Posters Around Campus

See our Fair Harvard Fund posters all around campus this morning:

 

 

And donate to the Fair Harvard Fund at fairharvard.com!

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Perspective Magazine endorses RI@Harvard

Perspective Magazine, Harvard’s Liberal Monthly, endorses Responsible Investment at Harvard in this month’s staff editorial. You can read it here or below!

With an endowment of $32 billion, Harvard is the second wealthiest nonprofit institution in the world, following the Vatican. Harvard’s power stems not only from its research, teaching, and reputation, but also from this wealth. If the Harvard Management Company (HMC), which manages the university’s endowment, invests in certain businesses and funds, it can help socially beneficial ventures succeed; if it invests in certain other companies, it can perpetuate social and environmental injustice. Unfortunately, HMC has too often taken the latter path. Therefore, we at Perspective endorse the efforts of a new student group, Responsible Investment at Harvard, which aims to make Harvard’s investment practices transparent, accountable, and socially responsible.

Over the years, there have been numerous campaigns to end Harvard’s least ethical investments, particularly those in companies and countries that have consistently violated human rights. For instance, concerned students, faculty, staff, and administrators have in past years successfully convinced HMC to divest from apartheid South Africa, tobacco companies, and PetroChina, a corporation that partnered with (and provided funding for) the Sudanese government during the genocide in Darfur. Most recently, as a result of pressure from the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), Occupy Harvard, and others, HMC announced that it would reconsider its investments in HEI Hotels and Resorts, a company known for its sweatshop-labor practices and legal troubles with the National Labor Relations Board. Single-target campaigns such as these have often achieved great victories, and Perspective supports the current campaign for the university not to reinvest in HEI. However, in order to ensure that Harvard invests responsibly and transparently in the long run, a more comprehensive campaign is necessary.

People concerned with responsible investment often speak in jargon, but while the particulars may be complex, the underlying principles are straightforward. A responsible investment platform requires investors not to invest in companies that endanger people’s health or welfare, violate fundamental rights, or harm the environment. At the same time, they should invest in companies that aid sustainable development and provide valuable jobs, goods, and services while respecting human dignity. For instance, Harvard could invest in companies that are attempting to create permanent jobs in Allston or that are developing affordable medical diagnostic tools for doctors and patients in the developing world. Both transparency and accountability are widely viewed as necessary to ensure consistent responsible investment. For instance, GreenReportCard.org counts “endowment transparency” along with variables such as “climate change and energy” and “green building” when determining the overall environmental sustainability of a college or university. Harvard, unfortunately, gets a C on endowment transparency, which indicates that too many of the university’s investments are shrouded in mystery. Without transparency, neither the Harvard community nor the general public can hold the university accountable.

The Harvard Management Company may view responsible investment as a hindrance to financial success. However, according to Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations affiliate, responsible investment practiced strategically can lead to increased long-term returns and decreased long-term risk. Given that these investments produce sustainable growth and don’t have harmful side effects, these benefits are not surprising. It is clear that responsible investments are good for everyone involved.

The student group Responsible Investment at Harvard (RI@Harvard for short) is a coalition of people involved in various environmental, labor, and social justice issues on campus. RI@Harvard is working on several campaigns to transform the nature of Harvard’s investments. In the long term, it intends to convince HMC to adopt a standard protocol for disclosing investments and to incorporate social and environmental concerns into all investment decisions. In the nearer future, RI@Harvard hopes by the end of the semester to create a responsible investment fund for the university, an idea pioneered by Brown in 2007, to which donors can choose to give their money. RI@Harvard intends to convince a large portion of the senior class to donate their senior gift to this social choice fund or “shadow endowment” and to build alumni support for it from there. A social choice fund would represent a powerful first step towards responsible investment generally, for in addition to the concrete result of moving funds, it would demonstrate to the university that this issue is important to a wide cross-section of the Harvard community.

RI@Harvard also hopes to reform the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) and the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR), the two committees that deal (to some extent) with social responsibility in investing. We agree with RI@Harvard that these entities should have more power so that they can move beyond shareholder proxy votes to make real decisions about investments. We particularly support increased power for the ACSR, which consists of faculty, students, and alumni. Perspectivealso urges the university to increase the student and faculty presence on the ACSR and to create more formal opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to voice their opinions on investments. Hopefully, these changes will make Harvard Management Company more accountable to the entire university population.

As a nonprofit institution, Harvard receives generous tax exemptions because it is assumed to serve the public good. As a center of teaching and learning, Harvard College, according to its mission statement, encourages students to “rejoice in…critical thought…assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions…promote understanding, and serve society.” The time has come for Harvard to put its money where its mouth is. If incoming students are encouraged (or pressured, according to some) to sign a pledge to uphold the university’s values, then surely the university itself must uphold these values. To promote understanding and critical thought, Harvard should disclose its investments, so that students can think for themselves about whether these investments are just. To encourage students to take responsibility for their actions, the university must lead by example, and take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of its portfolio. Ultimately, Harvard does not set an example for just its own students; as one of the world’s leading universities, it sets an example for countless for-profit and nonprofit institutions. Thus, responsible investment at Harvard would energize an already-growing movement for responsible investment around the world.

