Socially Responsible Investing

Make it Personal

I was intrigued by Jim Wallis’ book excerpt and grateful for the challenges presented. However, I was dismayed by the ways that he played down the possibilities of individual and communal action. Maybe my “personal actions are not enough”—but they are the only ones within my control right now. For decades, I banked with Dwelling House Savings & Loan in Pittsburgh—a financial institution founded on Kingdom principles if ever there was one. Yet the government declared that beacon of light “failed” last year; now I wonder whether there are any similarly principled institutions out there. Can Sojourners help persons of conscience discover possibilities for personal and congregational action? Give us some options!

Rev. Dave Carver
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Editor’s note: Resources on this topic can be found at www.sojo.net. Check out our special issue on socially responsible investing (May 2008).

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Sojourners Magazine May 2010
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Where the Heart Is

In these early years of the 21st century, investment dollars are hard at work doing a lot more than making money. They’re supporting conservation measures, fueling humane labor practices, and rewarding companies for shunning groups with ties to abortion service providers and gay rights activists. From Wall Street to Hong Kong, they’re doing all this and much more in the name of God.

Religious mutual funds have exploded over the past decade. Since 1997, assets under management in funds with an explicit faith-based mission have ballooned 35-fold from $500 million to $17.5 billion, according to data from fund tracker Morningstar. Such dramatic growth makes the sector one of the fastest growing in the financial services industry.

A couple of reasons account for the recent growth spurt. In some cases, strong financial returns are attracting new investors just as pollen draws bees. The Amana Income Fund, an Islamic fund that avoids gambling, tobacco, and meat-producing stocks, outperformed all 180 funds in its equity-income category between 2004 and 2007. Investors have piled in, and not always because they were seeking a clean conscience, according to Deputy Portfolio Manager Monem Salam.

Plus, many investors are apparently motivated by more than mammon. The past decade has given rise to new families of funds aimed not only at liberal Protestants but also politically conservative evangelicals and Catholics. Meanwhile, older funds with secular as well as Christian roots now get a hearing, at least sometimes, when they vie to impress their social visions upon corporate cultures. Socially responsible investing (SRI) has morphed from a quirky (and relatively small) niche in the 1980s to a $2 trillion mainstream industry today.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2008
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News Bites

Olive Branch. In April, 120 former Israel Defense Force soldiers and Palestinian militants publicly launched “Combatants for Peace,” a partnership of former enemies who will pressure both governments to stop violence, promote peace, and establish a viable Palestinian state.

Groundbreaking. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines released a statement on mining issues and concerns in January that challenged President Macapagal-Arroyo’s “mining revitalization program.” This program would allow transnational companies to open new mines in economically depressed areas, sensitive bioregions, and indigenous homelands.

Salaam, Shalom. The Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace was held in Seville, Spain, in March, gathering more than 150 influential Jewish and Muslim leaders to work on a common agenda to “preserve the value of life.”

Mini-Size It. Ravalli County, Montana, passed an ordinance in April limiting stores to no more than 60,000 square feet, effectively protecting main street businesses and blocking Wal-Mart’s plans to build a supercenter.

Money Matters. Some of the world’s largest international investment funds, valued at more than $4 trillion, endorsed a set of six voluntary “principles for responsible investment” introduced by the United Nations in April. The signatories will incorporate environmental, social, and corporate governance issues into their investment analysis.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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From Charity to Investment

The First Unitarian Church of Burlington, Vermont, sits between two worlds. In front of it is Church Street, a pedestrian mall lined with upscale brand-name stores and boutiques. In back is the Old North End, a low-income neighborhood whose ethnic diversity surprises those who think of Vermont as green, cow-studded, and homogeneous. The neighborhood is home to refugees and people from throughout the state seeking the social services more prevalent in urban areas, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and discount clothing stores.

Old North End is also home to Opportunities Credit Union, whose mission is ambitious but practical: “to build wealth, community, and opportunity through a fair and affordable financial system.” The credit union is a creation of the Burlington Ecumenical Action Ministry, an organization started in 1968 to creative effective, not just palliative, programs to address the underlying causes of poverty. Fortunately, BEAM was powered by the considerable financial knowledge and commitment of a group of people who recognized that “social-mission banking” could be analogous to teaching a person to fish.

Fifteen years ago, BEAM—led by social worker-turned-banker Caryl Stewart—set out to determine why so many of its neighbors in Old North End were below the poverty line and what was keeping them there. Through a series of focus groups in which residents were asked about their banking needs, it became clear that although exorbitant bank fees and minimum balances that preclude owning a bank account do not necessarily throw people into poverty, emergency expenses that must be financed at predatory rates, and housing costs that over years preclude any building of equity, keep many people in poverty.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2006
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