Why I Nominated Erika Karp for the GOOD 100

Erika told me she was out to transform the all-powerful capital markets so that they would correctly value sustainability, thereby reorienting capitalism to a higher purpose. Whoa.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

I first met Erika Karp after a talk I gave last September. This gregarious woman, about two feet shorter than I, approached, extended a hand, and introduced herself as “a Jewish lesbian with two kids from the Upper West Side.” She professed to have “fallen in love” with me because of something I had said during my talk: “Don’t trust anyone who refers to him or herself as an expert.” After we’d exchanged a few pleasantries, Erika told me she was out to transform the all-powerful capital markets so that they would correctly value sustainability, thereby reorienting capitalism to a higher purpose. Whoa.

I walked away from our introductory encounter staggered but skeptical. On the one hand, Erika’s eyes communicated intent and efficacy, a combination that I’ve noticed frequently bodes well for those pursuing impact. On the other hand, how would one gutsy woman fare against trillions managed mostly by men for whom the health of the world tends to get prioritized just below the fifth home or private yacht? It’s one thing to be impressed by a person; it’s another to believe she can build a new investment bank. But Erika is doing it from the ground up with Cornerstone Capital, a New York-based financial services firm that is changing one of the fundamental pipes in the plumbing of capitalism.

Since our auspicious first meeting, Erika has left her post as head of global sector research for UBS Investment Bank and put all of her own savings where her mouth is. Cornerstone Capital has published two editions of the Journal of Sustainable Finance & Banking and established partnerships with influential institutions like the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, and the Principles for Responsible Investment.

I’m super proud Erika is in the GOOD 100 and hope all of us do our best to propel her mission forward. And, despite my admonition at the beginning of the presentation where we met, if she decided to start calling herself an expert, I would trust her. And so should you.

Grant Garrison is a director of strategy of GOOD/Corps, GOOD’s social-impact consultancy.

Gap has teamed up with GOOD to celebrate the GOOD 100, our annual round-up of individuals at the cutting-edge of creative impact. Gap + GOOD are challenging you to join in. We all have something to offer.

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