Boston Globe: "New VP will scrutinize Harvard’s investments"

And now the Boston Globe reports:
Harvard University, which often faces pressure from students and alumni to shed controversial investments, has agreed to create a senior position at its investment management arm to consider the environmental, social, and corporate governance aspects of its holdings.
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Following student victories, Harvard seeks Vice President for Sustainable Investment

The Harvard Management Company announced they will hire a Vice President for Sustainable Investment.

This decision comes after a series of victories by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.  Here's a bit of what The Harvard Crimson is reporting, including the reactions of student organizers:
Two weeks ago, five students met with members of the Harvard Corporation to discuss the details of the social choice fund, and earlier this week, a referendum to seed the social choice fund with money from Harvard’s endowment passed with 93 percent support of Harvard Kennedy School student voters.

Student members of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, which was involved in coordinating the two student referendums, expressed cautious optimism about the creation of the new HMC position.

“We were in general really pleased to see that the HMC is formally considering [environmental, social, and governance issues],” said Kevin S. Wang ’16, the investments and faculty coordinator of the Coalition.

Similarly, S. Krishna Dasaratha ’13, the Coalition’s treasurer, praised the move as an “indicator” that the University is listening to a rising chorus of student concerns about Harvard’s investment.

However, Wang and Dasaratha both said that the creation of the position, which primarily entails research on sustainable investment, does not necessarily mean that Harvard will commit to adjusting its investment strategies.

In the hopes of compelling HMC to change its investment practices, Wang said, “We’re pushing for action.”
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From The Nation

Oberlin's RIO began after a group of students attended REC's Summer Organizing Retreat.  They were featured in The Nation on February 15:

Moving Oberlin’s Money

In northeast Ohio, Oberlin College students from the Responsible Investing Organization are campaigning for community investment of college funds—and showing that endowment activism isn’t just about divestment. Along with Oberlin’s Student Finance Committee, RIO proposed and saw passed in December the Oberlin College and Community Investment Plan, a resolution to annually invest a percentage of the $1.2 million in the college’s Student Activity Fund as certificates of deposit with a local credit union. In September, RIO launched its "Break Up With Your Bank” campaign, an ongoing initiative to educate Oberlin students about financial institutions and encourage them to switch from big banks to local credit unions. Students are currently organizing a policy symposium for this spring that would bring together trustees, administrators and students to work together to write a comprehensive responsible investment policy, including community input and accountability.

—Responsible Investing Organization

Click here to read the other student dispatches from The Nation.
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Vanderbilt University Divests from 'Land Grab' in Africa

Vanderbilt University has taken steps to withdraw its $26 million investment in EMVest, formerly Emergent Asset Management, an agricultural corporation with farms in five sub-Saharan African countries, including Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and whose investors included Harvard University. EMVest was accused of ‘land grabbing,’ or taking over agricultural land used by local communities through exploitative practices and using it for large-scale commercial export farming, by the Oakland Institute, a policy think-tank based in Oakland, California, in a June 2011 report publicized in the Guardian (UK). This historic divestment marks the first full divestment made by Vanderbilt in response to student pressure, a first in university history after its refusal to fully divest itself of funds operating in Apartheid-era South Africa.

Through its investment of tens of millions of dollars, Vanderbilt was one of the major investors in EMVest’s agricultural operations. The Oakland Institute’s report, based on first-hand field research and interviews and documents obtained from Emergent Asset Management itself, showed that villagers at one of the farms directly operated by EMVest did not consent to the land transfer or receive any legal written notice of the transfer from the community to the corporation, as well as that villagers were having more difficulty feeding themselves since the large-scale agriculture venture had taken over their lands and farms. The Mozambican farmers organization UNAC also reported that the people working for EMVest had issues with the payment of their wages. Furthermore, the Oakland Institute reported that contrary to promises of job development, EMVest created very few jobs, which were seasonal and low-paid in nature.

Following these allegations, students at Vanderbilt met with university administrators. Administrators refused to seriously discuss the matter with students, stating that  it was not ‘appropriate’ for students to be concerned with endowment issues. Students then organized demonstrations, including a sit-in at the main administration building on February 8, 2012. The student pressure for reform culminated in a nearly two-month long “tent city” in front of the administration building from March to May 2012.

An anonymous source in the Vanderbilt administration reports that university officials internally discussed the fact that the university has terminated its investment contract with EMVest and withdrawn all invested funds. However, the university has not publicly acknowledged its divestment. “Vanderbilt's divestment from Emergent Asset Management/Emvest is a testimony to the power of informed students who, despite the lies and stall tactics of the administration, have prevailed. Their leadership is an example to all that educational institutions, pension funds, and other investors who see smallholder farmers as dispensable and feel entitled to profit from the theft of developing countries' resources can be stopped by the power of truth,” said Anuradha Mittal, the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

Vanderbilt University has a $3.4 billion endowment, the 23rd largest of any university in the United States. Its divestment from EMVest marks the second time that the university has taken action in recent history in response to student concerns about investment ethics. The previous case involved HEI Hotels and Resorts, a private equity company that faced unfair labor practice charges, fines, and legal action for violations of labor law; Matthew Wright, the outgoing investment officer at Vanderbilt, made a written statement in January 2012, after students pressed administrators over the issue, that the university had no plans to reinvest in HEI.

