believe it is coincidental that provisions for home-visits, widespread ACEs screenings, and early childhood investments are hitting state legislatures at the same time as bills that restrict access to abortion. In a world where abortion is restricted, more pregnancies = more health outcomes data to track. More “at-risk” babies = more children to be channeled through “evidence-based” early childhood interventions.

The impact economy thrives on trauma (see this post on ACEs). The more trauma, the more opportunities to demonstrate “impact,” gamble on life outcomes, and generate profit from privatized social services. According to the twisted logic of late-stage capitalism, there is a real financial incentive to increase traumatic pregnancies. That trauma can be physical, emotional, economic or some combination. Legislation that denies a person bodily autonomy and limits their ability to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term will create tremendous stress, and thus many humans (adults and children) who will likely be identified as needing some type of “evidence-based” intervention.

In the cold, calculating world of social impact investing, the poor, even those still in the womb, exist on a continuum of potential criminality and need. Their perceived value to the system lies less and less in their productive labor, but instead in their willingness to be pre-emptively “fixed” by bureaucratic systems that do not see their innate humanity, just data, data on a dashboard.

Providing unconditional support to those in need is seen less and less as an acceptable option. Instead, society is adopting a mindset where the worthy poor will be separated from the unworthy; where ubiquitous surveillance and Internet of Things tracking will monitor compliance, algorithmically assess a person’s risk profile, and award assistance, or not. In this future, social supports will be ephemeral and conditional. Rights, privileges, and value will exist as data, tied to a digital identity, on a phone (or eventually embedded in a chip), ready to be erased on command.

Data-mining is the next frontier of predatory resource extraction. Just as experts began to postulate capitalism cannot expand further, it jumps the shark into the digital realm, seeding itself in virtual worlds, claiming private property on Blockchain, colonizing the cloud. As rivers were for the fur trade and railroads were for lumber and minerals, so too will broadband, 5G, smart phones, wearables, and data dashboards be for the human capital / Internet of Things impact economy.

Maternal, fetal, and child wellbeing have become the focus of intense electronic data collection over the past decade. Mobile health or mHealth is a practice increasingly imposed on Black and Brown communities to monitor behaviors and deliver digital nudges via SMS text messages. Such interventions are grounded in behavioral economics and are intended to manage vulnerable populations. While they may ameliorate some degree of harm, the neoliberal policies enacted place the burden to change on those with the fewest resources to do so, and simultaneously maintain systems of resource inequality and oppression that must remain in place to keep the game going.

Pregnancy Advice SMS

Such protocols have been developed as a disruptive force by US business interests and delivered, often through global aid programs, to cement austerity in healthcare, pressure patients to conform to prescriptive regimes of self-care under challenging circumstances, and generate data profiles that can be then used to justify successful “results” payments.

It is telling that the rise of mHealth, starting around 2009, corresponds to the rise of global impact investing. The timing also aligns with adoption of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That legislation pushed adoption of e-health records, systems that are now paving the way for a shift to value-based payments from fee for service. It is these digital platforms, once they can be made interoperable with data across other social sectors, that will channel massive private investment into public health outcomes; that and IoT preventative health monitoring. Once that happens, people will become the batteries-just like the Matrix.

The plan of the one percent is to maximize human capital profit extraction capturing data starting in utero and using it to predict risk and track the relative worth of a given life within globalized financial marketplaces. You get a sense of what they have in mind reviewing screen shots taken from the Global Education Futures’ 2015-2035 foresight map.

Prenatal University

School In Womb

Genetic Passport

Human Futures

In the end, digital life is about lean production and data harvest in service of financiers desperately trying to find ways to make money off poor people, even as the poor have less and less money to spend. Unwanted pregnancies are a mechanism of social and economic control.

It is important to understand that the legislative changes limiting access to safe, legal abortion will undergird this perverse system of social impact capitalism, an enterprise predicated on perpetual poverty of the masses. As we move towards a world dominated by surveillance, digitized public services, and predictive profiling, we must recognize that powerful global interests are attempting to turn our lives into a petty game, a game for their entertainment, for their profit.

Kevin Werbach, a Wharton professor and expert in gamification and Blockchain, closed a 2012 talk on Lifelong learning with the following assessment.

In any game:

1) rules matter

2) rules can be surprising

3) players must respond to the rules the game designer has set up in advance

4) be the one who makes the rules.

