Month 1: Looking Beyond the Surface

Welcome to the first month of BALLE’s Connection Circle pilot program! We are excited to begin, as we stand together to #ChooseConnection in our businesses and in life. You’ll be sharing in this journey with 39 other circles (and counting!), spanning 15 states and 5 countries.

On the first Tuesday of each month a practice and parable will be published to our site and, if you’ve signed up to participate as a circle leader, will arrive in your inbox ready to be shared with your Connection Circle. Our practice and parable this month focus on looking beyond the surface—from deeply observing what traits and capacity we see within our colleagues, to what is truly possible when you encourage transparency and trust in business relationships.


What Do You See When You Look at Me?

Facilitator to read the following:

First find a partner and decide which of you will be #1 and which will be #2.

Today’s Practice will be to connect with two people, one at a time, around the following question: “What do you see when you look at me?”

Person #1 will ask this question to person #2, then silently let person #2 answer as much as they can about that question. If person #2 pauses, then person #1, simply repeats the question again. I’ll time you and let you know when you are at two minutes and it is time to switch roles. After each person has had a turn, I’ll give you two minutes to discuss your experience with your partner and to thank them.

(Instructions for facilitator: Use a timer at two minute intervals. After approximately six minutes, ask the group to find a new partner and repeat the process. After both rounds, bring the group back together and invite them to reflect on how they were impacted.)

For the next ten minutes I would like to invite anyone who feels like sharing, to recount anything that came up in that experience that you would like to share with the whole.

Next we will read today’s parable and reflect slowly. Let the words touch you. We reflect here for these few minutes, less in a book club kind of way, and more in a savoring of a text kind of way. I will read it slowly. Note anything that resonates with you. When I finish reading we will go around the circle and I’ll ask everyone to share just a word or a phrase that stood out for them. Then we’ll conclude.


RSF Social Finance: Redefining Relationships Between Social Entrepreneurs and Investors

When you have money in a bank account it is used by the bank to make loans. The interest you and the bank earn on that money comes from that use. Imagine your bank inviting you to a meeting one day. At that meeting were a group of people sitting in a circle and the bank manager told you they were all people representing businesses that had taken a loan from the bank, using in part, the money in your bank account. During the meeting, each entrepreneur stood one by one to present what they made or did in the world. You got to see clearly what your money was nurturing. You saw that your money made it possible for your kids’ school to hire more teachers, for the first black, worker owned hotel to open downtown, and for a local food distributor to get more food into hospitals locally. You also saw that your money was supporting fracking and was enabling the expansion of for-profit prisons. Until today the “interest” you’d earned on your savings account had been just a number on paper. If you saw the people behind them, would you think differently?

In 2009, RSF Social Finance, a financial institution that makes loans to socially-minded enterprises, hosted its first community pricing meeting to explore just that. At this meeting and at every other meeting they’ve hosted quarterly since then, local business owners and local investors meet each other. Sometimes the investors are wealthy people, but about 2/3 of them are middle class people who might have $1,000 of savings at RSF Social Finance. The “investors” and the business owners sit in a circle and hear each other’s stories about why they do what they do, about where they struggle, and how they want to make a difference. People see each other as human beings, rather than numbers on paper, and relationships form.

Early on a surprising thing started to happen at these meetings. After hearing from the business owners for whom the interest rate on their loan might make the difference in whether, for instance, another person might be able to join their team, some investors started to say, “if you need to pay back my loan with less interest, I’d take that if it would help you to offer more of your healthy food, or living wage work, or wind energy to our community.”

Perhaps even more surprising, typically, a business owner would speak up next, looking around the room and in the eyes of the people assembled there, and would slowly say, “you know what…? If by paying you a higher interest rate would allow you to make loans to more businesses like mine and these others here who are working for justice and beauty, I would work to pay you a higher interest rate.”  Then the banker – RSF Social Finance – makes their actual business costs for these loans transparent too, and with everyone seeing every piece, the people in the room together set the interest rate for business loans.

Though peer lending and savings circles have been a part of cultures for centuries, can this relationship based approach really work broadly in the context of today’s professional and global financial industry? To date RSF has made more than $275 million in loans. Just 2 percent of them have been written off—a low default rate by conventional banking standards.  And interestingly enough, three years after these community pricing meetings started, five major banks – including Citigroup, JP Morgan, and Chase were fined $5.6 billion in criminal fines when it was found that they were rigging the interest rate we usually get at banks in order to benefit their own bottom lines.

Wrapping Up Your Circle

Facilitator: Now starting on my left, can we hear a word or phrase from each person? Something that stood out or touched you?

(Facilitator might want to model by starting first, then go around the circle.)

Facilitator: Thank you. I invite and encourage you all to use these practices & parables in other settings – staff meetings, or at group gatherings with other business and community leaders. We are joining dozens, hopefully soon hundreds and thousands, of other business communities who see it as our responsibility to practice and imagine the world that we want. Together, we can choose to meet these times with courage, and we can #ChooseConnection.

Share Your Stories

Have a story about how your company is defying “business as usual” or how the members of your circle develop a new tool or process to help others? Please share your stories so others may be inspired by your experience. We welcome you to email us stories, feedback, or photos at any time. On social media, use the tag #ChooseConnection so we can repost.