University endowments are powerful: all together, U.S. endowments control $400 billion and are trendsetters in the investor community. The Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC) works with students, alumni, and other university stakeholders to make endowments a force for positive social, environmental, and economic change.
What We Do
REC works to ensure that the investment and use of endowments promotes sustainability, equity, human rights, democracy, and prosperity for all. REC does this by supporting student, alumni, and faculty endowment campaigns across the U.S. and Canada, providing intensive leadership development and political education to endowment beneficiaries, and leading hard-hitting endowment research.
The Responsible Endowments Coalition was founded in 2004 by student activists from Barnard College, Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College and Williams College who were interested in using their schools’ endowments to positively change corporations and shift the way their schools invested. These students recognized a need for a source of information and support for student activists looking to organize. They hoped to encourage new campaigns that would ultimately change the way universities consider the social and environmental impacts of their investments. Within a few months, the founders assembled a coalition of 40 schools with combined endowments of more than 102 billion dollars.
Since our founding in 2004, REC has become the leading expert on organizing for responsible investing of endowments in higher education. Our work has made proxy voting on environmental and social issues common practice, we have worked with Bard College to limit McDonald’s use of pesticides in its the potato supply chain, we have moved over $5 million into low-income communities and local economic projects through university community investment, and we have supported students at 300 campuses currently running divestment campaigns to move six schools to divest. REC has secured these victories by supporting students to run campaigns on campuses around the country; and by partnering with a wide variety of organizations in the economic justice, climate change, and community development fields. Since 2004, we have additionally:
- Catalyzed the creation and improvement of 45 Committees on Investor Responsibility; many have filed shareholder resolutions on topics ranging from hydraulic fracturing to corporate political spending disclosures.
- Won substantial victories on disclosure of financing of mountaintop removal mining at JPMorgan Chase, reduction of pesticide use in McDonald’s supply chain, and limits to political spending.
- Trained over 3,000 students on organizing and endowments.
- Been covered in publications including The New York Times, Forbes, Huffington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Good Magazine, Dow Jones, The Nation, Rolling Stone, and Waging Nonviolence.
How does REC support students?
Our staff is committed to working with students by:
- Visiting schools to present about responsible investment, help engage with decision-makers, and brainstorm strategy with individual campaigns
- Providing information, technical assistance, and connections to ally organizations and student activist networks
- Facilitating or assisting in conversations between students and administrators
- Coordinating joint actions between campuses and other student activists
- Connecting students with responsible investment professionals
- Proposing edits to proposals, letters, and other documents
- Providing access to template documents based on successes at other schools
- Hosting annual conferences and organizing retreats with presentations and workshops led by students and professionals in the movement around the country
- Working with students after graduation to keep them engaged with endowment activism
REC was founded by five visionary students: Morgan Simon, Lillie Ris, Ryan Burg, Gretchen Collazo, and Mark Orlowski. These students held the common belief that they could leverage their college endowments to create positive social change.
The founding five came from a variety of different backgrounds and have since all become leaders in their fields. Morgan, our Founding Executive Director, who led successful shareholder resolutions at Swarthmore College, currently leads transformfinance.org and is an active impact investor. Lillie is a student in international relations at Tufts. Ryan Burg is a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia. Gretchen is a lawyer with expertise in finance and a continued interest in student engagement in responsible finance. Mark went on to found and continues to run the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a Cambridge-based organization engaged in research and education to advance sustainability in higher education.
From when they met and decided to start REC, they have continued to work towards their vision of social and economic justice.