MIDDLETOWN, CT - Wesleyan University has transferred $500,000 into banks in Middletown and Bridgeport, CT, becoming one of the first universities in the nation to adopt investment practices designed to support underserved communities.
The university has moved $250,000 into both Liberty Bank (Middletown, CT) and the Community’s Bank (Bridgeport, CT), which were chosen by the Wesleyan Committee for Investor Responsibility (CIR) as the two banks near Wesleyan most committed to serving disadvantaged communities. Wesleyan’s initial investment is one of the largest among the very small group of universities nationwide that have made similar investments. The CIR, in coordination with the Wesleyan Finance Office, hopes to expand upon these initial investments in the future.
Community investment is the fastest growing area of socially responsible investment in the United States. Over the past three years, community investment has grown from $25 billion to $41.7 billion in assets.
Liberty Bank was chosen based on its consistent and strong support for organizations in the surrounding community where many Wesleyan students volunteer. Since 1997 the Liberty Bank Foundation has provided nearly $6 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, such as the Green Street Arts Center, in its service area. In 2011 it won the Robert Haller Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service. This is awarded annually by the Connecticut Commission on Children to an individual or organization that distinguishes itself through its support for the education and well-being of children in the state.
An investment was made in the Community’s Bank based upon its social mission. It is the only bank in Connecticut that is minority owned and is certified by the U.S. Treasury Department as a Community Development Financial Institution. The Community Bank earned perfect scores on both metrics used by the National Community Investment Fund Social Performance Metrics Database, giving it by far the highest ratings in Connecticut.
The CIR hopes that Wesleyan’s initial investment in Liberty Bank and the Community’s Bank will be the start of an ongoing relationship that will continue into the coming years and possibly expand in the future.
From East Bay Citizen
Nov. 16, 2011 | Members of the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees charged with overseeing over 45,000 students in the East Bay voted Tuesday night to acquiesce to the growing power of the Occupy movement by beginning the process of pulling its assets from large banking institutions.
The resolution, first introduced by Trustee Abel Guillen, asks the community college chancellor to provide the board a list of recommendations for beginning the move to smaller community-based banks and credit unions no later than the end of January.
For the full article visit: East Bay Citizen
Students at Washington University moved their money out of Bank of America and into St. Louis Community Credit Union and then took this picture of their action.
Students at other campuses around the country took action on Thursday and Friday as well. Events included teach-ins, credit union visits to campus, moving money to credit unions and other actions designed to showcase the problems with the banks and the value of investing and banking locally.
The occupy movements across the nation have been captivating to watch unfold from Wall Street to Market Street here in San Francisco. For almost a month people have been outside, unwilling to return to their homes without an answer for change. Whether you support them or not you better take notice.
On Wednesday October 12th, I decided to check out the Occupy SF protests and campsite for myself, which occurred in front of the Federal Reserve Building. After reading about and watching footage - Hide quoted text - from the protests in New York City, I was curious to see how the ideals from Wall Street had materialized and organized themselves in San Francisco. My curiosity and hopefulness soon turned to disappointment. It appeared that the anarchist community living on the streets, as well as some summer-of-love leftovers, emigrated from their typical postings at Haight Street and the Panhandle to the steps of the Federal Reserve. The demonstrators toted signs of protest from San Francisco’s past, such as, “War is over, if you want it” and “flower power.” Anti-war signage, daisy chain head wreaths, and hippy meditation enveloped the streets, seeming to reinforce the cliché of San Franciscan radicalism and thus more destructive than constructive for the movement and its image.
Defeated, I crossed the street turning back around to USF. Soon after, however, I looked back at the demonstrators and saw a woman holding her young daughter with signs around their necks. I returned to the demonstrations to find out what had drawn such a normal, mainstream woman to the protest.
Jodie has three children, is in her mid-thirties, and went to college during the time of the South African apartheid – the last time she had participated in a protest. It was her first day there and she felt like she needed to represent people outside of what she calls “The Fringe,” at the Federal Reserve as well as wanting to set an example for her kids about expressing themselves and their beliefs. When I approached her asking her why she was on the street, she was near tears. She expressed grave fear for what the future holds for her children. Her sign read, “Our children’s future should be bright.” Speaking to her made me return to my initial jubilation of the Wall Street movement. Meeting and speaking to her reminded me of what this movement means to me, that this seedling revolution is about us, the future.
