Parting Words

from Ron Phillips

IMG_4314On June 3, board and staff members, friends, colleagues, and supporters feted Ron Phillips, honoring his incredible 39 years as founder, CEO and President of CEI. Ron’s remarks are as follows:

The typical questions that come forward when one leaves a job for the proverbial “retirement” are: What will you do? What are you most proud of? What will you most miss?

The easy answer of what I’ll do revolves around family, children and grandchildren, and stewarding the land which we call home. There is indeed Waldoboro’s prospects for development as a sustainable community; involvement with the town, the church, and groups trying to advance the community’s assets; travel of course, and writing with yet another article due this summer on Maine’s agriculture; and a complement of boards [this time in Maine rather than national and frequent trips out-of-state] that have bearing on prior work.

It’s also easy to answer what I’m most proud of: having helped to create CEI and having had the chance to build an organization that stands for Triple Bottom Line investing – economy, equity, environment. This is a global cause, in solidarity with many like-minded CDCs/CDFIs here and abroad, one that will take leadership everywhere on the planet to invest in the good of the commons, to steward the planet – to send signals of hope and encouragement – and to distribute prosperity universally so all people participate in the benefits of society.

DSC_3921But what I will miss most is a hard pill to swallow. Certainly I’ll miss being part of a place and community of people that are always trying to come up with a way to align capital to good things, of conceiving, hatching and implementing new ideas, of the networks and associations with so many here in Maine, nationally, and throughout the world, that I’ve encountered doing the same work. These include the many individuals and institutions associated with local, state and federal government agencies, family and major foundations, community and money center banks, religious groups, individual social investors, and so many colleagues and peers as practitioners in the CDC/CDFI industry, and those advocating for and active in social enterprise, corporate social responsibility, and impact investing.

But most of all I will miss my co-workers at CEI and our subsidiary operations, and board members, and advisory board members.

As a final thought, what comes to mind is the exchange in Alice in Wonderland where Alice is trying to find her way back home. She asks the Cheshire Cat if she’s on the right path. He replies it depends on where you’re going.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

I find that over the years I tended to ask if I was on the right path. The twist though was that we were on the path together and thankfully, while we both might have been uncertain where we were headed, our mission kept us tethered, and we went down it together, right or wrong. I’ll miss that.

IMG_43042And one more thing…[as detective Peter Falk, Columbo, would say turning back to his suspect with yet another query] we’ve made a lot of progress in this country on social causes: social security, minimum wage, voting rights, gay rights, health and other rights…these and more come under pressure to upend, and also need improvement, and global warming continues as a major threat. But all our efforts must contribute to the arc of history bending toward justice as the oft-quoted 18th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said.

In our line of work of sustainable development – and in many professions – the challenge to help create economic opportunity for people and places at the margins and steward our environment, persists. In closing, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy might have been right in 1961 at his inaugural speech when he implored Americans not to ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. But while that certainly still holds, in current times I would ask indeed what your country’s leaders can do for you – its politicians, corporate and financial leaders – and what they are doing and will do to bend the arc toward justice.