RESPONSIBLE ENDOWMENTS COALITION www.endowmentethics.org


Oberlin College Commits to What Could Be the Largest Impact Investing Platform of Any College

Last week the Oberlin College Board of Trustees approved a resolution for an Impact Investment Platform. The Board announced that this platform “will combine socially responsible investing with student-trustee-administration collaboration.”

This resolution comes after many conversations between the administration and the Oberlin Responsible Investing Organization (RIO). RIO is a student organization that works to align Oberlin College’s financial practices with its values. RIO envisions an investment portfolio that prioritizes social and environmental impacts within our community and around the world. RIO recently started the Social Choice Scholarship Fund, a responsibly invested scholarship. Last year, the group jointly proposed the College and Community Investment Plan, which the Board passed in December. RIO is part of a broader national movement towards responsible investment of college and university endowments.

The Impact Investment Platform will be a collaborative effort that will include students, faculty, and alumni. The Responsible Investing Organization looks forward to its further involvement in this effort, ensuring it is an inclusive and transparent process.

“There’s definitely more work to be done to ensure that voices beyond the college—voices in affected communities—are included, and really listened to, in this process,” said senior Isaac McCreery, an organizer with RIO. “But, we’re proud that Oberlin has acknowledged the importance of ethical investing and taken a first step towards that responsibility.”

The Impact Investment Platform has the opportunity to create lasting change in the lives of people in Oberlin, Ohio and beyond by investing in institutions dedicated to social and economic justice, sustainability, and education.

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The Move of the National UCC to Divest from Fossil Fuels--and Why our Universities Must Do the Same

This post is written by Rev. Natalie Shiras, Pastor of Church on the Hill, United Church of Christ in Lenox, MA

It was a powerful moment to witness the near unanimous decision of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (MAC-UCC) to urge divestment from fossil fuel companies on June 15, 2013 in Sturbridge, MA.  I was one pastor along with two delegates representing Church on the Hill, United Church of Christ, in Lenox, MA at the 214th Annual Meeting to vote with 386 other churches on this momentous decision—the first such decision by any religious body in the US.

The Massachusetts Conference along with ten other conferences then carried the resolution to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ held in Long Beach, CA where this denomination became the first national church body on July 2, 2013 to commit to divest in stages from fossil fuel companies over the next five years.

The church was catalyzed by a Rolling Stone article in August 2012 entitled, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” by Bill McKibben of 350.org. But I had been following the movement on my own since March 2012 because students from my alma mater, Harvard, began organizing then for the responsible investment of our school’s over $30 billion endowment. Those Harvard students received crucial support for their organizing work from the Responsible Endowments Coalition. Recently, because of the decision by the UCC to divest, I have started to realize my own power as an alumna of Harvard—the school with the largest university endowment in the country.

The group at Harvard is one of the 380 colleges and universities campaigning for divestment. Already 12 cities—including San Francisco and Seattle—and six colleges have voted to divest.  President Obama even urged divestment from fossil fuel companies during his climate speech on June 25. The Rev. Jim Antal, the Conference Minister of the MAC-UCC, took initiative to write the national resolution for the UCC to divest. By the time of the vote at Synod, the United Church Fund, the main investment institution of the denomination, had been convinced of the efficacy of the movement.

To understand the impact of this move, the United Church Fund (UCF) has an endowment of $750 million, and represents the combined endowments of nearly 5,200 UCC churches around the country.  An important distinction with this decision is that the UCC Pension Board, with over $3 billion in its endowment, has not fully endorsed the Fund’s decision. The Pension board has acceded to cooperate with the UCF “within the limits of the law”—but whether that means divestment, we are not certain. I am certain, however, that the UCF is on the right side of history, and that within the decade, our pension fund will join us on the right side of history, as well.

I am proud to be part of a denomination that acts on behalf of the world to counter climate change. We recognize that our generation and future generations are neighbors. If we continue to extract fossil fuels from the earth, we will have no more neighbors.  Though there was recognition by the body that a tiny percentage of fossil fuel stock would be impacted, there was a felt moral and spiritual power to revoke the social license of these companies to profit at the expense of the health of the earth. This moral duty was far more important than any financial argument made.

My friend and colleague, Susie Phoenix, a delegate from the South Acton Congregational Church, said that delegates should vote for the resolution no matter what the impact on the UCC’s portfolio.  “Sometimes you do take a hit when you decide to divest from unethical businesses”, she said.  I believe this is how we change community, one step at a time. Margaret Mead stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

There were 78% of delegates from 5200 congregations and 1.1 million members that accepted the resolution at the General Synod.  That is the power of a movement, started by a small group. It grows.