As a senior majoring in a non-descript field, I am not exactly on the pathway to a career, success, and sustainable living. However, I also know I am not alone. One of the solutions I believe is pertinent for the occupy movement to integrate is community investment into their vision for a “new economic system.” Community investment, an investment strategy where investors and lenders direct capital to communities that are underserved by traditional financial services firms, has the potential to answer the demands of the Wall Street protesters. If USF were to divest from Bank of America, one of the worst banks in America, the funds directed from the school’s endowment to community investment assets would provide underserved communities with access to credit, equity, capital and basic banking products that these communities would otherwise lack. By simply placing USF’s cash (our money) from the endowment, into a community bank with equal and fair rates, USF would benefit, as would our surrounding community in San Francisco.
The idealist in me has a lot of hope for the occupy movement. I am heading to New York City for the REC national conference and am excited to visit the demonstrations at Wall Street and be a witness to history unfolding. Despite my enthusiasm, the realist inside of me also recognizes that at some point the protests will end. After that point, what will come? Historians have always been the quickest to remind us that the rebuilding and restructuring of a new society after the revolution are the most difficult parts. USF has the opportunity to do something very easy: moving money. This can provide a more effective alternative to create a better America- constructing an economic system that does serve the 99%.
To the Trustees of Wesleyan University,
Michael Roth, President
Anne Martin, CIO
Wesleyan University finds itself today at a major crossroads in financial strategy. The continuing aftereffects of the first devastating economic crisis of the twenty-first century, and the relatively small size of our endowment that has resulted partially from it, convene to place the University in an ideal position to reevaluate how it goes about investing the money it receives from its alumni and friends.
In this letter, in addition to calling for the initiation of just such an appraisal by the Trustees of the University, and in addition to offering to the Trustees a few examples of prudent and ethical tactics for future endowment development, the Wesleyan Socially Responsible Investment Coalition also brings before the Trustees a few basic demands for investment transparency that will serve as a starting place for this process. These suggestions and demands are motivated by a love of Wesleyan and what it represents, a gratitude for all the opportunities it has afforded us, and a commitment to ensuring that it remains such an excellent institution for a long time to come.
Click here to read the rest of the letter.
In May of 2010, a group of student activists and I got together in my apartment to talk about the possibility of community investment at our school, Fordham University. This meeting would not have happened if a month or so earlier I hadn’t met with Martin Bourqui, the National Organizer for REC. He contacted my roommate Michael and I because we had previously talked to REC about endowment transparency and other responsible investing topics we were interested in. Things had kind of fizzled out by this point, but Martin thought otherwise. I had heard about REC’s new community investment campaign from Martin's predecessor Cheyenna. It sounded good, but at the time I was too interested in what I had already learned about and didn't see what turned out to be the right thing to do
By the Spring of 2010, I had been a part of a few unsuccessful campaigns. When I heard what Martin had to say, I knew it was a good idea. Community investment just made sense at Fordham for so many reasons. We were a private university located in the middle of a poor urban area that everybody knows, the Bronx. Fordham also has a strong history of connections to the Bronx, spanning back to the 1960s and especially the 70s during the “Bronx is Burning” period. At that time, Fordham students, alumni, and Bronx community members got together and began organizing for a better Bronx. That legacy has continued with Fordham’s strong community service program. I thought I could make the connections to continue it further.
The unofficial slogan of our campaign was “the Bronx deserves better,” and with the help of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, I think we gave them something better.
The university plans to invest $500,000 into Bronx financial institutions over the summer: $250,000 in Bethex Federal Credit Union and $250,000 in the Burnside Ave., Morris Height Banking Development District of the Amalgamated Bank. This money will be used by Bronx community members to take out a mortgage on their first house, buy a car, go to school, and start small businesses - all things that would help lead to economic empowerment for one of the country’s poorest areas.
Our group, Fordham for the Bronx, isn’t ready to stop either. Although I will have graduated, the group is looking into ways that we could get other large institutions in the Bronx to begin investing in Bethex and Amalgamated. The Responsible Endowments Coalition really helped us create strategy and implement the tactics necessary to our successful campaign. Personally, REC has allowed me to take on leadership and supported my decisions throughout the campaign, giving me the tools to be successful. I couldn’t have done it without the other members of Fordham for the Bronx, or without the Responsible Endowments Coalition.
Way to go!
