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From Boston.com: Socially responsible investments are showing sustained growth, even as investors pull money out of traditional funds.
This is an encouraging trend!
In the 1990s barely 100 SRI mutual funds existed. That’s doubled to around 200 funds now, DeSimone said. Still, that’s a small fraction of the more than 4,600 stock mutual funds on the market.
Notably, SRI investors remained committed to the principles they supported through even the worst market turbulence.
Inflows for socially responsible funds remained positive throughout 2008 when investors were pulling out of stock funds in massive numbers. All told, SRI funds managed to capture $700 million, while nearly $96 billion was pulled from stock mutual funds. That’s a relatively small figure, but significant in that it ran counter to the stock selling trend, said Kathryn Young, a fund analyst with Morningstar Inc.
The trend continued during the market rebound. Last year SRI funds took in $4 billion while investors pulled nearly $25 billion from stock mutual funds.
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This year we also infused quite a bit of new energy and material into the week. Dan gave a thorough overview of community investment as an effective strategy to empower communities and make a statement against the practices of the big banks. Julian Hattem from the Huffington Post joined us for a discussion of the success of the Move Your Money campaign, and Vonda Brunsting from SEIU discussed their efforts to move institutional money away from big banks and towards local institutions.
Overall we had a great week. Thanks to Starlet, Dave, and Jack for joining us – it was great to meet you and hear your contributions! As for the participants in this year’s student organizer program, you’ll be learning a little bit more about them soon. Thank you also to the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the CUNY Grad Center, and the SEIU New York Regional Office for hosting us. Without you none of this would have been possible!
Interested in attending a future REC training? We plan on holding them every summer and winter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and watch our ‘upcoming events’ section to learn more!
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The Responsible Endowments Coalition was featured in the recently published National Jesuit Committee on Investor Responsibility Annual Report. REC works closely with Jesuit schools including Loyola University of Chicago and Seattle University. Check out page 13.Click here to download.
The Responsible Endowments Coalition is pleased to announce a partnership with the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) STARS® program, is “a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to gauge relative progress toward sustainability…developed by AASHE with broad participation from the higher education community.”
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The STARS rating system includes 16.75 points on investments out of a total 100 points for Planning Administration and Engagement, including points for shareholder advocacy, committees on responsible investment, and positive sustainability investments including investing in community development financial institutions and sustainable funds. Over 100 schools have now signed up to be evaluated including many of the 95 institutions that REC actively works with.
“The Responsible Endowments Coalition is excited to be a STARS partner,” said Executive Director Dan Apfel. “The AASHE STARS system treats investing as an important part of campus sustainability and we believe it will help change the way universities think about their portfolio.”
Dan Apfel was also named a Technical Advisor, as part of a group that will be continuing to refine and improve the rating system. REC has provided input on the STARS program for the last three years, and will continue working to ensure that investor responsibility is taken seriously in the STARS program and by colleges and universities around the country.
The Case of Greensboro, North Carolina
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by Steve Flynn, Greensboro, North Carolina
Over half the children in Guilford County Schools live below the poverty line. Nearly 50 percent of males of color are no longer in school after the age of 16. Accordingly, our high schools then proudly champion ‘graduation rates’ of 100%. Where do many of those young men end up? Even those kids who do graduate and go on to college and graduate, where exactly are they going to find jobs?
We see the building of our city’s new prison taking shape downtown, we witness the decades long struggle between Greensboro’s police department and its citizenry east of Murrow Boulevard. We know in our hearts where many of those young men are ending up, if we choose to listen.
Some of us wonder what institutions will step up and work toward community solutions in terms of sustainable economic development.
Today I want to begin a discussion about Greensboro’s higher education institutions and how they can envision together becoming part of the community’s solution and not, as so many at the grassroots feel, part of the problem.
I’ve been a member of Greensboro’s higher education community, in various flavors, for nearly two decades. Having previously worked in international educational exchange that took me around the world, one comparative thing I’ve come to learn is that one of American culture’s truly unique and amazing things is the capacity of American college graduates to give back to their alma maters. As a city of colleges and universities, this wonderfully charitable spirit is alive and well
here in Greensboro.
This is something that speaks well of us: our spirit of giving.
