Announcing The Stewardship Pledge
By: Alex Lazarow, Becker Chase, and Jessica Straus
As Kauffman Fellows, members of an organization dedicated to furthering the leaders in Innovation Investing, we believe the venture capital community can no longer ignore the ethical and moral issues that arise alongside its investment activities, including power imbalances, lack of inclusion, and of course the deplorable treatment of women and minorities. Stakeholders across the ecosystem – from entrepreneurs to Limited Partners – are searching for a more proactive and affirmative approach from the investor community. The ecosystem is looking for a commitment that connects the privileged role of the innovation investor with our expectation in society that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” A commitment that is public and sustained over the long arc of time by continued engagement and refinement by those who agree to uphold it. A commitment that addresses these challenges, as well as a range of other issues that are less often in the media today, but still equally important, including managing conflicts of interest, routing out false accounting, and avoiding collusion or corruption.
Collaborating to communicate shared values
The Stewardship Pledge is our attempt to fill this important need. The Pledge is a public commitment by Kauffman Fellows to a set of values, ethics and philosophies that should guide our behavior. These values are of course not new for us at Kauffman Fellows. They draw inspiration from the original values of Ewing Kauffman, instilled at the Kauffman Foundation.
The Pledge is the result of an entrepreneurial, iterative and importantly inclusive project. This was initially started as an internal project for Kauffman fellows. A core group within the Fellowship, led by Alex Lazarow & Nick Nash, incubated an early version starting in 2015. Inspiring themselves from the codes of conducts from numerous professions, following the examples of the Hippocratic oath for medicine, the Lawyers’ Code of Ethical Responsibility, the Code of Ethics of Engineering, as well as those in asset management, such as the CFA Institute’s Standards of Professional Conduct, the first version was crafted. Over the last two years, we’ve engaged a range of leaders in the venture community, both within Kauffman and outside for feedback, advice and comments. Our newly formed Inclusion Crew, consisting of over 100 Fellows and 75 firms from 5 continents, supported the iterative feedback process, and brought us to its latest version.
This process reflects its nature. The Pledge is not, and should not be a stone tablet, that remains immovable through time. We intend to keep its entrepreneurial and inclusive roots alive, within a program that is constantly seeking to engage, explore and improve both the text and how we incorporate it into our working lives. So without further adieu:
STEWARDSHIP PLEDGE for the INNOVATION INVESTOR
As an investor in innovation, I recognize:
- Our industry of innovation capital has the power to drive both private value creation and sustainable, positive societal transformation;
- My purpose is to direct capital and expertise to create shared value by accelerating the pace of innovation through company formation and growth; and
- My investment decisions affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my own organization, the companies in which we invest, my capital partners, the industries in which we work, and beyond, both today and in the future.
Therefore, in the spirit of stewardship toward all my stakeholders, I acknowledge and pledge the following:
- I will not advance my own interests at the expense of my organization, my investee companies, my capital partners, or society.
- I will manage my investments with loyalty and care and I will report the performance and risks of my organization and my investee companies accurately and honestly to my capital partners.
- I will understand and uphold, in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise and my investee companies, and refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or other business practices harmful to society.
- I will recognize the power imbalance inherent in the relationship between investor and entrepreneur, and will not abuse my position, engage in sexual harassment or discrimination, or condone it in the organizations and communities around me.
- I will protect the human rights and dignity of all people impacted by my organization and my investee companies, and oppose discrimination both within my investee companies and in the process of selecting investments.
- I will promote a culture of inclusion, seek out diversity of all types, and foster a sense of belonging among all the organizations and communities in which I work. To further continuing awareness and action, I will participate to the extent of my abilities in open discussion and reporting across our industry as well as encourage others to do the same.
- I will develop myself, and coach, mentor, and apprentice the next generation of investors.
- I will work with my stakeholders to support sustainable inclusive prosperity and to minimize the negative consequences of our actions to the environment and society.
In exercising my professional commitments according to these principles, I recognize that my behavior must set an example of integrity and mutual respect, eliciting trust and esteem from the multiple stakeholders I serve. I will remain accountable to my peers and to society for my actions and for upholding these standards.
The Pledge is offered as model for the conduct that we as Kauffman Fellows agree to exhibit and promote. It is not about avoiding the particular instances of bad behavior that have come to life. It is about changing mindsets and behaviors. And we ask all our stakeholders to hold us to it.
Impact on the venture capital community
We are excited about the impact it has had so far. Multiple funds have formally adopted it.
Within Kauffman Fellows, these issues have always been core to our work. For instance, Kauffman Fellows has always supported diversity. Approximately 26% of our 589 Fellows are women and 9.5% are underrepresented minorities. The most recent Kauffman Fellows class consists of 35% women and 16% underrepresented minorities in comparison with industry averages of 15% and 3%, respectively. Kauffman Fellows will continue to increase our pipeline of diverse candidates to create an inclusive network, and will join with other like-minded groups to curate and present programs and events that foster an inclusive culture in the venture capital industry.
Beyond the industry, Kauffman fellows have partnered with policymakers in the state of California to advance change. Assembly Bill 2041, legislation introduced by California State Assemblymember Anna Caballero in February, paves the way for a new future where more women and underrepresented minorities manage institutional venture capital funds. The legislation encourages one of state’s most influential institutional investors, the University of California’s Office of the Chief Investment Officer (OCIO), to use best efforts to encourage diversity, including working towards diversity in its own hiring and in considering firms for investments, and to report to the public how it is addressing these issues in investing the funds that the people of California have placed under its stewardship. This August, only six months after its introduction, AB 2041 is on the Governor’s desk as a result of the momentum created by members of Kauffman Fellows, All Raise, Broadway Angels and the LP community.
Taking it forward
Importantly, this is a living document. it will continue evolving, reflecting new issues as they arise. We know it is far from perfect. Every year, we will collect and consider improvements to the Pledge based suggestions and lived experience. A volunteer group will collate these and a new version will be released every summer in June. To that end, we welcome any and all ideas for improvement.
We encourage you to adopt this Pledge on your team. With over 500 Kauffman Fellows around the world, you are already in good company. But there is power in numbers – and we would be immensely grateful to have your engagement and partnership in this effort. Sign it, email it, Instagram it, put it on your desk, tape it to your door, add it to your PPM.
Please email us with comments, reactions and feedback at [email@example.com]. Our only rule is to share back what you learn from the experience and how we might better serve the mission.