A Heroine’s Journey

By Peter Brill   |   August 8, 2019

Q. Dear Dr. Brill. I have appreciated much of what you have written. I understand that you are interested in what produces change. With the crises in our ocean, could you say something about that? . . . Marlene in Carpinteria

A. Thank you, Marlene. I thought I would try to answer your question in a different way – by telling you a story of a journey. Many people know the work of author Joseph Campbell. He described myths and an important one was “the hero’s journey.” A hero’s journey is one that starts with an adventure, intended or not, where the person goes through a series of experiences that transform them into a hero. In this column the hero is a woman – it is a heroine’s journey.

Laura Francis is a fit, attractive, energetic brunette, with sparkling eyes and a warm heart, who does yoga every day. She lived all over the country as a child, moving seven times. At age 11, she had an inspiring experience that shaped her life. A wonderful teacher in Santa Barbara took her 6h grade class out to Santa Cruz Island. It was Laura’s first time on a boat, and on that trip she saw amazing sea creatures. The excitement of that experience sparked a passion for the ocean and led her to study biology at Berkeley and then at Monash University in Australia where, among other things, she visited the Great Barrier Reef. When she finished her degree, she took a job teaching children at Catalina Island Marine Institute and eventually this led her to return to Santa Barbara to UCSB to study deep sea biology and the creatures that live on the heat and chemicals from the hydrothermal vents deep down in the ocean. After graduate school, she taught marine biology at Anacapa School, hired by the same teacher who originally inspired her love for the ocean. Subsequent to diving in deep sea submersibles, graduate school, and teaching, she has worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, spending 25 years doing educational outreach at this growing institution dedicated to studying, protecting and conserving the marine environment.

Up to that point in her life, while she certainly had a passion for the ocean and a wonderful educational and work history, I don’t think that most people would classify it as a heroine’s journey.

In 2007, Laura and her husband founded LogicMonitor, a software service company. Ten years later, they had what she characterized as an “liquidity event” that greatly changed her economic circumstances. This was the beginning of a new adventure. “All these years I had been writing grants,” she said, “and now I wanted to support the efforts myself.” She became interested in philanthropy and impact investing and met a local expert on the topic, Carl Palmer. With the help of her (aptly named) Sea Forward Donor Advised Fund (DAF), she began looking for opportunities to invest in organizations that benefit the ocean. Through Carl, she discovered and joined Toniic, one of the premier membership organizations in impact investing. She met with Toniic’s founder, Charly Kleissner, and spent time with a number of its members. “I loved Toniic and the value discussions,” she said. “There were a lot of people who had family foundations. They had grown up with money and they were looking for where to use their money. I was already clear about my values but needed to learn about investing.”

So, the adventure started with money and her deep commitment to a sustainable world, but the journey began with learning how to maximize the impact she could have with it. The real test of character that typified the heroine’s journey came next. It was about this time that she had a major family crisis that would have turned many people bitter. Instead, she used it as a positive turning point and redoubled her efforts to use her money wisely to reflect her values. 

She started pressing her financial advisors because “I felt we could do more than Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) screening … which did not feel impactful enough. It evolved into deeper thinking about the larger systemic changes needed to make a real difference, and then intentionally moving to a new advisor with a major financial services firm with the intention of influencing and inspiring other more traditional investors toward meaningful impact.” Through constant encouragement by Laura, her new advisor began his own transformation and found renewable energy investments that were normally only available to institutions. She also found a way to use her Sea Forward DAF to invest directly in impact companies. Working together, Laura and her advisor have become more and more knowledgeable about impact investing and he has been supporting other clients in that direction.

But her concern still remained the ocean. The ocean is “overfished, has unsustainable aquaculture practices and is filled with plastic. There is a lack of understanding of the value to our ecosystem that the ocean provides.” Therefore, we are poisoning the very life sustaining fluid of our existence on this planet. 

So, Laura spearheaded and co-organized a globally attended, three-day conference held at UCSB, “Reversing the Tide” held in mid-July. With the support of Toniic, the Bren School at UCSB, and Santa Barbara’s Sustainable Change Alliance, “Reversing the Tide” involved investors, philanthropists, academicians, and policy makers focused on the ocean and who came to listen to and connect with companies that are making a difference in this arena. As a testament to Laura’s enthusiasm about the importance of this topic, her financial advisor was inspired to support the conference with his own donor advised fund.

And finally, yet another step in her journey is her work to further an incubator space and innovation hub at UCSB in a building built by NOAA and UCSB. It will involve affiliates from NOAA, university scholars, and local investors helping startups that are pursuing solutions to aid the ocean’s future.

This modest, self-effacing woman has had enormous influence on others and is bringing about a vision for making a difference. “I feel very fortunate for all the things that came together and my ability to connect people to important causes. I now have a ticket to be in the company of people who I wouldn’t have been able to talk to before, who are now learning just as much from me as I am learning from them. Together we can make a real difference in the health and sustainability of our ocean. This is what I want to model for my son Jayden and for future generations.”

Wouldn’t you agree that this is a story of a journey to change the crisis in our ocean? Wouldn’t you agree that she is a heroine?


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