I attended the US Social Forum in Detroit a couple of weeks ago and learned of the Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC). One of REC’s main goals is to teach and train college students to organize advocacy campaigns to harness small percentages of university endowment dollars for the purpose of local community investment. In Detroit I gathered committed Greensboro students from North Carolina A&T, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Guilford College and other local schools to meet with the REC people. Those meetings in Detroit were
transformative and I’m confident the student activists in our community’s Colleges and University’s will be moving the ball forward this coming year.
My own personal dog in this hunt is to begin similar conversations at the leadership level. The students discussed above will no doubt soon begin pushing these new ideas and values from the bottom up among Greensboro schools (indeed, this has already begun). I would like to help nurture the conversation from the top down so that just maybe we can meet each other in the middle or somewhere on behalf of our community and the citizens of North Carolina.
If we’ve learned anything in at least the last couple years, it is that the world of Tom Wolf’s ‘Masters of the Universe’ and Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gecco have born strange fruit. Previous truths about how assets and wealth are ‘made and accumulated’ are suddenly called into question. As a global culture, it seems we are currently in search of new ideas for what economic development and sustainability
and knowledge production now mean.
I believe American Universities need a new paradigm as it relates to philanthropy and investment. We are expert at and resource significantly our planned giving enterprises on our campuses. Yet, our ‘expertise’ in terms of soliciting gifts goes only so far. In terms of actual investment decisions by investment managers, we typically outsource such expertise to ‘outsiders’ such as Cambridge and Associates (in the case of University of North Carolina-Greensboro I believe). The result? However good or bad our endowment returns each year (and its moral and sustainable impacts) how much of our endowment income and investments are actually directly benefiting our own community? I have no idea, since such information is not available in the opaque universe of endowment investing, but I would venture to say the answer might be none.
We are currently living in a world where assumed paradigmatic truths (which evolved over the last 30 or so years) about capitalism and high finance are now in question. Universities trained and staffed the whiz kids on Wall Street and London that got us into this mess. Having trained them, universities assumed these whiz kids would do right by university endowments. In the wreckage of 2008, where did that get us?
What do universities have to show for it? Far more importantly, what are our local communities gaining when we outsource our own investment management? I believe new thinking is the way of the world in the coming century and universities seeking relevance must change their approach.
In some ways, the best way to for me to explain the magnitude of the social forum is to say that it took three weeks to sit down and write something. More than any conference or event I’ve been to, the Social Forum (www.ussf2010.org) was by far the most intense and engaging, inspiring yet overwhelming. I was expecting to be able to continue to check email while in Detroit. That only happened a couple of times at midnight and 6 AM, but not once during the day.
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We left for Detroit Monday morning, deciding to drive to save on money and greenhouse gas emissions. In the six days of the trip – Monday through Saturday – there were not many moments that I wasn’t engrossed in conversation or listening to an amazing presentation. 15,000 activists and organizers from around the country overwhelmed downtown Detroit to the point that, driving around the city, you always knew someone—and it wasn’t hard to find a good discussion.
REC planned two workshops in Detroit. In one, we did an overview of our work and of the possibilities for universities in changing their endowment investments. Out of that great group, we met some new allies including the Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns and the Food Project along with representatives from schools around the country.
The other workshop REC worked with the United States Student Association and North American Students of Cooperation (links), the largest student-run student group in the country and the leader in cooperative housing and cooperatives at colleges and universities, to talk about the democratization of colleges and universities and the higher education system as a whole.
While REC focuses on changing the way endowments are invested, we believe that is important to engage with other groups working on issues like financial aid, community engagement, and housing in order to build a stronger, more diverse, and more comprehensive movement for making universities more accountable to their numerous stakeholders. In the workshop we discussed free higher education, more community engagement and student control, and how to make these things happen—with groups coming to work together.
Other workshops were also inspirational. Grace Lee Boggs, who at 95 years old is truly a mother of many of the movements today, spoke about her experiences as a community organizer for more than seven decades in Detroit and where she thinks the movement should go.
Just having so many people doing important work together in one place was incredible. It gives so much hope, knowing that if there are 15,000 people willing to come all the way to Detroit for five days, there must be many times that number working in their communities every day for a more just and sustainable US.