We must wake up and realize we’re in their game. We’ll never win if we play by the rules. Time to flip the table.

Kevin Werbach The Rules Matter 1

Kevin Werback Rules 2

Kevin Werbach Rules 3

Kevin Werbach Rules 4.jpg



Quilting Resistance: Fabric, Humanity, Serendipity & Cybernetics

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog. I continue to research, to map, to watch talks and prop myself up reading books about resistance. A friend told me I needed to take a break and get some perspective-to MAKE something.

Eventually, I did. I spent a few weeks making a quilt for a colleague who is expecting her first child. I viewed it as a meditation on hope for young people coming up, those who might work together to build a future that acknowledges past harms, rectifies injustice, and creates space to be otherwise.


As I stood over the cutting mat,

sat at the kitchen table with my foot on the sewing machine pedal,

crouched on the quilt inserting basting pins, and

hand-stitched the binding,

I fought a growing sense of alarm that keeps rising in my chest.

So many stories coming through my social media feed attest to the fact that Big Data, Big Brother, and global finance are on the move.

  • Pearson joining with Tom Vander Ark’s Learn Capital on a $50 million venture fund advancing innovative education enterprises prioritizing augmented reality. Here
  • DataKind and Commit!, Strive’s partner in Dallas, making plans to run the data of the school district’s 500,000 children through machine learning to see what patterns they can discern. Here
  • A story about income sharing agreements funding tuition for higher education. Here
  • Former McKinsey Mayor Pete’s South Bend, Indiana being set up as a pilot cradle to grey “City of Lifelong Learning” via the Drucker Institute-yeah, Peter Drucker the father of management science and mentor to Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren and Bob Buford (deceased), the Institute’s Board Chair Emeritus, Texas television tycoon, and mega-church consultant. Here

We are striding towards a cybernetic reckoning, one that aims to meld people with machines in service of viciously lean efficiencies that profit the global elite. Power players in finance, tech, faith communities, and the government want nothing more than to engineer a future for the masses that allows them to maintain control and preempt insurgency. To them the poor are numbers, 1s and 0s set up to be harvested and poured into algorithms for “impact” data visualization.

Early in my research I stumbled across the work of twin brothers Douglas and David F. “Wrench in the Gears” Noble. Doug’s book “The Classroom Arsenal” gave me a solid grounding in the militarized history of computing and the ways digital systems have been used to structure human behavior. David’s books helped me understand technology and capitalism. Their life choices embody the uncompromising resistance we so desperately need, and I am grateful for their activism and their writings. Lately, I’ve also been mulling over Yasha Levine’s book Surveillance Valley.

Norbert Weiner is featured in Levine’s book and has been on my mind a lot. Weiner was a child prodigy who essentially worked as a human computer, calculating trajectories for anti-aircraft guns during World War II. He spent his career at MIT where he helped develop the fields of cybernetics, cognitive science, and robotics. In addition to being trained in mathematics, Weiner had been a student of philosophy, and as he grew older he came to recognize the dangers of his research, especially its military applications. You sense this in the transcription at the end of this piece. I hope you will read it. In his later years he advocated for organized labor and peace, was labeled a Communist and followed closely by the FBI. Levine’s book states:

“He (Weiner) increasingly hinted at his insider knowledge that a “colossal state machine” was being constructed by government agencies ‘for the purposes of combat and domination,’ a computerized information system that was ‘sufficiently extensive to include all civilian activities during war, before war, and possibly even between wars,’ as he described it in The Human Use of Human Beings.” Surveillance Valley, page 46

Well, here we are-not in a totally new place, but a point further down the continuum of digital surveillance and behavioral conditioning. A year ago I visited the MIT Media Lab, an experience that prompted me to write “Our Future As Social Machines.” I’m not sure how to extricate myself from this mess, but neither am I willing to quietly submit. So, I keep talking and thinking out loud with all who tolerate my musings and are willing to sit with me as I process new information and attempt to place it within the emerging schema I have devised to grapple with the particular brand of evil that is social impact / high-tech human capital financialization.