As an alumna of both Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School, I am hoping the efforts being made by students, faculty, administration, and alumni to divest from fossil fuel companies will succeed there, too. Harvard University is the university with the largest endowment in the country. If universities and faith based institutions alike were to divest, this would make a significant dent in the movement to transform our energy priorities.

Harvard could be a leader if it chose it be—it could move other schools to act similarly, and grow this movement from a small group of schools and institutions to a group of hundreds.

The work of the United Church of Christ inspired the Uniting Church in Australia to pass a similar divestment resolution in April. It is clear that the wider community is looking for leadership on this issue. That the church is taking this leadership is a prophetic message to the world that the work of a small group can make a difference. Jesus declared in his Sermon on the Mount, “that they may see your good works”.  We live out our faith in unity for the sake of our earth and its people.

Rev. Natalie Shiras, Pastor of Church on the Hill, United Church of Christ in Lenox, MA

August 15, 2013

 
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People Powered Policy: Communities of Color Lead on Climate Change and Solar Energy in Oakland, California

We are all facing the challenges of a changing climate. We lose homes, businesses and even lives to superstorms like Katrina and Sandy and to wildfires...

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REC & the Democracy Collaborative Webinar

Check out the recent webinar that REC and the Democracy Collaborative did on our report, “Raising Student Voices: Student Action for Community Investment,”...

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New Position: Organizing Intern for Fall 2013

Check out “Six Reasons Why You Should Apply To REC’s NYC Internships” to learn more about what working with us is like!

Are you working on a campaign for divestment (fossil fuels, prisons, some other issue)?  Community investment?  Engaging with shareholders? Are you hoping to join with 10,000 youth at PowerShift this fall?

The Responsible Endowments Coalition is looking for an Organizing Intern to join us this fall!  Intern duties will include:

  • Outreach to students and allies

  • Contribute to the development of national organizing strategies, especially around fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment

  • Assistance with fundraising, including crowd-sourcing and grant editing/writing

  • Online organizing including website and social media maintenance

  • Generating organizing resources like handouts and newsletters

  • Internal record keeping

  • Workshop development, logistics coordination, and outreach for PowerShift 2013


We are looking for a college student who is taking time off or recent college grad to intern with us full-time.   Preference will be given to applicants with experience on a divestment or responsible investment campaign, though it is not a requirement to apply for the position.

Given our commitment to a diverse student leadership, we strongly encourage people of color, women, working-class, LGBTQ, gender non-conforming, and differently-abled people to apply.

The internship will be based out of our office in Downtown Brooklyn, but will involve travel to PowerShift in October. This position will be stipended.

Applications will be accepted until August 2, or until the position is filled.  Please submit a cover letter and resume to organize@endowmentethics.org to be considered for the internship.  Any questions can also be directed to Lauren and Rose, at organize@endowmentethics.org.
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REC's New Report Explores Students' Role in University Community Investing

Five years after the worst financial crisis in the US since the Great Depression, communities continue to suffer. Wealth inequality is at some of the highest levels since the founding of the country[1] and growing more rapidly than any other industrialized nation[2]. Increasingly, the effects of this inequality are recognized as going beyond social injustice to significantly imperiling American democracy and the potential for economic recovery[3].

At the root of this crisis is a powerful force: the idea that capital can only be invested to maximize financial return for a company's shareholders, regardless of the impact on the community. When those investments prove too risky or when the market takes a turn, everyday people pay the price. Today, while communities across the United States continue to suffer, huge pools of investment capital are often to be found sitting right next door, in community institutions such as hospitals, foundations, and universities.

Universities are some of the largest mission driven organizations and institutional investors, and can play a significant role in affecting the development of a community. They can challenge the role of capital as a solely self serving instrument. With over $400 billion in collective endowments and another $400 billion in annual spending, universities have the potential to be a counterweight and shift capital towards a model of investment that builds community economies which provide financial, social and environmental rewards.

To date, only a limited number of universities invest locally or in their communities. They could do much more.

In June 2012, the Responsible Endowments Coalition and the Democracy Collaborative launched a research project to explore student involvement in university-led community investment. We wanted to see how stakeholders - particularly students, faculty and alumni - could influence their colleges and ensure that community members are brought into conversations pertaining to community development & finance. In our study, we found that when these university stakeholders, community members, organizations, and college administrations come together, it is more likely that a long-term investment will occur with the community's needs prioritized. We found that colleges have the ability to make these kinds of investments at scale.

We are excited to announce the release of our new report, a result of our months-long research project, Raising Student Voices: Student Action for University Community Investment, a joint publication with The Democracy Collaborative. The study explores ways that university-community partnerships can deepen to help ensure that institutional investment policies benefit the communities in which US colleges are based.



