FaithInvest's Interim Chief Executive Martin Palmer reflects on 2020

May I start by wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a healthy New Year, with prayers and hopes that 2021 will be an easier time for us all.


For FaithInvest, 2020 has been challenging but also has created many opportunities and enabled developments we could not have expected a year ago. As many of you know, FaithInvest started in September last year, having emerged from the decades of work that the Alliance of religions and Conservation (ARC) had done on faiths and environment.


In setting up FaithInvest, some of us such as myself, Pippa, Mary and Susie moved over from the old ARC and brought with us our friends, connects and years of experience working with the faiths. For the last three years Mike Even, former Director of the Man Group, had been working with us at ARC helping to design FaithInvest and he has become one of the founding forces for FaithInvest as our Director of Strategy and Investment Research – always able to bring the sharp light of the investors’ world to bear on the disucssions and plans.


He was joined in October by Nana Francois with many years of experience in the City and in investment in South Africa who, together with Mike and now with a new collegue Matt Jensen, are driving FaithInvest's Membership programme. See their separate update for their plans for 2021.


Corovanvirus crisis

As the pandemic hit, FaithInvest found itself in an unusual space. Namely, because of our links with ARC and the public profile of some of the ARC team, we became a 'first stop shop' for a wide range of secular organisations wanting – somewhat urgently – to engage with faiths and their values.


The crisis has highlighted the deep flaws in contemporary culture especially around the environment, economy and social policy. At one point it felt like a new group was approaching us on a daily basis, from UN agencies to international investment groups, from media to national governments.


It has been an exciting time and a challenging one and led us to make a major new development: We found we had become not just a membership group, not just an information hub; we had become a centre for movement on all these issues from a faith perspective.


Vatican engagement

One especial surprise this year has been the development of even closer ties with the Vatican and, through the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and its Prefect Cardinal Turkson, our links with the Pope.


In particular, I and Lorna Gold – see below – were asked to serve on the Pope’s Covid Commission and through that have been honoured to be asked to assist with some of the resources created by the Vatican. The role of the remarkable Fr Augusto Zampini-Davis at the Commission has been outstanding and a great friendship has been developed between FaithInvest and Fr Augusto and the Vatican. This will, we believe, lead to new programmes jointly undertaken in 2021.


New Movement section

As a result of these developments, we have created a new section – Movement – to run alongside Membership and were able to secure Lorna Gold as its Director. Lorna had already worked with us on creating the Catholic (Laudato Si') lens for UNDP's Green Entrepreneurship MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and also helping to coordinate the two other faith lenses: Hindu and Chinese Traditions (Buddhist, Confucian, Daoist).


One of the inspirations for creating the Movement section was our involvement with the two other projects that emerged from our parent organisation, ARC. Even before Covid struck we had been approached by the Civil Society section of the British Government’s planning team for the UN's Cop 26 Climate Conference, then due to be held in Glasgow this year in November but now moved to November 2021.


We were asked to coordinate the faith input to this critical climate meeting. As a result we revived something we had done very successfully with the UN in 2008-2009 – the Faith Long-Term Plans programme whereby major faiths made long term commitments to work on environmental and sustainable programmes through their own resources and networks.


In July this year, we launched a new Faith Long-term Plans programme together with our partners the Beliefs and Values programme of WWF International and the International Network on Conservation and Religion (INCR). To date more than 100 major faith organisations have signed up to create eight- to ten-year plans and these will be launched in September next year. The Movement team has general oversight on the with the Membership team focusing specifically on the faith-consistent use of assets such as investments and buildings. Please see the link to this whole Faith Long-Term Plans programme for more information.


A Chief Executive for FaithInvest

As we end this year, we have also launched our search for our CEO. I never intended to be the CEO of FAithInvest! I was delighted to have been asked to be FaithInvest's Honorary President but circumstances and lockdown meant that I was asked to step up as the Interim CEO.


This has been a great honour and I have been able to help FaithInvest grow and to see a truly remarkable team develop. I will remain involved through being the Honorary President and will be available to you all. I have also agreed to be the Patron of the Faith Long-Term Plans programme as a role that is distinct from my FaithInvest role but contributes to FaithInvest through that.


So as we, God willing, emerge from this terrible year into a more hopeful 2021, I look forward to being able to meet old friends again; to seeing those of you I met for the first time this year by Skype or Zoom; and to working with you to change the world for the better.

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