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Wealth, funding and investment practice

How can the Great Wealth Transfer enable people and planet to flourish?

A growing field of practice is reimagining the system of wealth and investment, speeding up the transition towards a future where people and the planet can flourish.

Written by:
Emma Shaw
Date published:
Reading time:
14 minutes

The Great Wealth Transfer is anticipated to see up to $70 trillion of private wealth transfer from the post-World War II generation to the next younger generation, over the next 20 years. The ‘polycrisis’ refers to the intersecting forces of ecological breakdown, social and political instability, and exponential technological advancement. In this context, our work in JRF’s Emerging Futures unit on reimagining wealth, funding and investment is looking to influence how and where wealth needs to be directed to meet this moment. Building on the foundations of JRF’s annual Next Frontiers conference, the team is exploring how we can support the growing field of practice in the UK that is looking at how to disrupt the so-called ‘Wealth Defence Industry’, and mobilise more wealth into supporting and speeding up the transition towards a future where people and the planet can flourish.

Learning with others

In summer 2023 we teamed up with New Constellations to hold a series of 25 conversations with leaders and practitioners across intersecting fields of philanthropy, investment, finance, economics, academia, tax, policy, private wealth and wealth advisory, technology, social innovation and systems change. Led by co-researchers Emma Shaw and Megan Lucero, with New Constellations founder Gemma Mortensen, we spoke with those working in and on the edges of the system to learn:

  • What is the landscape of wealth in the UK? How and where are money and resources held? What is enabling them to move and flow, and what is stopping them? What scale of capital and which financing pathways are needed to meet the polycrisis?
  • How do others see the role JRF might play in growing the field and contributing to the transition? What are the levers and intervention points, what relationships are needed, how can we add and not just duplicate what is being done already?
  • What kinds of transformative spaces or experiences might be needed to collectively re-configure our view of wealth and investment? Is there a case for a uniquely crafted New Constellations ‘Journey', and if so, how would we design it?

Perspectives on the system

What emerged from these conversations was a rich tapestry of perspectives, which helps identify where we might individually and collectively look to intervene to reconfigure the wealth system in service of people and planet.

It is worth saying that the need for wholesale system redesign was not a universally shared view. Some talked about creating changes within the current system logic (“junking capitalism won’t fix this in time”) and some pushed back on the need for financial system change altogether (“we know socialism doesn’t work”). Such diversity and plurality is a feature of the wider field.

In this review we'll summarise the conversations and surface the provocations and tensions that emerged around what transitioning to a different system might look like.

Re-framing core principles

The scale of change needed was described by one person as akin to a “total rebuild of the economy post-World War II”. An overhaul of the underpinning logic of the system would mean transitioning its central concepts, such as from binary to plurality, transactional to relational, maximisation to enough, accumulation to (pre)-distribution, shareholders to stakeholders, and ownership to stewardship. This especially manifested in conversations about corporate identity (business vs. charity), asset classes (venture capital vs. philanthropy) and the purpose of investment itself in the context of polycrisis (is it just to make more money or something else entirely?)

Key levers for change:

  • Financial innovation in developing multi asset class products, such as for community and ecological wealth building, by constructing new types of funding that pool different time and risk horizons, rewards and agendas. This means going beyond Environmental Social and Governance (ESG), social or impact investment and blended finance to a different logic model, “to re-engineer the economy from the inside so that you reverse patterns of accumulation and polarisation… redesigning the ways business models work and institutions operate.”
  • Adjusting financial return expectations, in terms of the fundamental risks, the cost of capital and the tenure of funding and investment, historic expectations should not be a guide for our expectations for a sustainable economic system of the future.
  • Transitioning from transactional to relational investments focused on outcomes and interdependence, not products or single issue solutions, maximising for effectiveness not efficiency, what some call ‘systemic’, ‘complex’ or ‘complementary’ investment.
  • Developing alternate enterprise forms that “irrigate through communities and include reparations, such as public commons partnerships, these need capacity-building, amplification and inspiring networks of change (especially placed-based)”.