I talk about this stuff at work. So much so that when the quilt was presented, another colleague shouted from the back of the room that I must have sewn some data-protection armor into it. Sadly, there is no information deflector inside. But I harbor the idea that creating handmade things is a form of resistance, of showing that what society normalizes today doesn’t have to be what is normal tomorrow. I want to believe that future generations can hold onto things that while they may verge on obsolescence, hold space to bring the useful parts of the past into the future. That the things we create and put ourselves into have a meaning that carries forward. Maybe in future years this quilt will be a force field for this baby, a haven, a place to snuggle with a good book. Maybe the patterns of this quilt will spark imaginative daydreams.

I can hope.

My quilts are serendipitous. I lay scraps of fabric out over the kitchen floor to get just the right composition of colors and patterns. I try and choose prints that convey a particular sentiment-that fit the intended recipient. I use little bits of fabric, so a quarter yard can last a long time. I have my favorites. They are like old friends. I have a sense of what I want my quilt to look like when I start, but it evolves. There is no set pattern, no rules other than the size of the blocks-in this case 8 inches across.


At first I thought this one would be pin wheels, but it didn’t want to be a pinwheel quilt. Instead, the blocks of color fitted themselves into diagonal rows that speak to the furrows of land on the farm where this friend works. The quilt knew what it wanted to be, it just needed time to coalesce.

The back? Well, I ran short on the fabric that I ordered. I ended up piecing together leftover blocks with other bits I had on hand and they looked like farm field, which was just exactly right. And when I handed it to my friend the other farmer said-these blocks are just like our three fields. I didn’t even know that was the lay out of the farm, but something guided that placement. It wasn’t planned in advance. It happened as it was meant to.


That serendipity, that human error, miscalculation and redemption is what I want to hold fast to. If we had put this quilt on a “pathway” according to a some “Swiss” model, as some are trying to do with middle school children, it would not have the life and vitality it has. Sure, it might be functional, but it wouldn’t be fully developed.

Perhaps it is a stretch to compare the creation of a quilt with the evolution of a life. But I think there is merit in contesting pre-set patterns and plans, especially when such plans are imposed by powerful forces to serve their own ends. For the time we have left and for this coming generation. I want to stave off the cybernetic battalions Dr. Weiner came to fear. I want to deploy force fields of quilts imbued with solidarity and create sheltered spaces where predictive equations and human systems engineering may not enter.

What follows is a transcript I made of a portion of a talk Norbert Weiner gave in 1950 to the New York Academy of Medicine. I don’t know if the genie is out of the bottle yet. Let us try to keep the machine in the bottle as long as we can. Resist and regroup as needed, preferably under a quilt with a good book.



Linsley R. Williams Memorial Lecture

“Men, Machines, and the World About”

WYNC, New York Academy of Medicine, Dr. Norbert Weiner, Timestamp 42:36

The Galbraiths had the idea that man was not working anywhere like full efficiency in its ordinary operations. They thought that families of a dozen were had by people (referencing the movie Cheaper By the Dozen), simply because of the stupidity of people in running their daily tasks, which could be avoided by a better order of their tasks. That was the motive behind the large family. That was the motive behind the systematic bringing up of all those children. Now, however, when you have simplified a task by reducing it to a routine of consecutive processes, you have done the same sort of thing that you need to do to put the task on a machine, and run that process completely on an automatic machine.

The problem of industrial management and order, which was handled by Taylor by the Galbraiths and so on, is almost the same problem as that of the taping of a control machine. So that instead of actually improving the conditions of the worker, it has telescoped the worker out of the picture.

That is a very important thing, because it is taking place now (1950).

I want to say that we are facing a new industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution represented the replacement of the energy of man and of animals, and the power, with the energy and power of the machine. The steam engine was it-simple. Well that has gone so far that there’s nothing that a man with a pick and shovel can do but glean after a bulldozer. There is no rate at which pure pick and shovel work can be paid in this country, which will guarantee the man doing it a living. It is simply economically impossible to compete with a bulldozer for bulldozer work.

The NEW industrial revolution, which is taking place now, consists primarily in replacing human judgment and discrimination at low levels by the discrimination of the machine. The machine appears now, not as a source of power, but as a source of control and a source of communication. We communicate with the machine, and the machine communicates with us. Machines communicate with one another.

Energy and power are not the proper terms to measure. Well, if we in a small way make human tasks easier by replacing them with a machine execution of the task and in a large way eliminate the human element in these human tasks, we may find that we have essentially burnt incense before the machine god.

