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.
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.
At 10:15 AM on Tuesday, May 18th, I entered One Chase Plaza, JP Morgan Chase’s world headquarters with representatives from Loyola University Chicago, Swarthmore College, Rainforest Action Network, and Waterkeeper Alliance, for the annual shareholder meeting.
Outside, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir marched in green robes, calling on the bank to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining. Inside, people waited to hear from Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s CEO, and one of the most “respected” bankers in the US, and to say their piece about what JPMorgan is and should be doing.
For the last few years, JPMorgan Chase has been one of the largest financers of mountaintop removal coal mining in America. Mountaintop removal mining is a horrible practice that levels mountains, pollutes water supplies, and tears apart the fabric and resources of communities in central Appalachia in West Virginia and Kentucky. Even the coal mining companies have said that it can’t be done without violating the regulations and permitting of the EPA and other government agencies.
So how did we get here, to the center of corporate America?
Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit university, set up a shareholder advocacy committee three years ago to engage with the companies that their endowment has stock in around issues of sustainability and social responsibility.
Last fall, Loyola filed a resolution with support from the Responsible Endowments Coalition, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and other allies asking for JPMorgan to report on their financing of mountaintop removal and to implement a policy stopping it. Though omitted by the SEC Loyola continued the dialogue, engaging JPMorgan’s senior management and encouraging them to change. In our dialogue, the company agreed to publish a statement, but then backed away. It seemed like they were thinking, “Why should the most profitable bank in the country listen to these people?”
But on the Monday before the meeting, JPMorgan published its first statement on mountaintop removal, both a big victory for Loyola, REC, and our allies, and a step forward for JPMorgan. In the policy, the company said that they no longer financed the practice, but didn’t commit to a verifiable practice.
JPMorgan Chase needs a transparent and verifiable way to completely stop financing companies that are engaged in mountaintop removal coal mining.
At the shareholder meeting,, we confronted Jamie Dimon, demanding a stronger policy in front of fellow shareholders of JPMorgan, and received cheers from the audience for our comments and questions. Even at a meeting of many loyal shareholders, attendees knew which way the wind was blowing.
Hi everyone - my name's Martin Bourqui (that's BOHR-key - it's French-Swiss) and I am both honored and excited to be joining REC as their new national organizer!
A little about me: I was a political science and English major at Tufts University, where I participated in a campaign pushing to bring transparency and responsible investment to the Tufts endowment. We focused on trying to strengthen and support our Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, a committee that wouldn't have been possible without the tireless work of an earlier generation of Tufts students and support from REC. It was an experience that taught me many valuable lessons, allowed me to connect with a number of amazing activists at Tufts, and put the world of REC's work on my radar. Since my time at Tufts I've been in close touch with REC as a supporter and as a member of the Steering Committee before being hired to follow this passion full-time.
I am very optimistic about REC and look forward to meeting and working with a new generation of student activists, and allies across the country. In the past year I've come to know more and more students nationwide working on REC-supported campaigns and have become aware of an entire new world of perspectives, issues, strategies that they bring to the table. To all of you working on your campaigns - for democratization, transparency, community investment, social justice, environmental responsibility, or any other issue you advocate - I can only say that I will use all of the resources at my disposal to support you.
Talk to you all soon,
AU Solidarity hopes to continue pushing their community investment campaign forward next year and are excited to have brought together new allies to the cause.
Student members of the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing are holding a forum to inform the community about their work and invite people to get involved.
A weak proposal is currently working its way through the Fair Business Practices committee suggesting that DePaul should consider adopting an SRI policy.
Georgetown Divest! is pressuring the school to divest from companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Learn more here.
Green Mountain College
Students began pushing for a committee in spring 2009 and won! The new committee is currently working to invest about 18% of the endowment in an SRI fund. More details to follow.
Students continue to push university officials to engage in a conversation about responsible investment.
Students recently passed a referendum defining what socially responsible investing means on the Macalester campus. Administrators are open to using this definition to guide investment decisions and students are considering formatting an endowment advisory committee that would be responsible for active outreach to the community and working with the investment office to locate socially responsible investing opportunities.
The Middlebury Committee and students in the campus environmental movement eagerly await the establishment of a Green Fund to invest in sustainability projects. The school has committed to the fund the timeline has been altered somewhat. Students hope to remain involved in shaping the fund and are actively petitioning their administrators to make that happen.
