25 Feb 2019

REACHING FOR ALLIES IN UNLIKELY PLACES – My experience at the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV) Summit

Recently, I attended a 2-day gathering of 600 people from all over the world for a summit in Vancouver Canada with many bankers, regulators and economists. The GABV is an international network of small and mid-sized bankers who are already going against the grain to do banking differently:  for banking on values at the risk of immediate short-term profits, for banking to meet real community needs, for banking with the human connection at the centre of business. (Sure, some are doing this as a public relations gimmick, and some really do believe in this.)
At this Summit organized by bankers for bankers, I saw this mutual cooperative effort of many different movements intersect. Some of the best thinkers and activists were concentrated in one place and the message was clear:  we need to build many partnerships and have diverse voices at the table to co-create the solutions together. (This is absolutely correct!)

The goal of the Summit was to open up the minds and hearts of international bankers and financiers to see the bigger picture: of radical inclusion, equity and justice, and the urgency our current climate crisis.  (Theme was: Migrants, MeeToo, and Melting icecaps) It was organized by one of its member banks, VanCity. Outside experts from all different sectors of civil society including an esteemed Inuit climate activist, a powerful Syrian refugee, a passionate Kenyan woman on the global plight of females and a former Wall Street banker to speak about “regenerative economics” were brought in to do key note speeches. Diverse panels brought in other perspectives. Powerful stories were shared, emotions were visibly felt, and minds were engaged in small group exchanges. Former big time bankers were honestly pointing to how the banking industry had failed the public and that trust had to be re-build with the public and pride in their profession needed to be reclaimed; the question was HOW to do things differently and how to do it on a systemic level. Their motto was: In order to finance change, we need to change finance. 

For me as a monetary reform activist, I came to this Summit with a cautious skepticism and low expectations, but tried to stay open. Lino at IMMR had gotten me two free vouchers to attend and insisted that these ethical bankers were our natural allies, but they just didn’t know it yet. When Lino speaks, I listen. So I followed up and took on the challenge. I was curious:  How do I talk directly to bankers about fundamentally changing the finance system? (It was like talking about the benefits of vegetarianism at a beef industry convention!!) I felt like I was going into “enemy territory”. The risk of humiliation and alienation was high. Luckily, I had invited my Public Banking colleague to come with me and we supported each other well.

Well, we had the BEST time ever!! And I actually made some great contact with bankers.  They too are real people struggling and stuck in a very narrow framework; they need help to see things differently. What I realized is that it’s not all about what you know. Although I had discussed with people ahead of time and read up on things, I felt quite inadequate to do the job, but I thought of this homegroup and mustered up my courage. (Don’t they say that showing up is half the battle?) I brought myself forward in a real and authentic way, ready to engage and connect. I had my 3 min., 1 min. and 30 second “pitches” ready to talk about monetary reform.  But as it turned out, very few people within the industry really had any notion of the money system.  Everything was about banking and finance; the only times money was even mentioned was when I raised it. In our small group discussions, it was clear that those working within the finance/banking industry had no clue about thinking “outside the box”. It may be that bankers are too engrained in the profit-driven system to change, but I certainly saw a more human side to them at this Summit. And then you have the odd one who manages to surprise us…    

My biggest takeaway are the contacts I made. My brain went into overdrive thinking of the possibilities of next steps with some of them. Our movement to democratize money is a critical one and possibly the “unifying narrative” (in Rev Delman Coates’ words), but we can’t do it alone in a “movement silo”. Saving the human species will “…come about through the initiative, building, growth and mutual cooperation of and between many, many, many individual liberation movements.”

I’m very glad to be doing this with each and every one of you!

In solidarity,
Bo-Young Lim
Alliance for Just Money, USA

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