There’s a very real danger in this country in bowing down before the brazen calf. The idol is a gadget. I know very great engineers who never think further than the construction of the gadget and never think of the question of the integration between the gadget and human beings in society.

If we allow things a reasonably slow development, then the introduction of the gadget as it comes in may hurt us enough to provoke a salutary response. So that we realize that we cannot worship the gadget and sacrifice the human being to it. But a situation is easily possible in which we may have a disastrous result.

Let us suppose we go to war tomorrow with Russia. Now I think that Korea, if they have shown us anything, they have shown us that modern war means nothing (undecipherable). The problem with occupying Korea is serious enough. The problem of occupying China and Russia staggers imagination. But we shall have to prepare to do that if we do go to war. At the same time we have to keep up an industrial production to feed the army. I mean feed it with munitions as well as ordinary food and ordinary equipment, second to none in history.

Second, we shall have to do a maximum production job with a labor market simply scraped to the bottom, and that means with the automatic machine. A world of that sort will mean the machines will be putting a large part of our best engineering ability in developing the machines within the next two months, probably.

Now, it happens that the people to do this sort of a job are there. They’re the people who have been trained in electronic work. In the last war they worked with radar. We’re further on with the automatic machine than we were with radar at the beginning, at Pearl Harbor. Therefore, the situation is that probably in two or three years we’ll see the automatic factory well understood and beginning to be in self-introduction, and in five years or so would see it-something of which we possess the complete know how and of which we possess a vast backlog of parts.

Also, in war, social reforms do not get made. At the end of such a war we’ll find ourselves with a tremendous backlog of parts and know how, which is extremely tempting to anybody who wants to make a quickie fortune and get out from under and leave the rest of the community to pick up the pieces. That may very well happen. If that DOES happen, heaven help us, because we’ll have an unemployment compared with which the Great Depression was a nice little joke.

Well, you see the picture drawing together. Now I suppose one of the things that you people would like will be consolation.

Gentleman, there is no Santa Claus.

If we want to live with the machine, we must understand the machine. We must not worship the machine. We must make a great many changes in the way we live with other people. We must revalue leisure. We must turn the great administers of business, of industry of politics into a state of mind where they will consider that the leisure of people is their business and is not none of their business. We shall have to do this unhampered by slogans, which fit a previous state of society and don’t fit the present.

We shall have to do this unhampered for the creeping paralysis of secrecy, which is engulfing our government, because secrecy simply means we are unable to face situations as they are. The people who have to control situations are in no position to handle them. We shall have to realize that while we may make the machines our gods and sacrifice men to machines, we do not have to do so. And if we do so, we deserve the punishment of idolaters.

It’s going to be a difficult time. If we can live through it and keep our head, and if we do not get annihilated by war itself and our other problems, there is a great chance of turning the machine to human advantage. But the machine itself has not particular favor for humanity.

It is possible to make two kinds of machines. I will not go into detail. The machines whose taping is determined once and for all and the machines whose taping is continually being modified by their experience. The second sort of machines can in some sense “learn.”

Now gentleman, the moral problem of the machine differs in no way from the old moral problem of magic. The fact that the machines follow laws of nature, and magic was supposed to be outside of nature is not even an interesting (undecipherable). Sorcery was condemned in the middle ages. A certain type of modern gadgeteer would have been burned as a sorcerer under the ethics of the middle ages. And the interesting thing is that the middle ages, to a certain extent and I don’t mean in the favor for the flame, but it was disfavor for the gadgeteer, as a point of being right. Namely, sorcery was not supernatural. It was the use of human power for other purposes than the greater glory of god.

Now, I am not a theist when I say the greater glory of god. I mean it for some end to which we give a justified moral value. I say that the medieval attitude is the attitude of the fairy tale and many things. But the attitude of the fairy tale is very wise in many things that are relevant to modern life.

If you have the machine, which grants you your wish, then you must pay attention to the old fairy tale of the three wishes, which tells you that if you do make a wish that is likely to be granted you’d better be VERY sure that it is what you want and not what you think you want.