“We are glad that Vanderbilt has done the right thing in this case and we hope that Vanderbilt will include students and other community stakeholders in further considerations of the ethical investment of our university’s endowment,” said senior Ben Wibking.

#############

The Vanderbilt Responsible Endowment Campaign was started in February 2012 in order to end investments in ‘land grabs’ and bring Vanderbilt University’s investments in line with its stated values of honesty, accountability, and caring. Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence, founded in 2007, is dedicated to social justice through raising consciousness, organizing our community, and developing a sustained activist infrastructure capable of responding to injustice on Vanderbilt’s campus and in the greater Nashville community.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition works to build and unify the college and university-based responsible investment movement, both by educating and empowering a diverse network of individuals to act on their campuses, and by fostering a national network for collective action. www.endowmentethics.org

Contact:

Zach Blume, Student Organizer, Vanderbilt Responsible Endowment Campaign
zach.blume@vanderbilt.edu / (401) 714-3118

Rose Espinola, National Organizer, Responsible Endowments Coalition
rose@endowmentethics.org / (347) 864-7633

For questions regarding the Oakland Institute’s research:

Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, The Oakland Institute
amittal@oaklandinstitute.org / (510) 469-5228

The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank, bringing fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues of our time. www.oaklandinstitute.org
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Oberlin Unites for Weekend of Student Power

"Weekend of Student Power" was the name given to a weekend packed with student activist trainings.  RIO, Oberlin's Responsible Investing Organization, started Saturday with a general interest meeting.

By the end of the Weekend of Student Power, RIO had created the blog Oberlin Unite. And Emily, a newcomer to RIO, had written up a blog post.  Here's an excerpt:

A Very Short Guide to How Oberlin Invests The Endowment ($670 million)
The Board of Trustees has an Investment Committee, which then chooses money managers to invest in equity funds through the college’s Investment Office. Currently, the policy of the Investment Committee is simply to invest in ways which yield the greatest financial returns.




some_text


What RIO is working on this semester 

1. Get $50 million invested in Community Development Financial Institutions, which have a local and sometimes regional focus. Credit unions are an example of CDFIs.

2. Help select a new CFO who is committed to responsible investment.

3. Continue the Break Up With Your Bank campaign across campus

4. Hold a policy symposium, with members of the investment committee, faculty, students, and community members, to create a written commitment to responsible investment and possibly re/instate a committee to oversee the policy.

5. Make a Responsible Senior Contribution fund, to which graduating seniors could donate with the stipulation that it be used for responsible investments.

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Why do you organize?

We are all leaders, say the farmworkers, the indigenous, the students.  We are all students too.  The other day my friend Penny came to visit me in Brooklyn.  She taught me something that she says I taught her while we organized together in college.  “To be an ally you have to organize strategically,” explained Penny.  This is why I am part of the movement to make universities more democratic.


I grew up outside of Miami, in the swamplands-turned-suburbs.  My father never knew how to be a parent.  He worked a lot and stayed out late, lost and also searching for something.  When I left to college though, my father and I drove the eighteen hours to the University of Pennsylvania.  He decided to tell me the story of his youth: his story of crossing the United States-Mexico border and working in the fields.  He cried.


At Penn I joined a Xicanx student organization, and met people with family stories like mine.  At first we did charity projects that just served as band-aids to problems.  When we met farmworkers who were organizing to take power and change the fast food industry, we decided to organize as their allies.  The farmworkers led the campaigns because they understood their situation better than we could.  Yet, we students were part of the struggle too because the same fast food restaurants that were keeping down the price of produce, were also exploiting young consumers.  So we organized with farmworkers…and won, one campaign after another!


Then some of us started organizing around our university’s endowment.  The University of Pennsylvania was invested $15 million in the hotel-management company HEI Hotels & Resorts, a company accused of serious labor rights violations.  HEI workers were organizing and invited us to organize with them.  After our first round of meetings with the administration though, we realized students were excluded from decision-making at Penn.  We were disappointed and felt powerless.  For the next three years my student activist group organized – building a coalition of 30 student groups (including six large coalitions), petitioning, holding rallies, and having wait-ins – urging Penn not reinvest in HEI.  During the spring of my senior year, we negotiated a public statement of non-reinvestment with Penn’s Executive Vice President of Finance.  Friends at Harvard, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Vanderbilt, and Notre Dame also organized.  HEI workers won better treatment from their employers.  As students, we had also taken power within our university, making our university more democratic.