What would a 1,000 year investment instrument for community-owned assets look like?

Centring human values in what is valued

What, ultimately, is the economy trying to achieve, what value is it seeking to create, and how do money and resources flow to enable that to happen? Many spoke of the need to realign societal and economic values. Whether it’s designing the nuts and bolts of a private equity fund or national economic policy frameworks, the starting points of societal wellbeing or ecological health can fundamentally reframe the technical solutions that emerge: “values are a visible attractor for investors in the system… people recognise themselves in those values, it shapes their outlook, and the decision-making process”. Money and financial flows become a means to an end, not an end in itself. Yet there is a challenge of scale and proportionality: the sheer quantum of capital needed to be reallocated for this transition needs to shift from 5% of money to 95%. Philanthropy is only a tiny portion of the available resources.

Key levers for change:

  • Reinterpreting fiduciary duty and due diligence, in terms of who and what fund managers are accountable to. Most wealth holders and managers think they can't change things because of their 'fiduciary duty' but there is more room for interpretation here”.
  • Restructuring the ‘hidden wiring’ of major asset classes (pension funds, sovereign wealth bonds, public/private equity markets) to change the behaviour of people managing trillions, at all levels of the value chain. This includes: accounting standards (such as around tax and transparency), incentives (for example how fund managers are rewarded), and indices (how fund performance is measured and compared on the global market).
  • Developing new metrics, such as an extreme wealth line, “inequality should be a measurement of 2 things: poverty and wealth, and yet we only measure the bottom and not the top”.


Can we take inspiration from the ‘Seventh Generation Principle’ in how investments are designed, to consider the impact of current decisions on the next 7 generations?

Reimagining the public balance sheet

How can we reimagine our resources and civic assets for public and common benefit, fit for the times we are in? Where is risk held and who pays for it? How are current externalities (like pollution, wage exploitation) accounted for? At the very least, we need to be viewing capital beyond just financial resources to include natural, human, social and other capital (a useful framework is the Five Capitals Framework). Since as one person put it, “the issue is not a lack of money, it’s the disconnection of global finance from the real economy”. When it comes to the public commons, we also need to think globally, there are limits to defining wealth just in terms of individual people, companies and nations.

Key levers for change:

  • Reimagining the capital asset stack for the 21st century and redesigning accounting practices around this: what’s an asset, what’s a liability, how is value captured? How do we account for ‘phantom value’ in intangible assets like river systems and forests?
  • Rethinking value and profit, which could include ‘true cost’ accounting to price-in externalities as a way to shift consumer spending power away from systemically harmful practices (though some would say this approach doesn’t go far enough).
  • Reframing the role and nature of business, especially beyond the shareholder primacy model. There is a need to resource the disruptive innovators who are experimenting with new value systems and models of ownership and finance, who are currently locked out of traditional resource flows.


How does profit, as an indicator of value, change if we change what we value?

Changing the societal narrative

What emerged clearly from these conversations was the highly social nature of the money system. Whilst often seen as a rational or numerical system, talking about it openly with others quickly becomes emotive, provocative and at times deeply personal. “The taboo (not talking about money and more widely, the money system), is what holds money in place”So what is the societal conversation on wealth? How can we talk about money openly, its universal connection to us all, and our dreams for how it could help transform our futures? We heard from many people about existing cultural myths, norms and logics that people felt ‘trapped in’. Social constructs like meritocracy, macho heroism and self-made entrepreneurs, are all pervasive. “We need to break out of micro enterprise theory and start-up theory as a mechanism of change.”