If you know the story of the monkey’s paw, Jacob’s story, the talisman grants the couple three wishes. The first is for 200 pounds. Immediately a man appears from the factory saying their boy has been crushed in the machinery, and although the factory recognizes no responsibility, they will give a solace of 200 pounds. Then the next wish is they wish the boy back again, and his ghost appears, and they wish the ghost away. That finishes that story. That is common in folklore and it is quite significant in regard to the machine as it is with regards to any other magic.

The other thing is that the machine that can “learn” is essentially a genie, and you all know the story of the fisherman and the bottle. He opened the bottle, and the djinn appears, the genie appears, and tells him that. It tells him it has decided to kill the man that opened the bottle. The fisherman talks the genie back into the bottle.

Gentleman, when we get into trouble with the machine, we cannot talk the machine back into the bottle. (applause)


Philadelphia’s 5th District City Council Race: A Call For A Town Hall on Social Impact Investing

The image above was taken at a fall 2017 protest at the ribbon cutting for the Vaux Big Picture School in the Sharswood neighborhood of North Philadelphia, a HUD “Choice Neighborhood.” The middle school was closed for several years and reopened under the management of a private operator (though titularly still a “public” school). Big Picture is an international franchise and partner in the first education social impact bond in the UK. Additional information on the Doncaster / Big Picture SIB available at the Innovation Unit, UK website here. What is taking place in the 5th City Council District of Philadelphia is part of a much larger move towards the global financialization of public services, including education. It is imperative that we talk about this.

The 5th Council District of Philadelphia embodies economic inequality. Extending from North Philadelphia, a bastion of Black culture battling an onslaught of post-redlining gentrification, to Rittenhouse Square, a district of penthouse views and high-end retail; it contains neighborhoods where parents can raise $100,000 to pay for extras that have been cut from school budgets AND Black and Brown communities where most of the neighborhood schools have been closed or taken over by charters.

It runs east from the Rocky statue, through Spring Garden, Yorktown, and Northern Liberties, ending in the hipster enclave of Fishtown. “Investing in Opportunity Zone” census tracts spread across Brewerytown, along East Fairmount Park, and up North Broad Street (interactive map here, zoom in). Real estate development and new businesses launched within these zones and held for ten years pay NO capital gains tax upon sale. Temple University exerts a powerful influence over the northern part of the district, its overreach resisted for decades by vigilant community activists, the most recent wave led by Stadium Stompers and the No Stadium, No Deal Coalition.

It is a district of gourmet food halls and food deserts; unsheltered people dying in underground corridors of transit stations a stone’s throw from high-end coffee kiosks; row homes left to disintegrate by absentee landlords and vacant luxury lofts purchased by overseas investors. The district is a study in contrasts: the Comcast world headquarters/the John Coltrane House, City Hall/Church of the Advocate. It contains seats of power and sites of resistance.

Fifth District

I’m a registered voter in the 5th District and have been for 21 years. Almost that entire time my city council representative has been Darrell Clarke. A long time aide to former Mayor John Street, Clarke took over his mentor’s seat in 1999 and has served as President of Philadelphia City Council since 2012. The 5th District seat has been contested on occasion, but it takes considerable resourcefulness and/or resources to go up against Clarke.

Two challengers, thus far, have filed paperwork indicating their intent to secure spots on May’s primary ballot. In the resourcefulness corner is Sheila Armstrong, a community activist for the underserved and former legislative aide who now lives in PHA housing and intends to run a campaign lifting up concerns of low-income people in the district. In the resources corner is Omar Woodard, executive director of the venture capital-backed GreenLight Fund and former policy advisor on Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams’ mayoral run. Williams, of course, is a well-known advocate of education privatization.

Omar Woodard

Woodard, a graduate of Girard College, attended George Washington University where he completed a BA in International Affairs and MPA in Non-Profit Management, building strong ties to the university’s trustees as head of the student association and later as an administrative fellow. His background as a lobbyist, healthcare consultant, venture capital analyst, and political operative combined with the GreenLight Fund’s deep-pocketed national network, means his campaign is positioned to tap into a network of influential contacts.