Op-ed: A Fair Harvard Fund

Check out this op-ed in Wednesday’s Crimson by Lange, Senan, and Athena officially announcing the launch of the Fair Harvard Fund!

A Fair Harvard Fund

Like many Harvard College seniors, the impending prospect of Commencement has led us to reflect on the role Harvard has played in our lives. Through four wonderful years in Cambridge, we have been challenged and supported by exceptional professors and inspiring peers. As Neurobiology, Classics, and Social Studies concentrators we have found different academic homes, but we all agree Harvard has helped us grow intellectually and personally.

Graduation marks the end of our time as undergraduates, but it also signals the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Harvard as alumni. We humbly acknowledge the generosity of the 361 previous classes in enabling us to attend Harvard and in supporting initiatives like financial aid and residential renovations, and we are forever grateful for it. Indeed, we look forward to receiving the first phone call asking us to pay it forward to a new generation of students.

However, we are concerned there is a disconnect between the principles that drive the research and education activities of Harvard University and those that motivate the investment strategies of the Harvard Management Company (HMC). We would hope that Harvard’s investments reflect its mission, “to assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions… to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.”

As others have noted, the $32 billion Harvard endowment has recently been linked to several problematic companies and asset pools. It is widely believed that Harvard has recently invested in HEI Hotels, Alpha Natural Resources, and Emergent Investments, which have actively pursued business practices publicly demonstrated as harmful to people and the environment. These are just a few recently identified companies, but given its investment history it would be naive to think Harvard does not invest in ethically problematic but financially lucrative sectors including weapons production, environmentally-degrading energy companies, and manufacturing companies paying poverty-level wages. While in recent history students have successfully lobbied the HMC to divest from countries and companies with practices that are anathema to the common values of our community, student protest of singular, publicly divulged investments will invariably have limited impact.

We instead hope to permanently establish a more responsible and transparent way to give back. To enable this, we are launching The Fair Harvard Fund (FHF). The Fair Harvard Fund seeks to motivate the Harvard Management Corporation to establish a Social Choice Fund to invest donations in alignment with established environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. All donations to the FHF will be held in escrow by a student and alumni coalition known as Responsible Investment at Harvard. The fund will be housed at the Cambridge Savings Bank, a locally owned Harvard Square bank, until the HMC creates a Social Choice Fund, at which point we will give the money to Harvard. If the HMC has not created a Social Choice fund by August 1, 2012, the money will be locally invested according to ESG criteria by the Responsible Endowments Coalition, a 501c3 non-profit, and responsibly managed until HMC creates such a fund. We hope to follow the success of alternatives such as Brown University’s Social Choice Fund in empowering alumni to be more involved in shaping the investment practices of their alma mater.

While the specific goal of the FHF is the creation of a Social Choice Fund, we recognize that there are other key changes that would allow Harvard to become a leader in socially responsible investment. In line with progress being made by peer institutions like Columbia University and other major investors like the $226 billion CalPERS Pension Fund, we support recommendations that promote investment transparency and strengthen institutional accountability.

In addition to its benefits for donors who seek investment in line with ethical principles, we believe a socially responsible investment option will be financially favorable for Harvard by guaranteeing higher donation rates from past and future alumni. We laud the fact that Senior Gift feeds into the Harvard College Fund, which is not invested, allowing graduating seniors to collectively support current and future students and circumventing concerns about investment practices. However, the donations we make to Harvard as alumni after contributing to the Senior Gift bear no such guarantee, and we cannot in good conscience donate our money blindly; creating the FHF will allow us and many others to continue donating after graduation.

The inscription on Dexter Gate, often invoked at Commencement, reads, “Depart to better serve thy country and thy kind.” We hope to begin our lives as Harvard alumni in this spirit by simultaneously supporting our university and using our donations to serve rather than to harm others. To our friends and peers in the Class of 2012, we ask that you join us in donating to the Fair Harvard Fund at www.fairharvardfund.com. With your help, we can make a positive contribution to both our university and our world.

Athena L. Lao ’12 is a classics concentrator in Cabot House. Senan Ebrahim ’12 is a neurobiology concentrator in Quincy House. Lange P. Luntao ’12 is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House.

Announcing: The Fair Harvard Fund

Last week, Senan announced the opening of the Fair Harvard Fund. It will officially launch on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012!

The description of FHF is pasted below:

Donate to The Fair Harvard Fund (FHF) to tell the Harvard Management Company (HMC) that you want the option to donate to a Social Choice fund when you make a gift to the endowment.
Your donation will be held in escrow until the HMC accepts the money by creating a Social Choice fund.
Immediately it will be held by Responsible Investment at Harvard at the Cambridge Savings Bank, a locally owned bank in Harvard Square.
If the HMC has not created a Social Choice fund by August 1, 2012, the FHF will be invested according to environmental, social, and governance criteria by the Responsible Endowments Coalition, a 501c3 non-profit organization, until the HMC accepts the money.