My organizing is also a way that I heal my relationship with my father.  We talk about systems of oppression.  He comes to actions with me.  Standing under the sun all day alongside protesting farmworkers, my father feels proud.  He is actualized, in a way far beyond the satisfaction he gets from his daily work and consumption.  We are taking power.


You can take power with us.  Students across the country are calling on universities to Move Our Money, with the goal of moving 2% of the endowment – and a significant portion of the operating budget – into Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs, or local banks and credit unions).  Investing directly into CDFIs, instead of universities running their own "community investment" programs, avoids problems such as gentrification, because community members own and have a say in the way money is spent from their community financial institutions.


We’ve already had a number of victories, including UChicago students getting $1 million invested in CDFIs, and several hundred thousand dollars at a handful of other schools.  Students are still working to move more money though.


Immigrant and people of color communities dealing with the prison industrial complex, poor and middle class folks dealing with the housing crisis, and frontline communities dealing with environmental catastrophe have called for divestment from bad banks.  They are also calling for another economic model --- and community investment, which creates affordable housing, living wage jobs, and green technology, is part of that.  As allies we must organize strategically, in a way that honors the voices of folks most directly exploited by bad banks, and their need for real improvements in their lives.  Thus, we continue organizing for our universities to Move Our Money from bad banks to good banks.


Yet, we are all part of this.  Bad banks are luring young people into credit cards with high interest rates and profiting off of student debt.  In organizing for our universities to Move Our Money, students are demanding an economy that guarantees young people a future.  By changing the endowment model of investing, we change the world by reshaping how investors invest.  We are all leaders.  You are a leader.  Join the campaign to Move Our Money.



You can email me at rose@endowmentethics.org to find out how you can get involved.
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Oberlin Votes to Invest in Local Community

Oberlin, OH–Today, Oberlin College took an important step towards connecting money and morality by investing in the local community. The Board of Trustees just approved the Oberlin College and Community Investment Plan, a resolution to invest part of the Student Activity Fund every year in certificates of deposit (CDs) with the Ohio Educational Credit Union (OHECU). According to Ron Watts, Oberlin’s Vice President for Finance, a few hundred thousand dollars a year will go into this fund reserved for large capital purchases by student organizations, such as a new radio tower for WOBC or new computers for the Review.

Since OHECU is a local credit union, money invested in these CDs will be lent out to local businesses and individuals at better rates than at most for-profit banks. As non-profit, democratically controlled financial institutions, credit unions exist to serve their customer-members, and they offer an alternative to the big banks whose unscrupulous lending practices created the 2008 financial crisis. Credit unions invest their money the local community, as opposed to the big banks that invest in Wall Street companies who continue to make outrageous profits at the expense of homeowners, small businesses, and the environment.

The Student Finance Committee and the Responsible Investing Organization (RIO), a student group that advocates for Oberlin College to bank and invest more responsibly, proposed this resolution to Ron Watts. In addition to lobbying for local investment of College money, this fall RIO launched its “Breakup With Your Bank” campaign, an ongoing initiative to educate Oberlin students about financial institutions and encourage them to switch from big banks to local credit unions like OHECU and Lormet Community Credit Union. RIO is part of a broader national movement towards responsible investment of college and university endowments, particularly focused on divestment from fossil fuels.

As a policy accomplishment of the Student Finance Committee and RIO’s first major victory, this resolution is a step towards building dialogue with Oberlin’s Board of Trustees and Administration about the responsible investment of Oberlin’s endowment, which, as of 2011, was $690,000,000.

Update [12/15/2012]: Oberlin College has released an official statement.


***

For more information contact:

Responsible Investing Organization

David Tisel ‘13            Dtisel@oberlin.edu                   651.431.0306

David Roswell ‘13      Droswell@oberlin.edu               410.952.2258

Student Finance Committee

James Foust    ‘13       Jfoust@oberlin.edu                  608.212.9296
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Our movement is growing. Can you join us?

Cross-posted from a letter sent out by Will Lawrence and Hannah Jones, Swarthmore activists of Swarthmore Mountain Justice.

We’re on the front page of the New York Times business section today, after 2 years of hard work. This is our story about how we started out fighting mountaintop removal, and ended up catalyzing the biggest student movement in years, fighting for fossil fuel divestment.

In June of 2011, a group of us from Swarthmore Mountain Justice marched 50 miles from Marmet, West Virginia to Blair Mountain with 300 other activists, in support of West Virginian folks committed to ending mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and the destruction of their communities.

Most of us originally learned about mountaintop removal by traveling to West Virginia and witnessing its devastation first-hand. We saw beautiful landscapes transformed into moonscapes and wastelands where even grass can barely grow. We saw streams and tap water running red with pollutants from mountaintop removal.