GreenLight was created by Boston venture capitalist and former medical entrepreneur John Simon in 2004 in partnership with Margaret Hall. Simon previously started a college prep program called the Steppingstone Foundation modeled after New York City’s Prep for Prep initiative. He and friend Michael Danziger spun out several satellites, including the Steppingstone Scholars program in Philadelphia before hitting a wall. Simon decided rather than building programs from the ground up, it would be more cost-effective to establish social investment incubators to bring “evidence-based” interventions to scale. It was a decade before the original Boston office launched its first outposts in Philadelphia and the Bay Area. Additional offices have since opened in Detroit, Kansas City, Cincinnati (Strive/Knowledgeworks), Charlotte, and Atlanta. GreenLight’s national portfolio, seen here, features organizations offering health system text messaging, home visits, mentorship, college advising, and school and professional development “turnaround” services.

John Simon

Partners in Simon’s original Boston office are featured in the map below. I hope to write this up in greater detail, but for the purposes of this post I want to point out the involvement of the Tudor Foundation and James Pallotta, who worked for hedge fund trader Paul Tudor Jones for many years. Tudor Jones, founder of the Robin Hood Foundation, collaborated with fellow hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller for two decades refining impact metrics for “poverty solutions” within the boundaries of the Harlem Children’s zone. They then dispersed the program nationally through Geoffrey Canada’s consulting arrangements with hundreds of Promise Zones. For more information on how outcomes-based finance is linked to privatized social services see this series of posts.

Paul Tudor Jones and Bill Gates Gala

Tudor Jones was one of the initial backers of Robert Dugger, James Heckman, and Arthur Rolnick’s “Investing in Kids” Working Group, putting a million dollars into their pre-k investment plan way back in 2005. Those efforts eventually led to the ReadyNation Global Business Summit in New York last November where, after ringing the NASDAQ bell, the venture capital crowd proclaimed the early-childhood education and workforce training impact sectors open for business (more here). Bottom line: there is a lot of money and program infrastructure behind the GreenLight Fund.

GreenLight Boston

Interactive map of GreenLight Boston here.

RN Global Nasdaq

It will be interesting to see how the three candidates navigate this landscape of haves and have-nots in the coming months: the incumbent, the spokesperson for the poor, and the social entrepreneur executive. The wealth gap in the 5th District has increased significantly over the twenty years of Clarke’s tenure. As enhancements to affluent and gentrifying sections have been made, often with assistance from public-private partnerships, neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion continue to suffer. Some have been subjected to catastrophic urban renewal tactics, such as Sharswood/Blumberg, a HUD “Choice Neighborhood” where over a thousand properties were seized through eminent domain.

A pressing question when strategies to “ameliorate” poverty are proposed is whose voices take precedence? Who holds the power? Who calls the shots? Whose lives hang in the balance? Are the interests of a mostly white elite class being advanced as the rights of under-served Black and Brown people are undermined? When deals are done, are they arranged behind closed doors? Is the public brought in at the last minute for a perfunctory consultation, just to maintain appearances? Candidates for this council seat need to realize residents of the 5th District are paying attention and, as shown by the No Stadium, No Deal Coalition’s considerable success, are prepared to mobilize and fight for solutions that put community needs first.

Girard Protest

No more closed-door meetings. The image above is from a January 2018 protest staged outside Girard College as Chamber of Commerce members gathered at a closed-door reception to discuss the role of Philadelphia’s business community in schools. Details in this post, “Last Night We Lay Down In The Street.”

I draw your attention to a map I created of advisors to the Philadelphia’s GreenLight Fund. This is not all of them (for a complete list follow this link), but it shows how the various interest groups interlock to drive the impact agenda forward. Ultimately, the system is meant move venture capital (left side), betting on the lives of poor people who are compelled to perform and deliver data for the deals. There are ancillary industries that will benefit financially: tech and telecommunications companies that provide infrastructure; law firms drawing up “pay for success” contracts; and consultants evaluating the deals. It is a system that requires cooperation from elected officials, foundations, non-profits, pseudo-governmental bodies, media cheerleaders, and higher education. All of these interests intersect at GreenLight. All are part of Woodard’s network.

GreenLight Philadelphia

Interactive map of GreenLight Philadelphia here.

Poverty is a critical issue in Philadelphia and the 5th District. Venture capitalists, many of whom live outside the city, see deep poverty as a prime business opportunity. Our city is poised to become an experimental laboratory for “innovative” financial schemes promoted through Wharton’s alumni network. In the near future, proposals will be floated for outcomes-based, pay-for-success government contracts tied to “measurable social benefits.” The Reinvestment Fund, represented by Andy Rachlin on the GreenLight Fund’s advisory council, has a whole webpage outlining how these deals are structured. Mind you, the Reinvestment Fund funded the “Welcome Home” SIB in Santa Clara County, the one with Palantir doing the data evaluation! And now Project Home is taking part in a pilot PFS program for supportive housing with help from the Social Innovation Fund. Hmmm…. Opportunity Zones are a major area of interest as seen on the preliminary agenda for the second annual Total Impact conference planned for May 1-2, 2019.

