Are you asking for fossil fuel divestment?
No! Although we like and respect our fellow endowment campaigners, the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition is completely separate from Divest Harvard and is not affiliated with 350.org or the fossil fuel divestment campaign. Right now, we are focusing our campaign on the companies that Harvard owns fully and directly through its endowment — mostly timber plantations in Romania, Chile, and Argentina. Thankfully, none of these are the top fossil fuel corporations.
Do you want Harvard to divest from its timber plantations?
While we are not sure that timber plantations are the most sustainable or responsible way for Harvard to build its endowment, we are not asking for divestment. Instead, we have demanded that Harvard be a responsible owner of the companies it holds directly – which means actively engaging in their operations to ensure that Harvard’s companies respect workers, land rights, and the environment, that they don’t discriminate, and that they are transparent and not corrupt. If Harvard simply corrected the injustices currently perpetuated by its fully-owned companies, this would increase quality of life for many farmers and workers.
In a few words, what does RI@Harvard want to achieve?
As a coalition of students, alumni, and employees of Harvard University, we believe that it is in all of our best interests for the university’s endowment to align with Harvard’s mission, “to encourage students…to assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions [and] to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.” We want the Harvard Management Company to consider the social and environmental impacts of our investments along with their goal to maximize endowment returns. Moreover, we believe that the University endowment should adhere to principles of social responsibility, transparency, and accountability in addition to upholding its fiduciary responsibility.
What do you mean by “responsible investment” — who gets to decide what is “responsible” and not?
We are advocating for HMC to incorporate environmental, social responsibility, and governance (or ESG) issues into its broad goals. Each of these categories has been extensively explored by organizations like the UN (through its Global Compact), and some of the most exciting research initiatives are right here at Harvard. We have faith in the skilled professionals at HMC to choose the best (and safest) investments for Harvard’s billions, and we believe that if broad policies are established to prioritize socially responsible investment, HMC has the capacity to identify individual investments. Alongside strengthened accountability and transparency measures, these actions would signal to the broader investment community that Harvard is serious about putting its money where its values are.
Why do you care? Why now?
Ultimately, we care about making Harvard’s investments more responsible and bringing them in line with the values of our community. At this moment, Harvard has an opportunity to revolutionize how universities manage their endowments and spark a host of socially-responsible entrepreneurial innovation. With funds that far exceed the endowments of other universities, Harvard is uniquely positioned—and thus, possesses a unique responsibility—to lead a shift in the way that universities consider the value of their investments. But if we do not act now to take advantage of these early developments (for example, in “green” investment), Harvard will be left behind by other forward-thinking investment entities.