Ed. note: Congratulations to Brett and Fordham for the Bronx for your amazing work!
by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Organizer
As the school year comes to a close, I've finally submitted a formal community investment proposal to Tufts administrators on behalf of Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility (STIR). The proposal urges Tufts to live up to its ideals of active citizenship by investing a portion of its operating account into a local bank, which will support small business and low-income residents, improve town-gown relations, and promote opportunities for interdisciplinary education. The proposal was presented alongside a letter of support from the Tufts Progressive Alumni Network (TPAN), a petition for community investment signed by 100+ students, signatures of support from many individual alumni, and REC's handbook on community investment for administrators, Maximizing Returns to Colleges & Communities (PDF). It contained two semesters' worth of research and organizing, and incorporated the needs and desires of students, faculty, administrators, and the local community. While the administration won't formally debate the proposal until the next meeting of the Board of Trustees, there was productive dialogue about the proposal's contents and the potential concerns of the administration. No matter the outcome, though, I'm proud of the proposal, grateful for the support of those who helped shape it, and confident that the Tufts campus is collectively more active and informed about investment responsibility.
At the same time, I don't feel a sense of completion, and I don't think I will feel one after getting a definitive answer from the administration, either. Working as a community investment organizer has opened my eyes to how much more of an impact a university can have on the local community by simply moving its money, and our universities can always improve. Being a part of REC has also taught me about the myriad other ways that universities can improve socioeconomic conditions. This work is also always unfinished. Finally, representing investment responsibility at Tufts has allowed me to realize and interact with the variety of activist individuals and student groups on this campus fighting for progressive causes, and impressed upon me our mutually supportive goals. Therefore, even though I've handed in a final proposal to school administrators regarding my community investment initiative, the opportunities and challenges I see regarding community investment, socially responsible investment, and activism in general in higher education seem greater than ever. My community investment campaign served to open my eyes to new ideas and new ventures on my campus and on others. I am reminded of a quote from the 1962 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society:
"these social uses of the universities' resources also demonstrate the unchangeable reliance by men of power on the men and storehouses of knowledge: this makes the university functionally tied to society in new ways, revealing new potentialities, new levers for change."
Ultimately, this isn’t troubling. In fact, it’s beneficial. When we try to create change – like working to improve higher education investments – we begin to think more critically about the work we are doing and how it can impact present campaigns or lead to future ones. Therefore, our past experiences allow us to be more adept at identifying and acting on these “new potentialities” for change. In a way, we become the “new levers for change” ourselves. A year of student organizing has taught me skills and introduced me to people that I will always wish to remember. It’s taught me how I work best with people, what I am most effective at, and what my weaknesses are. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them, and should have approached some things differently. At the end of the day, though, I am better prepared for the next chapter in the story – and I hope that all my fellow organizers feel the same way!
The campaign here at Fordham to move our money into the Bronx community has reached a new high. We are inches away from success and ready for what comes next. After a lot of hard work put in by our group “Fordham for the Bronx,” including countless hours of research, proposal drafting, tabling, petitioning, and fliering, we are making serious headway.
Back in early March, we presented our campaign to the United Student Government with the hope of gaining official support from the representative of the student body. With a near unanimous vote in favor of the proposal, which asks for 0.5% to 1% of the Operating Account (between $170,000 and $350,000) to be invested in either Bethex Federal Credit Union or the Amalgamated Bank, we decided it was time to take things to the next level. The next week we got our letter of support from USG, another from some faculty members, as well as our proposal and officially submitted them to both the university’s Chief Financial Officer and the Treasurer. That day we got the chance to speak briefly with the Treasurer to give him a little more detail about what we want and why we want it, who seemed interested by the idea.
Giving the administration time to digest the proposal, we met again with the Treasurer on April 6th to give our “pitch.” However, it seemed like the pitch was unnecessary. The Treasurer was overwhelmingly positive in his response to the proposal, suggesting that the university would considering making two investments of $250,000, totally half a million dollars, into the financial institutions we suggested. This is still unofficial, and in my last conversation with the Treasurer, he said he was still working out all the details. While the money is not moved yet, and we don’t have time to slow down and celebrate, it was nice to just take a second and look back at how far we had come in just barely a years time. We at Fordham are very confident that this money will be set to be moved before the summer comes, and are prepared to follow up during the summer and into next semester to make sure it does. If successful, Fordham for the Bronx hopes to pursue other community investment projects in the Bronx. We have begun to considering doing a Bronx-wide community investment initiative, aimed at getting the biggest powerhouses, including Montefiore Hospital and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, to start moving money away from corporate banks and into the hands of Bronx residents.
