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Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Sean: I would say opening a path that hasn't been opened is my superpower.
“I’ve had conversations with several very, very large entrepreneurs, wealthy individuals, billionaires,” says Sean Davis, founder of Merton Capital Partners. “They tell me sometimes it's harder to give away the money than it is to make it.”
Sean says he anticipated the difficulty and has a plan to help billionaires invest their philanthropic capital at scale.
He argues for having billionaires provide the equity for affordable housing—trillions of dollars of which is required to address America’s housing shortage—on terms similar to Kiva’s investor terms.
If you’ve ever lent $25 on Kiva, you know that you can never get more than your original investment back. Any interest borrowers pay is used to cover the operating costs of the microlenders that support them. Investors do sometimes incur losses, however.
By asking billionaires who have joined the Giving Pledge (the Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett-inspired promise to give at least half their wealth away in their lifetimes) to invest on philanthropic terms could allow the money to be deployed at scale and recycled repeatedly.
On that basis, the money can do infinite amounts of good.
Sean wrote the book Solving the Giving Pledge Bottleneck to develop some of these ideas. He’s since continued to hone the concept.
Sean sees his ability to open new paths as his superpower; he’s using it now to facilitate moving massive amounts of capital toward social impact.
AI Podcast Summary
Devin Thorpe interviews Sean Davis, founder of Merton Capital Partners.
Merton Capital Partners advises on investing philanthropic capital to solve social and environmental issues, including affordable housing.
Sean is concerned that the money pledged by billionaires through the Giving Pledge is not being effectively deployed.
He proposes a model for capital to be invested in affordable housing with the goal of sustainable, low-cost rents.
The model involves partnering with large real estate developers to build thousands of units of affordable housing.
The philanthropic capital acts as equity in the projects, ensuring low rents in perpetuity.
Merton Capital Partners plays the role of advocate and investment firm in this model.
Sean believes that this model aligns well with the goals of the Giving Pledge and allows philanthropists to ease into giving by providing the profits on their capital rather than the capital itself.
Sean identifies his superpower as trailblazing and finding new paths in the social impact space.
Interested individuals can connect with Merton Capital Partners through LinkedIn and learn more about the model in Sean’s book Solving the Giving Pledge Bottleneck.
How to Develop Opening Paths As a Superpower
Sean likens his superpower to childhood experiences. “I grew up in Colombia. It's like I have a machete, and I'm opening up a trail in the jungle, and now it's like a road.”
He shared some thinking about how to develop or strengthen your ability to find frontiers you can explore to find opportunities for trailblazing.
When I sit next to somebody in an airplane, maybe they're a neurosurgeon, and they have a particular angle, I'll keep asking questions until I get to that frontier where he doesn't or she doesn't know.
Then I start asking questions at that frontier. And it's super interesting to me. So I think that could be a technique that's practiced.
What happens is that the person also leaves delighted because you are—and this is maybe something I'm like a curator of people's enthusiasm—by getting to that point, people are super enthusiastic, and it's so wonderful to see.
I almost get to dance in that fire of enthusiasm that they have. And I know nothing of the subject. But I come away just happy because you were kind of—the two lights were ignited, and they were brighter together.
By following Sean’s example and counsel, you can develop the ability to explore frontiers and blaze new trails, perhaps developing a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.
Sean Davis (he/him):
Founder and Managing Partner, Merton Capital Partners
About Merton Capital Partners: Merton develops ways to invest philanthropy in partnership with Fortune 500 companies, such as real estate developers, allowing philanthropists to deploy more funds with greater impact.
Mr. Davis is the Founder and Managing Partner of Merton Capital Partners. Merton advises on investing philanthropy alongside Fortune 500 companies to solve significant social and environmental issues. He started his career with J.P. Morgan in New York and then joined Advent International, a leader in international private equity, helping to develop its office in Brazil. Mr. Davis then joined Saratoga Partners in New York and was dedicated to leverage buyout opportunities and restructurings. Mr. Davis was recently the Development Director for The Salvation Army of Palm Beach County, where he was focused on creating a bold growth plan to solve the problem that almost half the children in the County fail to read a third-grade level.
Mr. Davis was raised in Colombia and Argentina and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and from The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He also has an MBA from the London Business School. Mr. Davis is an advisor to various nonprofits and the author of Solving the Giving Pledge Bottleneck, a Top 12 Forbes Must Have Books And Podcasts For Leaders In 2023. Mr. Davis is also an Adjunct Professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University in their Masters in International Development.
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