Finally I especially want to thank our hosts, the Fialka-Feldman family, truly a family of organizers, particularly Micah, a disability justice pioneer (http://www.throughthesamedoor.com/), to the organizers of the US Social Forum, and to the entire City of Detroit for welcoming all of us.
by Mari Tanabe, Stanford ’13
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I am pleased to report a recent success concerning Stanford University’s responsible investment policies, thanks to an initiative led by student group Stanford STAND!
Over the last 5 months, Stanford STAND: A Student Coalition to End and Prevent Genocide and Mass Atrocities, has been working to bring a proxy voting guideline to the attention of the Stanford University Board of Trustees. The proxy voting guideline directs Stanford to vote in favor of shareholder resolutions advanced in companies in which the University invests that advocate for corporate policies conscious of conflict minerals in their supply chain. At their June meeting, the Board voted in favor of the adoption of this new investment policy regarding the “conflict minerals” – minerals like tantalum, tungsten, tin, and gold from the illegally controlled mines in the eastern part of the country -- that sustain armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It’s not divestment, but rather a way for Stanford to use its voice and influence within the companies in which the University invests. We’re particularly proud of the Trustees’ decision because it is the first of its kind to be taken by any major university and marks an important step in working towards responsible supply chain management that can help to curb the tragic violence in the DRC.
The conflict in the Congo has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century, with an estimated 5.4 million civilian casualties since 1998. Mineral resources (tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold) play a large part in fueling this devastating conflict. We encourage everyone to try and find out more about this complicated but incredibly destructive situation that is rarely publicized (try our website at stand.stanford.edu
). Various militia groups in the eastern Congo are currently fighting for control of mines that produce the lucrative minerals used in our consumer electronics like laptops and cell phones. When the militias win control of the mines, they often use the profit from the minerals to further fund the violence. Meanwhile, civilians are the victims of the violent intimidation, rape, destruction, and forced labor that represent key strategies of the illegal militias as they attempt to gain control of the mines.
As an organization, STAND chose to address this conflict by working toward the creation of a responsible supply chain process. Currently, because of the complex nature of the supply chain, it is not possible to determine the mine of origin for the minerals in our laptops and cell phones. This means consumers and companies have no way of knowing whether their electronics are conflict-free or not. STAND worked to encourage Stanford University to use its voice as an investor to show that there is demand for a responsible supply chain so that consumers and companies can have the choice to buy conflict-free products. We worked within the institutional structure of Stanford to develop and push this investment policy, gaining broad student and faculty support along the way to help us through.
Acting this fast to address a grave humanitarian crisis is unprecedented in the University’s history, but in the course of the months leading up to the Board of Trustees’ decision, we found that the main obstacles were not ideological or political differences, but rather bureaucratic inertia and a lack of awareness. But ultimately, as announced last week
, the Board approved the new guideline at its meeting in the beginning of June! The fact that so many people at Stanford supported our campaign and that the University passed the guideline shows both what a group of dedicated students can accomplish and also the depth of the current crisis in Congo.
Though our success at Stanford was independent of REC, we’re excited to work with REC to support more change and connect with other schools. We are hoping that other universities will follow Stanford’s lead by demonstrating demand for a responsible supply chain. In doing so, universities and institutions have the opportunity to join a national movement that is growing in strength. Currently, the Financial Reform Bill, contains an amendment that addresses conflict minerals. There is also more specific legislation that is pending in both the House and the Senate.
This movement is getting bigger – and fast! Please feel free to contact me if your student group is interested in what we’ve done and how we did it in more detail!Mari Tanabe (Stanford ’13) is the incoming Advocacy Director of Stanford STAND.Stanford STAND is a student organization that seeks to end and prevent genocides in the world around us. To that end, we have chosen to focus on the current genocide in Sudan as well as the mass atrocities currently occurring in The Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Burma. We also are working for the creation of a permanent anti-genocide constituency to ensure that genocide prevention becomes an institutionalized foreign policy issue. We work on the Stanford campus, in the local Bay Area, and in Washington D.C., using a three-pronged approach: advocacy, awareness, and fundraising.STAND was founded in 2005 in order to address the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. It has since expanded its mission to include other conflicts, particularly those resulting in a large number of civilian casualties, namely the conflicts underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma. Stanford STAND is a leading chapter of the national STAND organization, which is the student division of Genocide Intervention Network.Find out more at stand.stanford.edu
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Most academic and finance industry conferences – even those on responsible investment – are held in nice hotels. Sometimes it’s in a beautiful setting, but still in a hotel nonetheless. So when I got into a car with three strangers in Brooklyn and started driving north to Vermont, I knew I was in for something different. This conference was held in a tent at one of the United State’s great estates, Shelburne Farms, in the rolling hills on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.
