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Impact Investing: A Thrive Optimistic Reimagining Capitalism with the Silver Surfer and Palermo, the Worst Best Goal Scorer of Argentinean Football History

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

I’m a fanatic fan of Club Atlético River Plate. A moderate fanatic. The archrivals are ‘los bosteros’ (Club Atlético Boca Juniors), one of the teams in which Diego Armando Maradona played football. Ironically, Boca is famous for its little showy but fierce game, in the Uruguayan style football.

The folklore of the rivalry of this sport in Argentina has its unwritten laws. It is not well seen to admire the opposing players, rules on of them. I don’t know if the same will happen to baseball, basketball, or lacrosse fans in other countries. It’s difficult, as a riverplatense and Argentine, not having admired Maradona, as I imagine there will be Boca fans who will have loved the enormous Uruguayan Enzo Francescoli who played for River. But it’s not about Maradona that I want to write about, but about a character, among Boca’s greatest idols, who is called Martín Palermo, alias ‘El Titan’ (the Titan) or ‘El Loco’ (the Crazy One).

He went to the La Ribera club in 1997. He was there for 3 years and 4 months. At first, Boca fans (and others too) made fun of his almost 1.90 meters bathed in clumsiness, slowness and weariness. He was a rara avis in the sport, eccentric, skillless, calm with a volcano personality, a player incapable of dribbling a chair, or throwing away luxuries, or being a man of the match in a game. His qualities were undervalued, the hopes placed on him minimal, the future predicted, meager. This was a strange purchase requested by Maradona while he was playing his last football years.

In Palermo’s first year in Boca the team came out second and saw my beloved River Plate win the three-time championship by just 1 more point. In 1998 Boca’s team fell apart. They hired one of the best coaches in history (Argentine history of course), Carlos Bianchi, who two weeks after taking office defined Martín Palermo with a memorable phrase: ‘There is no other player with his characteristics within the squad. Palermo is a goal optimistic…’ Goal optimistic. Great phrase!

Paraphrasing what was said by Carlos Bianchi, the story of Martin Palermo and mixing it with some phrases and definitions by Rebecca Henderson in Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire (RC), I will say that I’m a thrive optimistic about the future. Several years ago I saw this new economic players (impact investment, ESGs, Sustainability, etcetera) as the Boca fans used to saw Palermo: clumsy, slow, weary, with no real future. But now, many years later I cannot help but imagine and think what the new capitalism will be like in which prosperity, freedom, and equality will guide the decisions of large investment funds, companies, and governments.

Goals will come and be accomplished, success will arrive, markets will love it to achieve the idol status as Palermo did. It takes a gigantic effort and there are five pieces to putting this puzzle together and putting it into practice:

1. Creating Shared Value (for all stakeholders): Everyone must breathe to live, but the purpose of living is not breathing. Business as usual is not an option anymore. In today’s world, reimagining capitalism requires embracing the idea that while [businesses] must be profitable if they are to thrive, their purpose must be not only to make money. (RC, pp. 38)

2. Budling purpose-driven organizations: Either you are humane, fair and foresight a world and a legacy for next generations or you’re a Galactus, a planet devourer. You can go low or high on the purpose. (RC, pp. 39)

3. Rewiring finance: Traditional finance may be the single biggest stumbling block to reimagining capitalism. In 2018 more than $19 trillion-20% of all total financial assets under management- was invested using ESG-based information. (RC, pp. 39)

4. Building cooperation: We are the ones to make it possible. There is no Plan B. Whenever I think of cooperation Harry Stamper and his eclectic, heterogeneous band of blue-collar deep-core drillers comes immediately to mind. Specifically his dialogue with Dan Truman:

Harry Stamper has called out Dan Truman’s team over consulting him on a drill system he designed and NASA later appropriated and is not too pleased about being asked to train a team of USAF pilots on the system.

Harry Stamper: What’s your contingency plan?

Truman: Contingency plan?

Harry: Your backup plan. You gotta have some kind of backup plan, right?

Truman: No, we don’t have a backup plan, this is, uh…

Harry: And this is the best that you, that the government, the US Government could come up with? I mean, you’re NASA for crying out loud, you put a man on the moon, you are geniuses! You’re the guys that are thinking shit up! I’m sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking shit up and somebody backing them up! You’re telling me you don’t have a backup plan, that these eight Boy Scouts right here [gestures to USAF pilots], that is the world’s hope, that’s what you’re telling me?

Truman: Yeah.

If we do not come together the asteroid with a collision course to Earth will hit, and Armageddon will ensue.

5. Rebuilding our institutions and fixing governments: Collective action from regular people is needed, new ways of behaving, new ways of believing are required, also values and purpose, will to change, will to act, courage to don’t let go the fight and to show the business case.

Being a goal optimistic led Martín Palermo to do almost impossible things:

• With his signature silver hair, he missed 3 penalties in a match with the Argentine team.

• On April 24, 1999 he scored a penalty goal with both feet against Platense.

• He broke his knee playing against Colón de Santa Fe. He was out of court for 6 months. He returned in the semifinal of the Copa Libertadores played against River Plate. He scored a goal.

• In his first stage in Boca he won 3 national championships; 2 international cups; he scored 92 goals in 121 games.

• In 2001 a wall fell on his leg while celebrating with Villareal fans in Spain. He suffered a broken leg.

• In 2008 he broke his knee again.

• He headed in goal from almost 39 meters.

• He totaled 236 goals in 404 games for Boca Juniors, becoming the top scorer in the history of that club.

• Record as a scorer in a short tournament: 20 goals in 19 games.

To be a thrive optimistic can lead us to unexpected outcomes and impacts that we could even barely dream of several years ago. In the Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2020 by the World Bank, despite the harsh reality in many of the SDGs, we can see the opportunities that impact investment can help solve:

• Even as the world’s population has grown, many fewer people are living in extreme poverty (SDG 1)

• After declining for a decade, the undernourished population is now rising. In 2019, more than 690 million people experienced hunger — an increase of nearly 60 million in 5 years (SDG 2)

• The fast spread of a new virus has put severe pressure on health systems in many countries and has drawn attention to both the strengths and the weaknesses in health care, including in high-income countries (SDG 3)

• Although the share of children out of school is low in most countries, the share of children in school who are learning below minimum proficiency is concerning (SDG 4)

• Access to safely managed drinking water has steadily increased over the past two decades (SDG 6)

• The urban population accounts for more than half of all people worldwide, having outnumbered the rural population for the first time in 2007. Of the global urban population of 4.2 billion, 60 percent — 2.6 billion people — reside in large cities with more than 300,000 people. That number is projected to increase to 3.3 billion by 2035. The number of these large cities has grown from 355 in 1955 to 1,861 today (SDG 11)

• A devastating but unequal global economic crisis due to COVID-19 and the shutdowns had an immediate negative impact on the economy. Large numbers of people were thrown into unemployment and economic uncertainty (SDG 16)

• Before the COVID-19 pandemic, migration and remittances were trending upward. Remittance inflows to low- and middle-income countries had come to exceed official development assistance by a factor of three, reaching $548 billion in 2019 and overtaking foreign direct investment for the first time (SDG 17)

It’s time to ask those who don’t believe that we need to change, to the so-called pessimists, the professed realists, the traditional all-free market capitalists, owners of the only economic truth: Why are you trying to destroy us? And the answer after realizing how good is to be a thrive optimistic shall be: There is always a choice. I will no longer serve you Galactus. *

*Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). Galactus is a cosmic entity who originally consumed planets to sustain his life force.

Writer. Pic of abuelo José Pablo Lacasia (c.1930)