Delivered by Michael Sweeney, OP, in May 2015 at the Induction into the College of Fellows
John Denniston, friend of those who are marginalized or suffer impoverishment, loyal son of the Church, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology salutes you.
In his address of June 16, 2014 to participants in the conference of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on ”Impact Investing for the Poor”, Pope Francis insisted that,
It is important that ethics once again play its due part in the world of finance and that markets serve the interests of peoples and the common good of humanity. It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.
He therefore encouraged the recent emergence of “impact investment”:
Impact investors are those who are conscious of the existence of serious unjust situations, instances of profound social inequality and unacceptable conditions of poverty affecting communities and entire peoples. These investors turn to financial institutes which will use their resources to promote the economic and social development of these groups through investment funds aimed at satisfying basic needs associated with agriculture, access to water, adequate housing and reasonable prices, as well as with primary health care and educational services.
Investments of this sort are meant to have positive social repercussions on local communities, such as the creation of jobs, access to energy, training and increased agricultural productivity. The financial return for investors tends to be more moderate than in other types of investment.
Having received your B.A. in Economics and J.D. from the University of Michigan, you eventually pursued a career as a venture capitalist, eventually co-founding and directing the Green Growth Fund of Kleiner Perkins, a billion dollar program that invests in sustainability companies in their growth stage.
At the same time, a concern for the poor and the marginalized led you to spend a part of your vacation each year as a “hands on” volunteer among impoverished farming communities in Peru where you sought to introduce your children to the virtues of solidarity and action for the sake of the common good. That experience, combined with your encounter with Tony Salas, the American-trained former Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Peru, led you to take a step that few others would do. Two years ago you resigned your position at Kleiner Perkins and began two initiatives:
You founded, with Tony Salas, a social-impact company called Shared-X where you now serve as Chairman of the Board. Answering the call of Pope Francis, the new company has three objectives: to produce attractive financial returns for its investors; to lift 12,000 Latin Americans out of extreme poverty by virtue of the design of the business model; and to deploy highly sustainable farming practices in regions of the world that have rarely seen them. Your business plan contradicts the expectation of Pope Francis in one respect only: the anticipated financial return for investors need not be “… more moderate than in other types of investment.”
In addition to traveling worldwide to secure investments in Shared-X, you have also accepted the unpaid presidency of the San Mateo County Chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. There you have developed its Catalyst Program, which helps the marginalized of San Mateo County earn enough to afford to live there through an innovative means of increasing the supply of local jobs that pay a living wage. Your program is now being studied and implemented by other chapters of the St. Vincent de Paul society around the country.
In the new work that you have undertaken you are fulfilling the vision of the second Vatican Council whereby, through applying their expertise and creativity, lay men and women are to transform society from within, as a leaven. We are delighted that you have accepted our invitation to assist us in discerning the signs of the times as a member of the College of Fellows.
Therefore, as an expression of our esteem and gratitude, and in virtue of the authority invested in me by the Board of Trustees of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, I am privileged to bestow upon you, John Denniston, the degree Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, and to name you a Fellow of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.