It is likely that you have heard of the Slow Food movement, which started in Italy and has spread around the world, and works to “defend biodiversity, spread taste education, and connect producers of excellent foods.” Slow Money was started with intention not of slowing down money, but of enabling investment in producers of slow food, and of rebuilding biodiversity and fertility particularly in the United States. So this bucolic setting was a natural place to hold a conference on ‘Slow Money
’ – a working educational farm and a beautiful backdrop in one of the states with the strongest local food movements.
Farmers and small value-added businesses that support them need investment capital to make what they do possible, and in our risk-averse and returns-driven society, it is hard to make this happen. In many ways, the goal of Slow Money is to circumvent, then change, the way that investment capital flows. That is not easy, but is a worthy goal.
Just a few of the questions that have yet to be answered are:
• How can regular people – not venture capitalist investors – make investments in the close-to-home producers that they care about without putting themselves at risk?
• How can people make returns from those investments while charging a fair price on loans or taking a legitimate equity stake?
• What is the best way to diversify investments to get a stable return while still keeping a close connection to the invested-in farms and businesses ?
There are, with good reason, Securities and Exchange Commission regulations that govern investments by individuals, particularly those that are not ‘accredited investors’ or investors with over $1 million in net worth. The idea is to protect small investors from getting cheated or taking on risk that they don’t understand. These rules present problems for regular people trying to make a diversity of small ownership investments in businesses like dairies, bakeries, and millers.
The conference was an inspiring and exciting exchange of ideas, with great speakers like Bill McKibben, and farmers Joel Salatin and Eliot Coleman. After much discussion the major issue of how to make this vision possible for regular investors remains. I look forward to seeing how this movement develops in the future, and hope that it helps to change finance as we know it.
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This past weekend, I had the opportunity of attending a training on popular economics and popular education put on by United for a Fair Economy
, an independent advocacy and educational nonprofit and REC ally that works towards equity and fairness within the American economic system. We all had the great privilege of participating in the training - or, as they more adequately referred to it, the "Training of Trainers Institute" - at the famous Highlander Research and Education Center
in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Highlander, for those who don't know, has played a major role as a meeting space, educational institute, and workshop center during the struggles of the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the movements of the people of Appalachia throughout the 20th century. It was incredibly fortunate that we all had the ability to meet and learn from each other in such a place.
The intersection of popular economics and popular education was the focal point of the four-day long institute, and the intertwining concepts informed a unique participatory and educational process. Both the content and the process we used were central to what was being taught. The subject that we discussed was popular economics: the exploration and history of "Bankers, Brokers, Bubbles, and Bailouts" from the perspective of the middle- and working-class American people who are most affected by the mismanagement, greed, and growing inequalities of our current economic system. Process was also key to what we were learning about - the methods of popular education, a participatory system of sharing and building on each others' knowledge to digest and understand material in an engaging and empowering way.
Popular education is an umbrella term for a number of inclusive and participatory methods that we believe can help responsible investment groups on campus function effectively. For example, try asking your campus group "Where does the money in our endowment come from?" and see whether the group can find the answers instead of simply listing or handing out pre-packaged content. Or perhaps try letting the group build a meeting's agenda from the ground up, instead of the more hierarchical and traditional way of having one person draft an agenda and then just asking, "Any questions?" Doing so can help group cohesion, tease out contrasting opinions and perspectives, and help everyone involved on your campus take a more active ownership in your process.
REC stands by the great work that United for a Fair Economy does to highlight and address the injustices of our economic system. Beyond that, however, we also believe deeply in the process of popular education as a way of respecting and learning from each others' experience, and bringing out the educator within all of us.
I look forward to sharing the methods of popular economics and popular education to build a more effective responsible investment movement nationwide.