The school continues to deepen its commitment to community investment. Learn more at http://www.endowmentethics.org/blog/archives/249. The school is also taking action against Massey Energy.
SUNY Stony Brook
Students recently held a strategy presentation with REC staff to help determine next steps in their efforts to bring accountability to the endowment.
University of Michigan
The student senate recently passed resolution to establish a responsible investment policy and committee!
University of Texas-Austin
The Graduate Student Assembly has passed a resolution calling for the socially responsible investment of their endowment, the largest public school endowment in the country. More on the folks behind it at http://www.utbds.org/.
University of California
Students in the UC Responsible Investment Committee continue to await the next Regents meeting. It has been delayed for several months. In the meantime they are planning a system-wide strategy meeting before summer to develop a plan for the coming year.
The Campus Investment Responsibility Committee recently welcomed new members, finished voting their proxies, invited REC to come speak and looks forward to educating the campus community about their work in the fall.
Washington University-St. Louis
Washington University Students for Endowment Transparency ran a successful campaign this year to convince the school to adopt an SRI policy. This culminated with a student government resolution and a promise from the school to review policies at other schools, with the help of a student intern this summer.
It's the end of the semester and many campaigns in our movement are wrapping up with student government resolutions supporting demands for responsible and accountable investment policies at our schools. These resolutions are often the results of hours of petitioning, tabling, and teach-ins designed to educate the campus community and gain support for ethical endowment practices. Two of those resolutions come from committed REC affiliates at Washington University-St. Louis, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Macalester College.
Washington University-St. Louis students organized Washington University Students for Endowment Transparency (WUSET) last year after learning that many members of the Board of Trustees are connected (by Boards or employment) to dirty energy companies in order to give students and the campus community, not industry interests, a say in how the school's money is invested. After months of rallying, petitioning, meeting with officials, and otherwise raising a ruckus the WUSET has successfully convinced the student government to support their efforts to bring accountability to Wash U investments, predominately by establishing a Committee on Investor Responsibility like those in place at the top universities in the nation. The school plans to begin reviewing other responsible investment policies and develop recommendations this summer. A website about this effort is expected this month.
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor graduate and undergraduate students from Net Impact and environmental groups successfully passed a resolution supporting responsible investment practices of the endowment. That resolution focuses on developing proxy voting guidelines on environmental and social issues to add to the existing guidelines in use for governance and financial issues. If the UM administration agrees it will be largest public university endowment voting environmental and social proxies!
Macalester College students recently passed a referendum defining socially responsible investing for their campus. They have since met with administrators who are eager to integrate students into the investment process and are open to using the guidelines students approved! You can read the referendum here.
If your group is currently pushing a resolution, or has successfully passed one, let us know! We'd love to share the news and are happy to provide you with copies of previously submitted and passed resolutions from other schools as well. For access to those resources email organize (at) endowmentethics (dot) org.
Like you, I’m a Senior busy balancing my activism with work, school, and planning for the rest of my life. Graduation is a time to celebrate, but it’s also a time to reflect: What will our legacy be at our schools? Who has been there to help us succeed? What can we do to thank them?
As a student at American University, my activism has been an important part of my college experience and I want to thank the people who have supported me in that work. That's why I've decided to participate in the 2010 REC Senior Class Gift.
Unlike my university, which is asking graduating seniors to donate for some benches outside of a new campus building, I know the $10 or $25 that I give to REC will be used to directly benefit student activists like me. In keeping with their democratic processes, they’re even asking us to vote on how the money is spent! This is much more in line with the kind of legacy that I want to leave on campus, and all for about the same cost as a pizza.
REC has done incredible things for me during my years at American. Not only did they teach me about running campus campaigns and the strategy, messaging, movement building and media work that goes into it, but they also taught me, an anthropologist, everything I needed to know about finance and investments to make my campaigns successful. I have high hopes for American Universities current Community Investment campaign, and REC has been there to support me every step of the way. The 2010 Senior Class Gift is my way of expressing my gratitude and my desire to give back to the organization.
So, fellow graduating seniors, I’m asking you to join me. If you’ve ever attended one of REC’s conferences or trainings, asked REC a staff member to edit your proposals or give you advice for your campaign, or used their website, handbooks and case studies, then you know what valuable skills and resources they’re providing to student activists. Help me to help REC continue doing the awesome work they do. Click here to donate and vote today!
