It's been just over three months since Martin Palmer handed over the CEO role to Dr Lorna Gold and became our Founding President. For our end-of-year round up newsletter, we asked him to give his perspective on developments among faith groups globally and his assessment of how the faith-consistent investing movement has evolved.
A time of transition – and exciting new opportunities
by FaithInvest Founding President Martin Palmer
This has been quite a year with many new opportunities emerging and a wider sense of what this – the movement of faith-consistent investing – is all about.
For me, of course, a transition year, moving from the full time CEO role to being Founding President. I am also lucky, and I believe this is helpful to keep Faithinvest in the wider loop of faith-based environmental and sustainable action, in that I am Chair or Senior Advisor to a number of other bodies, from WWF's Beliefs and Values Programme to advising the Green Climate Fund on faith development partnership potential.
Developments in Asia
The biggest new developments in Asia for FaithInvest came as China lifted its total Covid lockdown in January and suddenly the China Daoist Association and the China Buddhist Association, plus Buddhist networks across Asia, came back to life.
Following visits to Hong Kong – first in March courtesy of a fascinating Asian Philanthropies and Faiths conference hosted by JP Morgan Asia, and an invitation to deliver a lecture at the University of Hong Kong – and then in September for meetings with the University of Hong Kong and the China Daoist Association, we have been able to play a crucial role in assisting the development of Daoist and Buddhist plans for faith-consistent investing.
Above left: Martin Palmer and Dr Lee Yiu-fai, Abbot of Hong Kong's famous Daoist temple, Wong Tai Sin. Right: Martin and Ziwei Fan, Senior Research Assistant at Hong Kong University, examine statues of deities in the temple's Star Chamber.
A Daoist Investor Hub will be established in Hong Kong in 2024 by the newly formed World Federation of Taoism, and FaithInvest will provide advice and support in the development of resources and trainings on investing in line with Daoist values. By the end of next year, Hong Kong University will have created a new Culture, Commerce and Sustainability department headed by Professor David Palmer (no relation!) which will also support the new Daoist ESG/Planetary Boundaries Investors Hub.
A new Buddhist business network: Hong Kong University will also work with us on the emerging Buddhist business network which plans to hold its first event in March 2024. Given that Buddhist monks and nuns cannot handle money, this is led by women business leaders who are active Buddhists. Our work with the English Sangha Trust, undertaken by colleagues Mathew Jensen and Hasnane Arain to develop new investment policies and guidelines incorporating Buddhist values, has been key to opening up the vast arena of Buddhist investment across Asia and also into the United States.
The Green Climate Fund: After the September events I was able to visit Mafalda Duarte, new CEO of the Green Climate Fund (formerly head of Climate Investment Funds) in South Korea. This has led to the GCF offering to explore with us how it could be a first loss investor to help faiths invest in the developing world.
Greater pluralism: I am also excited by the developing push back in Asian cultures as well as increasingly from Sub-Saharan African and Latin American cultures, against the hegemony of the assumption of Western culture, capitalism and notions of nation state. This is going to change the face of international discussions and development and has many fascinating alternatives to the Western model which have been suppressed or ignored – like the faiths – for the last hundred years or more. It also has considerable risks. This will shape us in ways it is only just beginning to be seen as we move from an assumption of a monoculture to a pluralist world. The faiths have been at the forefront of pushing for greater pluralism.
Developments in the Islamic world
Al Mizan: The slow emergence of one of the most important faith environment documents, the Islamic Al Mizan (The Balance) is both a source of great excitement and some frustration. Excitement because this – rather like Laudato Si' for Catholics – will be a defining document on Islamic teachings about our place within creation.
Frustration, because it was due to be launched this month but has been delayed. There is a great deal of activity circling around this document on finance, land use and so on, amongst Islamic organisations and we would love to help further Al Mizan's potential to be a guide to Islamic FCI finance. Hopefully it will be launched in March next year. This is a space to watch.
Muslim World League: A very unexpected, but welcome, new player on the scene from the Islamic world is the Muslim World League, one of the oldest international Muslim networks. It produced the first Islamic statement on the environment for the first faith and environment meeting at Assisi in 1986, hosted by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and WWF. It has created a new organisation, Faith for our Planet (FFOP), to enable faiths – especially the Abrahamic faiths – to work together on environmental issues and we have specifically written content and given advice on FCI.
Other moves on faith-consistent investing
I am delighted, too, that the Orthodox Churches – which reach out to some 300 million followers – are planning an audit of their land, finances and environmental actions, and have approached us for advice.
The very first religious leader to make the environment his key issue was the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeus (pictured right) in 1993. He is known as the Green Patriarch. He has asked the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth to lead on this potentially highly significant work.
Other groups are also slowly making their way towards faith-consistent investing (FCI). In particular, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints continues on its path of exploring its own teachings and financial practices through the formation of its Fastforward programme which it is making increasingly multi-faith. And in Japan, we have been exploring the potential for the 50-plus faith-based universities (Catholic, Protestant, Shinto, Buddhist Confucian) to develop FCI for their considerable holdings.
The collapse of old barriers
Finally I have watched with delight old barriers and fake divisions collapse: not between the faiths but in the secular, and especially UN, worlds. I find that now almost no-one thinks in terms of just climate, or just sustainable agriculture or just biodiversity. Today, these are seen as fundamentally linked and I am delighted that the faiths are at the forefront of the global response to the climate crisis and to all these interlinked issues.
This gives FaithInvest a broader canvas to work on, which is demanding, given our limited resources, but essential if we are to play a serious role in the growing world of the faiths as the largest and most powerful sector of civil society taking action on the breadth of environmental, social and financial issues that confront this fragile, beautiful created world.
With all good wishes to you all for a peaceful and blessed festive season!