Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Catherine Berman, CEO and Co-founder of impact investment platform CNote.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
Question what others deem impossible.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Education. We see values-based investing as a game-changer for both investing and creating a more sustainable, equitable world. We spend a lot of time helping investors and donors learn about the measurable difference they can make with their investments without sacrificing returns or operational ease. Many of us grew up learning the only way to support the causes and communities we care about was through grants. That is no longer the case. We see impact investing as an important opportunity to double-down on the causes you care about and a way to authentically represent your values with every dollar; where you spend, where you donate, and where you invest.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
I believe deeply in justice and equality. It’s what drives me to do this work. The ability to level the playing field and ensure that everyone gets a shot at pursuing their dreams and reaching financial independence, regardless of what zip code they were born into, is what keeps me inspired.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
I grew up as the only girl in a community of boys. I showed up as an equal throughout my childhood and it wasn’t until junior high that I began to notice the way female students were treated compared to male students. As the years progressed, I became more and more aware of the imbalances around access to opportunity and promotion, as well as the different expectations my gender identity held within society.
Because my foundation was a strong one, I never let the new rules of gender I was confronting deter me. When I think about my work today, it both saddens and infuriates me that women are often treated as second class citizens, despite our proven ability to lead and outperform in nearly every industry. But instead of sadness, I turn to passion. I use that passion to fight the good fight and demand women’s equality, creating things like the Wisdom Fund investment to demonstrate that women are an incredible investment. My passion for equality fuels my work. As one of my favorite quotes states, “She wasn’t looking for a knight, she was looking for a sword.”
5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?
Philanthropy is a remarkable tool that can drive long-term, systemic and catalytic change. Philanthropy steps in as that critical bridge, from the past that we endured to the future that we hope to create. It brings our focus to outcomes and transformation, without the baggage of incrementalism or structural risk aversion that many instruments are fraught with. The flexible and patient nature of philanthropy makes it a tremendous asset for those of us seeking to create deep change in the power dynamic of systems and structures. It is through systemic and structural change that I believe we will see the greatest opportunity for racial and gender equity emerge. Philanthropy is at the forefront of this, leading the way in new thinking, experimentation and action.
6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
I believe that women can and will change our world for the better. Together, we can move mountains and transform outdated systems that serve the few to new, innovative systems that bring in greater equality, sustainability and connectedness. I believe many of us share this deep desire to see those changes within our lifetime, and I believe when we work together and take action — not just intention — we can catalyze dramatic progress.
More on Catherine Berman:
Catherine Berman is the CEO and Co-founder of CNote, an impact investment platform delivering competitive returns by investing in women, minorities and low-income communities across America. She’s a three-time entrepreneur with experience building scalable businesses. Her last startup grew into a multi-million dollar firm in less than four years.