Total impact agenda 2019

Total Impact May 1 2019

Yes, communities need resources, but at what cost? We need public funds supporting the public good, not private “investments” that perpetuate continued outsourcing and narrowed service delivery. Impact “solutions” pose very grave dangers to those most in need of help. This economic model is designed to run on Big Data and predictive profiling. The lives of poor people, our fellow citizens, are being conscripted to fuel it. Offers of “help” will come with “digital strings,” attached; download an app, fill in this online form, allow your data to be harvested without recourse, accept behavioral regulation. Remember, it’s all being factored into your “hustle-score.” This is no joke.

The screenshots below are from the website of the Family Independence Initiative. The organization has ties to New Profit and is part of the GreenLight Fund’s national portfolio, though it is not in Philadelphia yet. It seems like something straight out Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” Such hubris, compelling families to upload personal details of their “income, savings, health, education, housing, leadership, and connections” to the “UpTogether” software platform, so they can “take control of their own success” through the wonders of data analytics and profiling. It is Orwellian; it is horrific.

Hustle Score

UpTogether Data

What does Omar Woodard’s arrival on the political scene portend? Is this a sign the region’s social impact investors are ready to take their game to the next level now that the Foundations in Evidence-Based Policymaking legislation and Investing in Opportunity Zones are in place? It is important to assess Woodard’s bid within the context of the region’s broader social impact landscape, one that stretches from the Rockefeller-funded B Lab in Berwyn, where the impact metrics that underlie this new market were created; to Penn’s campus in West Philadelphia where research into finance, behavioral economics, social science and impact investing are being carried out; and down to the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia where Ben Franklin Technology Partners is providing capital and support to industries designing the tech that will capture and visualize the data to run these new financial markets.

Woodard has led the Philadelphia satellite of the GreenLight Fund since 2016, the year ImpactPHL went public with its plans to create a “safe point of entry” for venture capital and local foundations to acclimate themselves to social impact investing. Tony Abraham’s article in Generosity, “How the heavy hitters behind the newly formed ImpactPHL want to revolutionize capitalism,” states key players spent two years “behind closed doors” getting ready. Of the eight founding members, six were white men. Those most often targeted for social impact interventions? Yes, people of color. That power dynamic must not be overlooked.

ImpactPhl Behind Closed Doors


The map below shows the people, organizations, and companies aiming to make Philadelphia a “pioneer in impact investing.” Two of the individuals, Richard Binswanger of Clearview Group, and Maari Porter of the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, served on the advisory board of Philadelphia’s GreenLight Fund.

ImpactPHL Advisors Partners

Interactive version here.

According to the Economy League of Philadelphia’s 2016 whitepaper, our region is a prime candidate to become the next “Silicon Valley” of the impact economy because: 1) our history of public-private partnerships dates back to Ben Franklin; 2) we enjoy a great location between New York’s money and Washington’s politics; 3) our wealth managers are really interested in innovative finance (Wharton); 4) professors here are eager to carry out supporting research and evaluations; 5) there’s a large pool of potential customers (read desperate governments starved of public funds) seeking “new solutions;” and 6) receptive government officials have already authorized pay for success and benefit corporation legislation.

But really, Philadelphia is poor. Many are barely surviving deep poverty. By asserting a “doing well by doing good” refrain, the haves intend to turn this grim reality to their advantage, branding poverty-mining the have-nots as a charitable act. So by way of disrupting this framing I hope you will consider the following questions:

How many residents know about “Growing the Impact Economy in Greater Philadelphia?”

And are we on board with this? Because it seems there should be discussion beyond ImpactPHL, the B Lab, and Chamber of Commerce before proceeding, right?

What would it mean for Philadelphia to become a leader in a predatory investment sector that rewards venture capitalists for imposing data-driven solutions on poor communities? That’s not something to be proud of.

In this city of “brotherly love,” does anyone believe it’s ethical for the rich to view the poor as human capital investments?

