Year after year the Davos crowd meet at their snowy retreat to ponder the state of the world and ostensibly, to discuss how they might address the great challenges of our time. Inequality, climate change and populism all featured high on this years’ agenda.

An obscure Dutch historian Rutger Bregman became a viral phenomenon when he took them to task last month for avoiding the real issues, saying, 'We can invite Bono once more but come on we've got to be talking about taxes ...’ Watch the full 2 minute video here.

You may or may not agree with him, but it hit a nerve and does beg the questions: Why do the political and financial elite appear unable to address the world’s most pressing issues? Or why do we think that problems will be solved with the same thinking that has created them?

As one of my former colleagues at the World Economic Forum stated:

‘One of the pillars of trust in a society is the feeling that life is getting better, not worse. But in too many economies, there is a sense that opportunities for the next generation are dwindling rather than expanding.’

Or as an ancient Jewish prophet poetically put it:

Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.’

At TBN our purpose is to serve mankind through stewarding investment to create economic justice and prosperity.

With that in mind, here is my vision for a more hopeful economic future:

  1. Let’s create a new vision of human and planetary flourishing. Economics that serve humanity and not the other way around. People desire communities with strong relational bonds, jobs which give dignity and certainty about the future. Instead they live in polluted and fragmented neighbourhoods with zero-hour contracts and no ability to save, is it any wonder they are turning to populists?
  2. Systemic change, not philanthropic Band-Aids, is needed to achieve economic justice. Billionaire fortunes increased by 12 percent last year—the equivalent of $2.5 billion a day—while the 3.8 billion people who make up the world's poorest half saw their wealth decline by 11 percent. The role of governments is to create equitable opportunities for all by levelling the playing field. The wealthy are not paying their fair share of tax and the loopholes in the global financial system need to be closed.
  3. Value what really matters. Governments are still focused on GDP and most companies are still solely focused on financial value. There have been some interesting attempts to change how we measure value from Gross National Happiness in Bhutan or the Triple Bottom Line but these have yet to gain broad acceptance.
  4. More investment is required in education, skills and health to develop people’s potential to the full and enable them to adapt to a rapidly changing world. We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution where technology is rapidly displacing traditional jobs, whereas our education systems are still stuck in an inherited model from the First Industrial Revolution.
  5. Sustainable and inclusive economic growth takes place in vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. Silicon Valley is not a model for the world to follow. Investment has been concentrated on a small handful of ‘unicorns’ - winner-takes-all companies who can then monopolise their position. This inflates costs, sucks up talent, drives inequality and ultimately reduces innovation. New investment models are needed which release capital to the ‘zebras’ who make up 98% of businesses around the world and create >80% of the employment opportunities.

I left the World Economic Forum after 4 years working on public-private partnerships for Africa, as I realised that I was maintaining the status quo of the Davos crowd.

As impact investors I believe we need to look long and hard in the mirror and ask if we truly represent the poor and marginalised we claim to serve. Is it purely about profit, or are we using our voice to create true transformation? Here are some questions that we are wrestling with at TBN:

  1. Can our investment catalyse systemic change? Does our investment contribute to economic justice?
  2. Who is profiting from our investment? Is our investment extractive or additive?
  3. Are risk and return shared fairly between investors and entrepreneurs?
  4. How can we democratise impact investment so it’s not just the preserve of the wealthy but accessible to ordinary investors?
  5. Are we investing in diversity? Do the entrepreneurs represent the problems they are addressing, and are we impact investors representative of the beneficiaries we are trying to impact? What about black, Latino and female entrepreneurs?
  6. How can beneficiaries (employees, customers) can become participants (profit share, company ownership)?
  7. What new investment and company models are needed?
  8. Are we and our investee companies paying our fair share of tax?

There is a unique window of opportunity today to shape the new economy to make life better for future generations. This window will not remain open for long before the trends of the new economy – and the societal forces they unleash – become locked in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and examples of pioneering investors. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook to join the conversation, or head to our website to sign up for our newsletter.

If you are interested in learning more about these issues, here are some thought-leaders who are challenging me and influencing my thinking:

Jed Emerson – a leading voice and critic of the impact investing movement and author of the recent book ‘Purpose of Impact’

Cedric de Beer – a challenging blog from South African based impact investor

Suzanne Biegel – a leading voice in gender-smart investing

Bryce Butler and Ross Baird – pioneering new forms of place-based investment in the US via Access Ventures and Village Capital

Daniel Brewer – CEO of Resonance, an investment firm supporting social enterprises in the UK

Dr Kim Tan – founder of Transformational Business Network and pioneer impact investor