Myself, Hannah, and other students from Swarthmore in front of an MTR site in West Virgina.

 

 

 

 

We saw mile after mile of coal trains taking their profits with them out of the region. Most importantly, we saw courageous activists resisting the destruction of their homes and communities. 

These trips prompted us to consider what we, students living in Swarthmore, PA, could do from so far away. We quickly turned to our endowment as a source of political and financial power. We realized that the most effective way for us to support the struggle against MTR was to call on Swarthmore College to publicly divest from these companies.

Ever since we started our campaign two years ago, the Responsible Endowments Coalition has made our campaign possible. We are writing to ask you to support them.

Yes, I can donate $10 to support this campaign.

They have done trainings, provided us with research, connected us with investment professionals, published our editorials, and have helped support fossil fuel divestment on a national level. Even while we were the only college running a fossil fuel divestment campaign, they made it clear that we were not alone.

Thanks in large part to REC’s support, the movement has since grown immensely.

We have been able to put the time and energy necessary to truly partner with organizations that are on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction. Andrew Munn, an anti-mountaintop removal organizer in West Virginia,  said “we’ve been thrilled to work with students at Swarthmore to communicate the struggles of those in the coalfields around the country.”

The support we have received from the Responsible Endowments Coalition has made it possible for us to lead this campaign and make it onto the front page of the New York Times.

Your support will help REC continue to work with student campaigns from the ground-up, fostering this sustainable and powerful student movement.

REC needs your support. Can you join us with a gift of $10 today?  Every donation up to $5,000 will be matched 1:1.

Sincerely,

Will Lawrence & Hannah Jones
Swarthmore Mountain Justice


 
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Swarthmore Endowment Campaign on the Front of the New York Times


The article in The New York Times tells the story of students, faculty and alumni around the country who are demanding divestment from fossil fuels. At Swarthmore, students from Mountain Justice have been at it for semesters -- but all of a sudden, as the article says, they find themselves “at the vanguard of a national movement. In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.” A student movement is talking about their endowments and their investments. Can you do it to?

This article is the boost this movement needs. So please, go read it here: www.nyti.ms/SESrfr

Can you share the article on Facebook and Twitter and use the Times website to email all of your friends and talk about the need for responsible investing?

After you've emailed the article, start thinking about ways you can join in. If you're a student, you can join in on campus. If you're an alum, you can help pressure your alma mater. For help, email us at organize@endowmentethics.org.
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The Rise and Redemption of [The New School] ACIR

reposted from The New School Free Press

Rey Mashayekhi


Roughly a dozen people attended an ACIR-led town hall discussion at Wollman Hall in October 2010. (Photo courtesy of NSFP Archives)For much of its existence, The New School’s Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility has fought for relevance within the university. Now, three years into its mission, recent activity — including a correspondence with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission — has seen the ACIR intent on emerging as a key organizational force at The New School and beyond.

The ACIR’s journey began when dozens of students gathered outside of Arnhold Hall on December 10, 2008, to protest New School trustee Robert Millard’s association with defense contractor L-3 Communications. Millard’s position on L-3’s board of directors left students and faculty concerned about The New School’s ties to a company whose activities appeared to go against the very fabric of the university’s values. One week later, many of those same students staged an occupation at The New School’s 65 Fifth Ave. building. Besides demanding that then-President Bob Kerrey and then-Vice President James Murtha step down, their conditions also called for Millard’s removal from L-3’s board.

Kerrey, Murtha and Millard all survived the controversy at the time. But 11 months after the occupation, the university established the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. The ACIR consists of students, faculty, staff and trustees who review The New School’s endowment investment policies, which are managed by the board of trustees’ investment committee, and advise the board on investment practices that account for environmental, social and governance factors — in essence, “responsible” investment.

The ACIR got off to a rough start; at an open house presentation at Wollman Hall in October 2010, where students were invited to speak with Kerrey and other administrators about the committee, less than a dozen people showed. The outrage that had led students to occupy a university building and call for Millard’s removal had seemingly died down, and with it the momentum necessary to implement change at the highest levels of the university.

“There’s always a ton of support to talk about transparency and accountability and fiscal responsibility [at The New School],” said ACIR member Chris Crews, a Ph.D student at The New School for Social Research. “It makes for an easy talking point or a bullet on the negotiating list of demands you want. But when it comes to sitting through two-hour long meetings every month and reviewing pages and pages of financial records, most students don’t care.”

Now, four years after that first student occupation at 65 Fifth Ave., the ACIR appears to have turned a corner. Last year, the committee succeeded in getting the trustees to pass a number of proxy voting guidelines that encourage The New School’s investments to stay consistent with its values in areas such as climate change, labor standards and animal testing.

Read More on The New School Free Press website.

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