American University Class of 2010
Beginning next fall, CCD will invite 2-3 SU student interns to work with their loan officers in the distribution of these funds to qualified applicants as well as providing financial guidance to the recipients’ microenterprise ventures.
This idea is actively supported by the Community Development and Entrepreneurship Clinic, a partnership between the Seattle University business and law schools. For over 5 years the Clinic has worked with Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help (CASH) http://washingtoncash.org/ and Community Capital Development (CCD).
Steve Brilling, the Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Center who is building the program with CCD, would like to see hands-on student/investment partnerships eventually expand to both WA CASH and CCD in other ways. Made possible by donations from McKinstry and BECU, he is working with Clinic faculty to have each student team work with their Clinic clients to explore the idea of getting additional funds to enhance their business growth. The donated seed fund would provide loan loss protection to any subsequently delinquent loans issued through the Clinic.
Though both programs are still in their finalizing stages, Seattle University faculty and administration are proud to be building a model for other community/university partnerships. For questions on how to make a program like this happen on your campus, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most Americans have already had enough, and this Thursday we need you to join us at a rally on Wall Street to tell Congress enough is enough!
REC is joining with allies from across the social justice movement because financial reform is an essential step towards creating a more just and sustainable economic system. Our schools both participated in and were hurt by the recent financial collapse, and we need strong regulation to protect students, workers, and communities from corporate greed.
Come and join us! The rally begins at 4pm at City Hall Park (Link to map: http://bit.ly/dp0wPs) and culminates in a March on Wall Street at 5pm.
Wall street greed has directly affected the quality of our education as schools have cut scholarships, programs, workers, and faculty. Join with other progressives to let Congress know financial reform is absolutely essential to getting our economy on track—and that we won’t rest until they do it!
Hope to see you there! Email us at email@example.com if you want to join the REC affinity group.
Around the world, people are debating how to regulate emissions to stop climate change. On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans are engaged in an on going battle. I believe, strongly, that no widely accepted proposal that has been offered to date goes nearly far enough to create the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Much of the ongoing debate, on both sides, talks instead about balancing the economic costs of regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Both sides in the political debate talk about ensuring that we don’t hurt our economy while implementing policies to prevent climate change. Companies, on the other hand, are spending millions of dollars lobbying to prevent a real, comprehensive climate-change and energy bill, often claiming that climate change doesn’t exist or is man-made.
In our work with shareholder advocates like CERES, the Responsible Endowments Coalition often encounters companies saying that they are trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but that any major change should be left up to the government, while at the same time lobbying against regulation. Many companies also say that they are prepared for the risks that are posed by climate change.
The first statement may be true. The latter is patently false. Almost no company is prepared for the risks of climate change. Similar to the country itself, they may be prepared for climate change regulation, but not the dramatic outcomes of climate change itself.
The risk of climate change, like that of nuclear weapons, is existential in nature. We may spend decades talking about addressing climate change without actually taking action. There is a chance that we will be fine, but there is a good chance that we will not.
A False Choice
One thing is crystal clear, as with company risks, the choice between our economy and preventing climate change is a false one. While some can say that regulation may hurt the economy, the truth is that no regulation at all will kill it, and, there is a slim chance, also kill every one of us.
Almost everyone that cares about these issues hopes that the science proves wrong. But most evidence points in the opposite direction. While the effects are currently unknown, climate change is a risk we cannot ignore. Like we do in many things from government spending to waste, we risk mortgaging our future generations.
The only real choice is to move to a clean energy economy, based primarily on incredible reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Whether we regulate or not, we face major changes to our economy. We must not make a bet on ten years of positive economic growth in exchange for the future of the planet. We also must not count on our ability to overcome the effects of climate change and leave many with less resource than us, in the Global South and elsewhere, to suffer.
At risk of being cliché, following the words of one of the founders of Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson, who called for a “nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment.” Remember the original spirit of Earth Day. Don’t just go outside. Rise up and take a stand against the corporations fighting to continue polluting and fight for meaningful legislative action now.
Join the Responsible Endowments Coalition, the Energy Action Coalition, and all of its member groups as we work to make changes that will protect our people and our planet for years to come.