Why are the human beings who will be caught in the crosshairs of this new system of innovative finance not being consulted? How comfortable are they turning over the data of their lives to third party evaluators so the wealthy can pile up more money?

Do we expect targets of “impact” interventions, real people with real problems, to welcome social entrepreneurs with open arms?

Do we want to build a tech sector around monitoring and predictively profiling marginalized populations through “smart” infrastructure?

Don’t the scalable solutions proffered by venture philanthropy generally sidestep thorny issues of structural racism embedded in Philadelphia’s past, favoring individual fixes over systemic restructuring?

When did investors ever create a market designed to self-extinguish? Never.

Social impact investing will only reinforce austerity budgeting, privatization, predictive profiling, surveillance, and more poverty.

We must talk about this Philadelphia. We need to drag all of this out into the open and have a very frank conversation about what it really means for Philadelphia to be the “Silicon Valley” of impact investing. Poor people HAVE to be active participants in this conversation. They have the right to know about the data profiling tied to impact investing and “smart city” infrastructure being rolled out in Silicon Valley and what it could mean for their futures.

I am calling on Darrell Clarke, Sheila Armstrong, and Omar Woodard to convene a town hall this spring to begin to unpack the intersecting issues of social impact finance, outcomes-based contracting, Big Data government, and “smart” city (surveillance) infrastructure. Enough with the closed door meetings.

If you need help getting it set up email me.


3rd Grade Reading Guarantees: Impact Investors Build System To Terrorize Eight Year Olds

I know a number of activists out there are working to raise awareness around the brutality of third grade reading guarantees. These laws demand students achieve a specific score on standardized reading test. If they do not, they can’t advance to the next grade. I wrote this short introduction with the idea that it could be shared with people  who are not yet aware of the speculative financial underpinnings linked to these laws.

“Pay for success” was embedded into federal education law with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Public-private partnerships, in coordination with investors, are embracing this form of “innovative finance,” catalyzing new markets in human capital. Digital platforms, including ed-tech and online behavioral services, are designed to generate data for the evaluation of outcomes-based contracts. That is what is behind the push for expanded screen-time and benchmark testing in schools.

It’s known as “collective impact,” and the Strive Network based in Cincinnati is working with United Way chapters across the country to advance data-driven education and social services to meet the demands of this burgeoning investment market. Children are being turned into data so the debt associated with funds allocated to provide education and social services to them can be traded on global markets (like bundled mortgages prior to the 2008 crash).

A “cradle to career roadmap” with set achievement metrics has been created with benchmarks where impact evaluation will be imposed as a requirement of outcomes-based contracts. These include: kindergarten readiness, fourth and eighth grade reading scores, and graduation rates. While the early phase of this investment market focused on social impact bonds (SIBs), other, more flexible, contracting arrangements are being piloted now. Billionaire, now Illinois governor, JB Pritzker backed the Chicago pre-k SIB. It was among the first to include a pay out based on third grade literacy scores. Source

Chicago pre-k sib 2

National campaigns to “Read by Fourth” are cultivating this impact investment market. It’s not about helping children read. It’s not about reducing class size, or hiring certified reading teachers, or restoring school libraries, or providing students access to abundant books of their choice. No, it is about plugging students into digital interventions that will profile them and harvest academic and behavioral data to feed investment markets. Hedge funds intend to literally gamble on children’s futures (life outcomes data), and they have no reticence about plugging students into devices to accomplish this goal. Third grade reading guarantee legislation is an integral part of the plan.

We must recognize that those in charge understand it’s developmentally inappropriate and harmful to children, teachers, and the learning process. They simply don’t care. They’ve been charged with building a machine to keep global capital moving. They are following orders. To stop this will require a broad campaign of non-cooperation at all levels: parents, students, and educators. That is where your power is. Spending time to educate those imposing this system of human capital speculation, thinking that somehow they don’t already know the truth, is not a good investment of resources. Talk to one another. Tell them about the “collective impact” human capital machine. Get your wrenches and be prepared to take direct action. Do it now. Time is of the essence.

For more information:

Gambling On Our Futures-Social Impact Bonds: Here

Strive and Human Capital Supply Chains: Here

Interoperable Databases and Commodities Trading: Here

Read By Fourth Campaign: Here