The report profiles three administration-led initiatives and three student-led initiatives, as well as five potential future partnerships, where institutional investments are directed into local communities in a way that empowers low-income residents, develops small businesses, and generates sustainable economic development. Communities need investment capital to scale up local businesses that colleges hope to work with. They also need investment in housing, food, and jobs. Many of these needs can be met by investing in community development financial institutions (CDFIs), REC's preferred community investment vehicle.

Moving forward, the report recommends that student campaigns work in close collaboration with alumni groups, community organizations, college administrators, and national higher education networks to move university investing to scale and ensure long-term sustainable investment in the community. This kind of deep collaboration is vital to creating true accountability to the communities receiving investments. It is also vital to creating the types of partnerships and investments that meet the needs of all members of a community--not just an elite few.

REC is pleased for the launch of this paper and we extend our thanks to the research team at The Democracy Collaborative for all their hard work. We would also like to acknowledge and express our sincere thanks to all the students, faculty, community members, and others for taking time out of their busy schedules to engage with us on the issue of university community investing.

 

 




[1] Weissmann, Jordan. “US Income Inequality: It’s Worse Today Than it Was in 1774”. The Atlantic, 19 September 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/09/us-income-inequality-its-worse-today-than-it-was-in-1774/262537/




[2] Gangl, Markus. “A longitudinal perspective on income inequality in the US and Europe”. Focus: Institute for Research on Poverty: Vol. 26, No. 1, Summer-Fall 2008.




[3] See Stiglitz, Joseph The price of Inequality (2012); and Noah, Timothy The Great Divergence (2013).


 
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Dispatch: Sallie Mae Agrees to Meet with Students, Vote on Shareholder Resolution for Transparency

Blog from Lauren Ressler

On Thursday May 30th, over two hundred students and community members caravanned to Newark, Delaware for the Sallie Mae annual shareholder meeting. They braved temperatures over 90 degrees to demand Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest private student loan agency, take action to change policies that trap students in a lifetime of debt.

The first buses started rolling in around 6:00 a.m. bringing students from Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, and even Florida. By 9:30 a.m. we were ready to move. We marched about half a mile to the Sallie Mae headquarters where we were met by over 50 police officers including a number of mounted officers and police dogs.

They had formed a human wall of blue shirts and wide brimmed hats. As we approached this intimidating barrier we began to sing softly:

“We who believe in justice cannot rest
We who believe in justice cannot rest until it’s won.”

The police began separating us into two groups, those with shares who were able to go into the meeting and those without who set out to keep pressure on throughout the meeting. The “inside team” was comprised of students, community organizers, and union members including Randi Wiengarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The inside team was escorted through the doors of the Sallie Mae building where two people the front desks scrutinized identification and proxy paperwork before sending people through a comprehensive bag search and metal detector. Cell phones were confiscated and discussions about whether we would be allowed inside the shareholder meeting or sent to an overflow room ensued. We successfully negotiated to get every member of our team into the shareholder meeting.

By the time we finished sitting down the room was packed. Most of the audience was over 50, white, and predominantly male. The opening remarks given by the President of Sallie Mae focused on reminding the people in the room that Sallie Mae was turning 40 this year and that the students who took out loans with Sallie Mae would be ensured a bright future if they rigorously planned how much debt they could afford with their parents, cut back their personal spending on frivolous items, and most importantly graduated at all costs.

Following the introduction, the Chair of the Board introduced the meeting agenda and opened the floor for someone to introduce a resolution put forward by the Responsible Endowments Coalition and American Rights at Work, that would require Sallie Mae to disclose all lobbying spending and membership in trade unions like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

After the resolution was introduced and seconded, shareholders were given space to ask questions concerning the agenda items. At this point the students from our team representing the Dream Defenders and United States Student Association stood and told their stories about what it was like to rack up thousands of dollars in debt in pursuit of an education. They called for Sallie Mae executives to meet with students in person to discuss the exorbitant interest rates being charged to students who could least afford them, the high rates of executive compensation, and the disturbing ties between the lender and racist, anti-student organizations like ALEC that are behind a push to privatize education in the US.

As the students called into question these predatory lending practice and questionable affiliations, the tone of the meeting changed. The moderator became more terse and flippant with his answers. In the end the inside team re-emerged with two tangible victories.

Sallie Mae executives agreed to set up an unprecedented meeting with students before the end of June. Additionally, the shareholder resolution calling for public disclosure received a huge 35.5% of the vote.