Here at Fordham University, we have almost completed our proposal for community investment which will be submitted to the university administration. There are many different ways to write a proposal like this. Some people write very detailed and long proposals, citing statistics, accounting for risks, and provided numerous examples. We decided to take the shorter route and modeled our proposal off of Seattle University our fellow Jesuit school (the proposal can be found in REC’s Move Our Money: A Community Investment Toolkit for Students). I found the style of Seattle’s proposal preferable to other longer ones because of its length, content, and message.
To start with our proposal is almost exactly two pages single-spaced. I think when dealing with these kinds of things length is extremely important. If you are using this proposal to spark interest from your administration, keep it short. Would you want to read 10 pages of financial jargon if you didn’t have to? Keeping it at a manageable length makes it more accessible not only to the administration, but to other stakeholders (students, faculty, community members). While the ultimate goal is the administration, you want other people to support your proposal in order to give you leverage.
We tried to keep the content simplified and concise in our proposal. We had only three sections: the main argument, recommended CDFIs, and a short conclusion. The main argument had very little to do with the financial aspects of community investment. Instead, we very plainly explained what community investment was, what other schools were doing it, and what we wanted Fordham to do. Even if we do have the financial literacy to write about returns on investment, the university will have to do that research on its own before it makes the change. It does help to make sure your language shows you know what you’re talking about, but there is no need to go on and on about asset classes or detailing the difference between difference between different types of CDFIs.
Our message was made clear by our use of Fordham’s own mission statement in the opening paragraph. We tried to say that we need to do this because it is Fordham duty as a stakeholder in our community. I think messages like these, for initial proposals at least, are more powerful than other approaches (ie the economic one). Using their own words and presenting it as something that will bring respect and prestige to the university are very powerful. When you get to meet with the CFO or Board of Trustees you can make all your other arguments, but to get a leg in, I believe giving them the incentive of a better reputation is your best bet.
We’ll all be handing in our proposals in the coming weeks, most likely. Not only for community investment, but for SRI committees, transparency or whatever other responsible endowment campaign you have going one. Remember that length, content, and message are very important. If you’d like to take a look at Fordham’s proposal, or want some feedback on yours, feel free to email me at email@example.com. And don’t forget to check our REC’s resources page for other sample proposals.
Now that we are working on writing a community investment proposal at Tufts, we are also beginning to narrow down our list of banks. While initially searching for community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the most prevalent topic was the idea of “community”. There are so many CDFIs in the Tufts community of Medford and Somerville, not to mention Cambridge or even greater Boston. Therefore, should proximity to the school be one of the most important factors? Or would a bank with a wider community reach be most effective? These were questions we had to consider.
Next, we needed to research the banks themselves. What were their rates? Are these rates comparable to other banks (such as the bank that your school currently has its money in)? Ratings are also important, and we used independent assessment sites such as bankrate.com or bauerfinancial.com to investigate. On the other hand, try to get a real sense for your banks reputation with local residents. For example, a bank that we were looking at was voted “highly” by small business owners in a local poll. Those factors can be just as significant when choosing a bank. It’s also valuable to get a feel for the bank customer service. Is the bank responsive to your calls? When you arrive at the bank, is your presence acknowledged? One of the main reasons we are encouraging community development banks is their personal touch and commitment to the community, so make sure that you can really see this in a tangible way. Banking with a bank like this might also encourage students to move their money and make the school feel more secure with its decision.
Finally, assessing a CDFI’s community commitment is crucial. This isn’t very hard to do – community banks have a professed desire to work within the community, and they will provide evidence of their initiatives and programs. Once you begin comparing banks, those with exceptionally high commitments will stand out. If you are still unsure, or want to know more about their real impact, you could also independently research some of their community programs. A CDFI with a high and demonstrated community commitment is priority. It will signal to your school administrators the real value of their placing the endowment in the bank and will strengthen town-gown relations so much more than simply moving money into a local bank would. Furthermore, a bank’s extensive community commitments might signal their receptiveness at working with your school later on to create co-curricular opportunities between your bank, school, and the community.
There is a lot that must go into bank research, and it can get confusing. However, try to think about the two “R”s – Reach and Reputation. The bank’s reach refers to its commitment within the community and what that community is; while reputation refers to its literal financial reputation but also its relationships with the community. Your list will inevitably begin to narrow.
Good luck “shopping”,