You can donate and see how FHF is doing at fairharvardfund.com!

Investing in Harvard’s Future

Op-ed from the Harvard Crimson on March 1st by RI@Harvard members  Ben Collins and Nicole Granath:

Investing in Harvard’s Future

John Maynard Keynes, the British economist widely considered the father of modern macroeconomics, wrote in 1935 that “the social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance which envelop our future.”  His words of John Maynard Keynes may be equally relevant today. We have just emerged from one of the largest financial crises in our country’s history, where the “dark forces of time and ignorance,” as applied to financial instruments like mortgage-backed securities, contributed to the excessive financial leveraging that necessitated “Too Big to Fail” measures and a taxpayer bail-out of $85 billion for one company alone. As a result, the ethics of investment practices have since been the subject of increased scrutiny.

Despite the costly financial and ethical lessons learned since 2008, have we really changed the way we think about and make investment decisions?

By some measures, yes. At Harvard, at least, post-crisis resolutions have focused on reducing risk and exposure in our endowment portfolio. Such reduction has been accomplished through increasing in-house asset management, the appointment of a designated chief risk officer in 2009 to perform restructuring, and the sale of illiquid assets like private equity vehicles to facilitate immediate access to cash that could be used towards the purchase of submarketpriced securities.

Yet, one area in which Harvard has been conspicuously silent is whether its investment practices can and should be informed by fundamental social and environmental values. In its submission to the College Sustainability Report Card, Harvard received “A”s across the board, with the notable exception of one “C” in endowment transparency. So why doesn’t Harvard engage in responsible investing?

Responsible investing—also known as socially responsible investing, or SRI—is the practice of investing for the purpose of reaping not only financial returns, but also social benefits.  SRI can take many forms, including divestment from undesirable investments, community investing, and social screening, i.e. integration of environmental, social and governance concerns to inform investment choices.  The adoption of responsible investing has proliferated over the last two decades, rising from $639 billion in 1995 to $2.71 trillion in 2007, and major institutional investors such as CalPERS, with over $218 billion under management, have pledged to incorporate environmental, social, and governance criteria across all of its asset classes.

Persistent critiques of responsible investing brand it a violation of central tenets of Modern Portfolio Theory, or a breach of fiduciary duty because it constrains optimal portfolio. Thus, due to responsible investment’s added focus on social gains, many believe that portfolios engaging in RI strategies must make sacrifices in financial returns.

This assumption is false.

Recent research has demonstrated that responsible investing can provide market rate returns—and, sometimes, perform even better than conventional investing strategies. In the close to twenty years since its creation, the Domini 400 Social Index—an index of 400 largely U.S.-based companies that are filtered by social impact criteria—has always either matched orsurpassed the performance of the S&P 500. Applied to Harvard’s own investing strategy, responsible investing is an opportunity to allow the university to represent its values in its investment choices without sacrificing the portfolio’s financial gains.

Harvard’s history shows a precedent of responsible investing. In 1972, under President Derek C. Bok’s leadership, Harvard created the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility to provide recommendations on how the school should cast its proxy votes. In that same year, Harvard also helped found the Investor Responsibility Research Center under Institutional Shareholder Services, which researches corporate governance and social responsibility for institutional investors. Forty years ago, Harvard was in the vanguard of responsible investment.

But university leadership did not take action by themselves: students, alumni, and faculty played a crucial role in advocating for change. For example, during the 1980s, students and alumni protested Harvard’s investments in companies that operated in apartheid South Africa. As a result, Harvard Management Company partially divested. More recently, in 2005 and 2006, Harvard sold its stake in the PetroChina and Sinopec companies in response to student protests over links between these firms and genocide in Darfur.

In the wake of the most recent financial crisis and reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the ACSR and the IRRC, it is high time for Harvard to once again become a leader in the area of responsible investment. There are a number of options available to Harvard: it can enlarge the mandates of the ACSR and CCSR beyond proxy voting on directly held investments, establish a social choice fund to allow donors more control over how their gift is managed, create a time-delayed mechanism for transparency to allow more oversight from members of the University community, and start a new unit at the Harvard Management Company dedicated to the integration of RI principles across all asset classes.

Harvard should take steps to implement any or all of these measures as the HMC continues the process of restructuring; indeed, some—like creating a social choice fund—could be implemented fairly easily and quickly, in a matter of months rather than years. By taking action in these areas, Harvard can break new ground in the realm of responsible university endowment management and better protect itself from extra-financial risk factors that have proven so devastating in recent years. More importantly, though, Harvard has the opportunity to use RI to bring our investments, a key component of our global influence, in line with the values of the university.

Nicole Granath ’15 lives in Hurlbut Hall. Ben Collins ’06 is a student at HKS ’12. They are both members of the coalition for Responsible Investment at Harvard.