Key levers for change:

  • Changing mindsets to change the machine: through bottom-up pressure, strong narratives and movement building. There was a call for this work to be a “universal fight”, targeting ordinary people, not simply the wealthy (an example is when Occupy Wall Street created critical discourse).
  • Unbundling property at a fundamental level, looking at ways to decouple where power is held from the ownership of capital.
  • Education, narratives and communication: some said that terms like 'the rich', 'the wealthy' and 'plutocrats' are not helpful, and that we need more nuanced explanations around wealth, its motivations and mechanisms.

Mobilising private wealth holders

The progressive wealth movement in the UK is relatively nascent compared to other countries, “in the US where it’s more progressive… there’s lists of radical wealth holders, money coaches, accountants”.

Individuals we spoke to, such as those who have inherited intergenerational wealth or exited businesses, shared stories of their personal and spiritual experiences in coming to terms with the origins of their wealth. This manifested in their sense of self worth, status, purpose and belonging (“many wealthy people, especially those who inherited it, feel they don't deserve it and are conflicted about it. They end up trying to accumulate more... and perpetuating a system that made them feel inadequate”).

The fear of loss can be more powerful than motivations around greed or self enrichment, which many people think is what drives wealthy people. Gender norms can be at play here too, that it is “good masculinity to accumulate money”, and that both men and women feel they must “protect for future generations”.

Yet even if an individual wants to reallocate or redistribute their family wealth differently, they can be structurally disempowered. The so-called ‘Wealth Defence Industry’ means that “wealthy people are not given the equipment to use their money. They are told how to minimise their tax, there is a disconnect between wealth managers and the wealthy”. Many practicalities are beyond an individual’s control: trust structures, beneficial owners, tax incentives, family councils, family governance structures, perceived ownership vs legal title. Generally big changes only happen at major life transition points, like death, divorce and marriage.

Key levers for change:

  • Movement building: telling a story of ‘enough’ rather than accumulated wealth, and social norming of progressive wealth holding (with networks like Resource Justice).
  • ‘Trust-busting’ interventions to empower progressive wealth holders to unlock wealth from their family offices, including changing the job description and incentives of family fund managers (away from financial accumulation) and the trust structure itself (reviewing how the interests of future generations are qualified).
  • Wealth distribution and pre-distribution: lobbying for new taxes to redistribute wealth from private accumulation (such as the work of Patriotic Millionaires in the UK) and even wealth pre-distribution, which focuses on the models that prevent the accumulation of extreme wealth in the first place, such as place-based and community wealth building initiatives and stakeholder ownership of companies.
  • Exploring wealth through the lens of different social sciences: drawing on psychology, anthropology and linguistics as a way of finding different entry points through which to influence wealth holders.


What if all wealth only lasted for one generation?

The role JRF might play

This ultimately came down to a question about JRF’s approach to system change: “should [JRF] be working within the norms of mainstream finance, but help create new funds and financial structures that make it possible to invest them in fundamentally more transformative ways, or invite [funders and investors] to adopt different values and logics that will lead to different infrastructure and ways of operating?”

The answer is likely to be both/and, but it does highlight that the nature of this work can be deeply personal, interpersonal and political, it challenges our individual world views and value sets. The common themes emerging for where JRF should focus were:

