Carol Newell Remarks to Graduates 2008

May 17, 2008

Thank you so much for this wonderful recognition.

To say that I am amazed to be receiving an honorary degree is truly an understatement. I see myself more as an independent thinker than a scholar. So, I give thanks to SLU, the faculty, and fellow students who year after year helped to engender independent thinking!

Many of you will now begin your professional work lives, and a big focus of that will be on making money. And, here I am being honored for giving most of mine away! Or more accurately, for granting and investing and leveraging it in ways that maximize many kinds of returns, not just financial ones.

Why have I done this? I wanted to stimulate change.

I had far more money than I needed, so I decided to devote the rest to a purpose that had more meaning to me than simply making more money. I called it my Mission Money, and my mission was to stimulate a socially just and environmentally sustainable economy and way of life in British Columbia, Canada. I focused on one region to maximize impact, to help build community, and because it was the place I loved.

My time at St. Lawrence prepared me for what has become my life work in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. It was here, studying geology, and puzzling through folds and faults and layers upon layers upon layers - laid down through millions of years of earth history - that I fell in love with the earth and succumbed to a perpetual awe with the beauty and the mystery of this planet.

And these were just the rocks!

But those rocks got me out onto the land where I saw living nature, with it’s profoundly complex and interconnected systems - thriving because of it’s diversity - and I experienced the beauty of this planet in a way that has sustained me and inspired me ever since.

In our madcap world, I wonder how often do we ever really take a moment to be grateful for all this planet does for us? Let’s right now, together, say a great big, resounding, “Thank you Planet Earth! “

I think she needs to hear that every now and then.

Because really, when you think of it, the earth is the mother of us all. Yet we often take advantage of her generosity, and ravage her beauty. We forget the natural cycle of replenishment – like the trees that take up nutrients from the soil, transform them to make leaves, and then offer those leaves back to the earth to decompose and begin another cycle.

Nature, without fail, recycles her riches.
Humans …tend to move riches along a linear path.

Soon we will have depleted her reserves and beaten her down so she has nothing left to give. But really, there is no wealth but life.

I don’t have to tell you that the planet is in bad shape. The time when we can turn things around is running short. The United Nations Environmental Program observes that there is, and I quote: “a remarkable lack of urgency” to reverse these trends. However, I feel a sense of urgency. As a culture, we are living beyond our means on this planet.

A Cree Nation saying cuts to the chase:

In the end,
When the trees are gone
When the potable water is gone
When the fish are gone and the soil is all washed and blown away…
…we can’t eat money.

We live in a culture that focuses extravagant attention on building capital. We used to strive to become millionaires – now a billion is the new standard. Rapid and exponential growth …on a planet with limits.

At some reasonable point along the personal wealth continuum, I have to ask,we build capital …to what end, and for what purpose?

Well, I think we can Re-Purpose Money. I think that individuals and institutions can invest and deploy money - quite consciously as a fuel, a catalyst – to help restore the health of the planet, and re-connection between ourselves. We can go beyond philanthropy, beyond business. We can build on the synergy between the two sectors and integrate them, so they might inform one another creating a blended best of both worlds.

But it’s not just money that we need to harness.

In the last decade alone, we have pooled massive intellectual capital, creative capital, and now with the web, connectivity capital, as well as those huge pools of money. We’re bursting with potential. Let’s put it to use – now.

Imagine a world with this incredible genuine wealth focused and harnessed to a shared goal, where we can use our hearts and minds and assets of all varieties to help shift this world back on to a course that supports everyone and all things for unlimited generations to come.

We can grow philanthropic and investment sectors, social and institutional sectors, even entertainment sectors that are all so integrated, so organically intertwined, and co-creative, that we can actually begin to shift the orientation and intention of our dollars – and our life energy - from simply making more, to making better.

What a breath of fresh air.

Can you imagine coming together around health and happiness and helping one another instead of consumption? I think it is time for a renaissance, a new renaissance, of life-affirming initiatives.

My hope is that you go on to inspire all the organizations you touch to rise to this challenge. May yours be the generation that gets to bring their children up in a bright new age of co-creation and collaboration, and of renewed respect for the importance of life energy and it’s natural diversity.

Thank you so much for the great honor of sharing your day with me today. I know that each of your unique perspectives and talents will add to the future in profound and important ways. Don't be afraid to question the status quo. That’s how change happens.

And stop every now and then to smell those gorgeous roses. I’m not kidding! Good Luck!