FaithInvest and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) came together in a webinar to discuss the impact of shareholder advocacy in integrating values into corporate actions and how to develop positive screening policies for faith-consistent investing.
The speakers included ICCR CEO Josh Zinner, FaithInvest CEO Martin Palmer, FaithInvest's Director of Movement Lorna Gold and Tim Macready, Chief Investment Officer at Brightlight. The webinar was moderated by Nana Francois, FaithInvest's Director of Membership.
Josh Zinner explained how the organisation works fundamentally in dialogue with companies to get the attention of corporate managers and boards.
He said: 'For ICCR members and allies, it’s about long-term dialogue and engagement. We don’t see our work in a vacuum and we’re working closely with partners on the ground, so that our engagement with companies is part of a wider strategy for change.
'FaithInvest is about impact investing – not just affirmative investment – but investment through a faith-based lens. Faith-based investors have responsibility and huge opportunity to engage with the companies they own on issues that relate to their faith.'
If you know what you’re against, can you work out what you’re for?
FaithInvest CEO Martin Palmer tackled the question of how faith-based organisations should define their values. As an organisation, does knowing what you are against help you define what you are for?
He pointed out that the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will only be achieved if 'the financial world puts their money where their values are – this will allow a sustainable future to be achieved'.
The scale of the investment portfolio of the faiths is undeniably huge. The faiths own a third of hospitals, around half of schools and are major stakeholders in the planet.
This is an enormous market but its impact is still quite marginal, Martin said: 'We ought to be the leading group, because of our values, driving sustainable investment. FaithInvest is about saying to fund managers – how can we help you make better choices?'
Many faith-based organisations have a negative screening process, and there had been a major shift in the last 20 years in terms of how organisations articulate what they’re against, he added. But is this the correct way to go about faith-consistent asset management? There’s no essentially right or wrong way, just different starting points for different faith-based groups.
Change is not just necessary, it is inevitable
We are living in a unique historical moment, said Lorna Gold, FaithInvest's Head of Movement. Between the crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity, the Covid-19 pandemic, and poverty and inequality, we have one decade left to redirect the global economy towards a sustainable future.
She said: 'Due to the urgency, scale and complexity of the crises we’re facing today – we require change at all levels in our society to address these issues. The faiths are actively engaged on the frontline in addresses these issues.
'New generations of economists are stepping forward, many of them young women, reflecting a new reality with a focus on sustainability and social solidarity. We know that the old ways of being and doing things die hard, but there is still so much inertia and resistance to change in our economy and our political landscapes. Business as usual continues to thrive, even amongst the changes that are happening.'
Lorna said the Covid-19 crisis was creating a golden opportunity – to reframe and redirect. 'We need a step change – we need to invest based on human values, something that goes beyond screening,' she said.
'It’s about courageously putting our values front and centre and addressing the inadequacies of a financial sector that makes it almost impossible to know the true impact of investment.
'It’s not about one strategy over another – it’s more about an invitation to all faith communities to revisit the wisdom of faith, allow it to permeate our hearts and reframe our thinking. The role of FaithInvest is to create the spaces of this to happen.'
Positive investments that bring strong financial returns
Tim Macready, Chief Investment Officer at Brightlight, explained how Brightlight and Christian Super have managed their investment portfolios and committed to impactful investing.
Tim said: 'We started searching for positive thematic investments that would express our value alignment while also demonstrating strong financial returns. That was how we ended up in renewable energy and then microfinance, and then sustainable agriculture and sustainable forestry, to flush out some real assets.
'We ended up investing in affordable housing, and what happened over time is we developed this sub-team within the investment team that was engaged deeply in the impact investment community, as it began to form and to develop internationally.'
Tim advised other faith-based groups to just get started, to 'identify those solutions that are moving towards alignment with the faith-based values in the portfolio, and to just take those steps' even if these are imperfect solutions on day one.
He urged faiths to identify their values and get started on doing the work of faith-consistent investing. There’s no time to lose.