15 Voices: An Interview with Root Capital’s First Funder

Ralph TaylorToday, we’re launching our 15 Voices blog series: 15 voices from friends and partners reflecting on Root Capital’s mission and our collective journey to grow rural prosperity. We kick off the series symbolically with an interview with Ralph Taylor, Root Capital’s very first supporter. We owe so much to Ralph and to his extended family for their friendship, intellectual contributions, and financial support over the last 15 years.

Ralph is a deep thinker, salsa and swing dance aficionado, and as you’ll see from his responses to our questions below, a real character.

Root Capital: What inspired you to become involved with Root Capital? 

Ralph: Root Capital matches my values of simplicity, hospitality and equity. 

Simplicity because of your commitment to delivering financial services to aggregators of smallholder agriculturalists, and not a wider range of clients (yet!).

Hospitality because you wish to learn as much as you can as you go, and to share that learning while soliciting and synthesizing as much relevant experience and insight as you can from other stakeholders in the field, as well as their clients and beneficiaries.

Equity insofar as you make sure that there is an enticing, equitable apportioning of risks and rewards throughout the value chain involved in:

  • providing credit and other financial and social services to the poor,
  • learning how to provide them well, and
  • learning how that provision enhances the lives and the prospects of those who access it.

Root Capital: What is one word that summarizes Root Capital in your mind? 

Ralph: The one word is French: jongleur. It translates as fool or jester. The jongleur was the fool who accompanied the troubadour to entertain the nobility with tales of chivalry in the High Middle Ages. The troubadour would tell the stories of romance and knight errantry for maximum sentimental and dramatic effect. The jongleur would do it for maximum fun, irony and trenchant insight into the human folly that often dogged the pursuit of high ideals that the troubadour waxed so poetically about. Like the jester or fool at court who was meant to deliver covert wisdom to the king and the more sophisticated courtiers, the jongleur would package insight for those who were less sentimental about what it meant to wield power as a warrior, ruler, magician or lover.

Of course I am thinking mostly of Willy Foote — in this context, guitar in hand, singing protest songs more than occasionally adapted to the ins and outs of philanthropy and development assistance. I am also thinking of how often in the early days this guitar and that voice and those songs would work wonders in building the kind of trust that lowers transaction costs in the field, and occasionally in boardrooms.

Root Capital has always been entertaining, collaborative and creative as it shared the story of reaching “the missing middle.” There are many troubadours that have emerged over the past 15 years, celebrating the poetry and beauty of providing financial services to the poor. I know of no other jongleurs.

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