  1. Convening an emergent field: in general there was a feeling that “the big conversation isn’t happening”to avoid incrementalism and reimagine a radically different story of what we value. This work needs to be highly relational – with space for learning, unlearning and experimentation, but is currently fragmented, with no obvious convener in the UK. Who is building the infrastructure and creating/supporting the conditions for change? There was an appetite for the convening power that JRF could hold to be part of what comes next.
  2. Resourcing disruptive innovation: disruptors who have attempted to bring in new financial or value systems are not just locked out of traditional resource flows, they are punished financially and the experience takes a grim personal toll (“banging head against a wall”). There is a need to resource and spotlight those experimenting at the edges, who are hacking or going against the grain of the current system to build the “new forms of next”, both in terms of direct financing and building, or ‘sandboxing’, practical prototypes. We need to reassess how risk is perceived, since social and impact investment is typically more expensive than mainstream finance, due to the perceived risk and lack of legacy models. Instead, we can reframe this as: ‘what is the risk of not investing in protecting the planet and serving human needs?’
  3. Funder to field builder: JRF’s own direct funding is proportionately tiny compared to its ability to leverage its positioning power with others, for example to shape a funding model with investors and funders from different parts of the system (such as philanthropy, government, pensions), to explore different risk-return profiles and co-benefits beyond financial returns (like social and nature benefits). Going further, how does JRF go from having 5% of its endowment in ‘social good’ to 95%, to demonstrate an intentional move away from philanthropic capitalism, where “foundations are essentially hedge funds with small giving on the side”. There is an opportunity to innovate across the Wealth Defence Industry, in the layers of ‘hidden wiring’ and in the ways that wealth gets redistributed and stewarded.
  4. Policy, influence and political will: we heard from many, at different levels of the system, that change is urgently needed, that this work takes time and it needs to start now. Yet we also heard that there is uncertainty around where opportunities for influence and change are at the moment. There is frustration with the Overton Window (a political theory that refers to the range of policies that the public will accept), as even tweaks at the edges of accepted policy have been unsuccessful under this government. Particular interventions that were raised included lobbying for wealth taxes, creating a measure of extreme wealth and establishing public commons partnerships.

What happens now?

These conversations have fundamentally shaped the focus of the Emerging Futures’ work on reimagining wealth, funding and investment for 2024 and beyond. The learning has helped to frame how and where JRF can use its positioning power to influence the Great Wealth Transfer and financial system towards its mission, ‘to speed up and support the transition to a more equitable and just future, free from poverty, in which people and planet can flourish’.

To see how this is turning into practical action, join us for this year’s Next Frontiers conference in June, which will see practitioners from the leading edge of this growing field come together in London. You can read the personal perspectives of those who led this work here.


Interview participants

Bridget Kustin (Director, Ownership Project 2.0: Private Capital Owners & Impact), Daniel Chandler (Programme on Cohesive Capitalism, London School of Economics), Dominic Hofstetter (TransCap), Gary Stevenson (ex-financial trader/GarysEconomics), Géraud de Ville de Goyet (Barking & Dagenham Giving), Indy Johar (Dark Matter Labs), Jake Hayman (independent), Jennie Winhall (Co-founder, System Shift and the System Innovation Initiative), Jeremy Oppenheim (Systemiq), Leslie Johnston (Laudes Foundation), Lyndon Burford (blockchain researcher and Visiting Research Associate, King’s College London), Lily Macfadyen Tomson (Jesus College, University of Cambridge), Melissa Mean (We Can Make), Paul Fletcher (Greater Share), Rachel Sherman (Michael E. Gellert Professor), Rebecca Gowland (Patriotic Millionaires), Ruth Potts (Schumacher College), Sarah Teacher (Impact Investing Institute), Stefan Binder (Resource Transformation, Germany), Stephan Chambers (Marshall Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science), Steve Waddell (advisor to the Rockwool Foundation), Chris Brown (IGLOO), Tim Davies-Pugh (Power to Change), Timothy Church (ex McKinsey Investment Office CEO), Tom Adeyoola (Extend Ventures).

Project delivery

New Constellations was founded in 2019 to help individuals, organisations and communities face the polycrisis and, from a place of deeper understanding, begin to imagine and create futures of human and planetary flourishing.

We take people on deep, immersive journeys to consider the transformation that’s needed on the levels of self, group and system, and how to chart a new course towards that destination. We have been exploring what this means for the prevailing and possible future political economies and the systems of finance and investment that underpin them.

After 5 years of work, we are now entering into a chrysalis phase and will cease outward facing work as New Constellations from mid-April 2024. We feel the work of New Constellations is ready to evolve further, and need space and time for sense-making and reflection to help this happen in a real way. You can read more about this decision here. For this project with JRF Emerging Futures, we also worked with independent researchers Emma Shaw and Megan Lucero.

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