The crowd outside that persevered through over an hour and a half of scorching temperatures broke out in cheers as the inside team appeared and shared the good news. Without the hundreds of people outside refusing to leave until terms were met, the action would not have been a success and most likely wouldn’t have forced Sallie Mae into meeting with the stakeholders who matter most: students.
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Wendy's: Old-Fashioned Exploitation

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Yesterday REC teamed up with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), and went inside of Wendy's shareholder meeting!

Labor Notes writes:
After a rally outside, three worker representatives attended the meeting, using shareholder proxies from the Responsible Endowments Coalition.

CIW’s Gerardo Reyes-Chavez said they listened to presentations on profits and on how the company is redesigning its image, and then asked CEO Emil Brolick to sign on to Fair Food, which would raise the price Wendy’s pays for tomatoes by a penny a pound.

Want to find out more?  Check out the CIW's own report back.
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Apply Now! 2013 Summer Organizing Retreat

REC will be hosting two Summer Organizing Retreats, for students to come together and discuss the endowment, corporate power, and strategies for winning.

ABOUT REC SUMMER ORGANIZING RETREATS

How would you change the world with one million dollars? What about $10 million, $100 million, or $1 billion? Students across the country are standing up to corporate power and demanding control over their universities' money!

Universities, as major institutional investors, are failing our communities by supporting the financial status quo in higher ed: maximizing profit over all social or environmental considerations; choosing high-risk, high-reward dealings; investing in highly complex financial instruments with little transparency; banking with Wall Street, instead of equally sound local community institutions; and choosing to not engage or influence the corporations in which they’re investing.

Youth are getting together and piece-by-piece, campaign-by-campaign, building an endowment movement. We invite you to join us for a week-long training retreat to develop your endowment knowledge and share strategies from across the movement! Our summer program is perfect for someone new to the responsible investment movement in higher education, or for someone looking to develop a strong campaign plan for next year. There is no previous experience or knowledge required.
WHAT WILL BE COVERED

We will be discussing a number of subjects relevant to today’s student leaders, including -

- Confronting corporate power: corporations and universities
- How to understand your endowment and the responsible investment strategies that can develop alternative economies
- How to be an effective student leader: recruiting, engaging, and organizing your campus
- Analyzing success stories! How has responsible investment impacted workers’ rights; environmental justice issues such as climate change, hydraulic fracturing and mountaintop removal coal mining; corporate contributions and our political system; LGBTQ nondiscrimination; poverty in our local communities; and much more.
WHO SHOULD APPLY?

If you have a passion for social justice and are prepared for an intensive and intimate experience, you have everything you need. The goal of this training is to provide students with all of the knowledge they would need to create change at their university from the ground up. No previous knowledge or experience in finance, organizing, or activism is required.
TWO RETREATS

Northeast Summer Organizing Retreat

Where: Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center, Lakona Harbor, NJ. Within two hours of NYC and Philadelphia by car, and also fully accessible to both cities by public transit
When: Sunday evening — Saturday morning, July 28 — August 3, 2013

West Coast Summer Organizing Retreat

Where: Ben Lomond Quaker Center, Ben Lomond, CA. Less than 2 hours south of San Francisco by car, and also accessible by public transit.
When: Saturday evening — Friday morning, August 17 — 23, 2013
COST

The suggested tuition -- including food, housing, and staff time for the entire week -- varies depending on the number of attendees from your school:
• If you are the only attendee from your school: $300/person
• If you are one of 2 attendees from your school: $210/person
• If you are one of 3 attendees from your school: $160/person

However, we recognize that not everyone is in a position to pay this much or raise this much money. We hope to work with each attendee to pay on a sliding scale whatever they may be able to. Between REC's scholarship funding and your own fundraising abilities we are committed to making sure that all who wish to attend will be able to. Full and partial scholarships are available and we will also have travel funding available for those who are unable to support their travel. Let's work together to figure it out!
DEADLINE

Apply using our Google Form. Rolling until spaces are filled! We are currently still accepting applications. The sooner the better.
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Brown Students Rally to Demand Coal Divestment

As Semester Winds Down, Divestment Heats Up

By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Students from New York to Boston rallied May 3 with Brown Divest Coal activists on Brown University’s main green, demanding that President Christina Paxson and The Corporation of Brown University vote on whether to divest the college’s $2.5 billion endowment from the 15 largest coal companies in the United States during an upcoming May 23 meeting.

Rally organizers provided the 150 attendees with symbolic orange ballots to cast into the “smokestack” of the ballot box, a miniature coal-powered plant made from a cardboard box with a big X on its side.

Before casting their ballots, many students explained why halting climate change mattered to them.

“If we do not take action, one billion people will be displaced by climate change by the end of the century,” Brown University freshman Tammy Jiang said. “We cannot let that happen.”

To read the full article click here. This article is from ecoRInews.
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