From Criterion Ventures to Criterion Institute
Criterion has been leading initiatives that shape markets to create good for the past 14 years.
Criterion was founded in 2002. Since then we have led initiatives, from founding a venture fund to spearheading innovative research programs with international organizations, that shape markets to create good. Today, we have refined our mission to broaden what matters in our economic decisions by expanding who has power and influence in the work of reinventing the economy.
Criterion enjoyed ten years of consulting, with over 100 clients, including the Packard Foundation and AARP Foundation. At first, we were consultants on big systems change in big organizations. Criterion’s first client was the fourteen billion-dollar Methodist Pension Fund, and our job was to figure out how to help them move a billion dollars into microfinance. In 2006, this was almost unheard of.
Another of the biggest initiatives we worked on was a five-year project looking at systems-level questions in the cash market for health care. Collaborating with Steve Godeke and Gary Gunderson, we were funded by Rockefeller Foundation and were poised in 2008 to launch a health care bank. As the leaders in what came to be called Healthcare_Uncovered, we introduced new mechanisms for financial management in healthcare.
Beginning in 2005, Criterion hosted 16 conferences over the course of ten years, during which leaders from finance, women’s rights organizations, and the many expressions of the Christian church met to push the boundaries on how to use finance as a tool for social change. Held around the United States, Convergences not only fostered friendship and collaboration — they built fields. At Convergence, ideas and conversations converged to create energy, collaboration, and direction.
In trying to figure out who could help them move capital in a radically different way, Criterion started a venture fund to do some of that work ourselves. As one of the founders of Good Capital we had an outsized impact on the social capital markets in relationship to the specific investments in companies through the fund.
We continue to research and evolve our programs to work with institutional partners and their leaders to create lasting systems change.
By 2012 Criterion had moved from being a consultant to an entrepreneur to become a field builder. The Criterion initiative Women Effect launched a movement that is now called Gender Lens Investing. Ever since, Criterion has had a central role in defining the field, naming it, scoping it, and mapping it. We have catalyzed thousands of people’s involvement and there is now close to a trillion dollars in capital moving towards gender lens investing. You can read about the history of Gender Lens Investing in our State of the Field Report.
At the Clinton Global Initiative we launched a campaign to have a thousand churches invest in small businesses in their local economy, a program we call 1K Churches. In this program and others, our church work provides a contextual way for us to help individuals in local economies rethink the economy and how it can work for the benefit of all. Two of our biggest partners in this work are the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
In 2014, we made a final pivot when we decided to take a stand about power. We reflected on our years of experience as consultants, entrepreneurs, and field builders, and we realized that in every conversation about building and shifting market systems, people weren’t talking nearly enough about structural inequalities such as race, class, and gender deeply enough to address them. Our friend Stephen Reily described it as reinventing the economy by changing who is invited to the table. That is now our mission.
Central to this mission are our three values of grace, hospitality, and invitation that help us to confront power by making new and different people feel welcome in conversations about the economy.
Our track record in leading innovative initiatives positions us as a leader in the conversation about using finance as a strategy for social change.