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PRESS RELEASE: 375 Donors support RI@Harvard

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition released the following press release this morning:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

375+ Harvard donors petition University to invest responsibly

Contact: Sam Wohns at info@responsibleharvard.com and 616-334-8343

April 29, 2012—Harvard University in Cambridge, MA

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition (RI@Harvard) announced on Monday that its Fair Harvard Fund has received donations from over 375 student, alumni, and faculty donors since the Fund’s launch one month ago. The Fair Harvard Fund initiative aims to incentivize the Harvard Corporation to create a Social Choice Fund managed by the Harvard Management Company as part of the Harvard endowment, according to environmental, social, and governance criteria.

“It’s a major milestone, especially considering that we’re celebrating the 375th birthday of Harvard this year,” said organizer Jia Hui Lee, a senior at Harvard College. “This is the first step to achieving broader goals for socially responsible investment at Harvard.”

The Fair Harvard Fund, which now holds over $9,000, will be held in escrow until Harvard creates an acceptable Social Choice Fund within the endowment. If such a Social Choice Fund is not established by August 1, the Fair Harvard Fund will be managed by investment professionals according to ESG criteria set by the community.

The RI@Harvard Coalition already includes more than 25 organizations, collectively representing more than 7,000 students, faculty, and alumni of Harvard University.

“We hope to create a way for alumni donors to support Harvard without worrying about a disconnect between Harvard’s stated mission and its investment practices,” said former Undergraduate Council President Senan Ebrahim. “The creation of a Social Choice Fund would be welcomed by the Harvard community as a first step in the Harvard Management Company’s path towards greater mission alignment.”

The RI@Harvard Coalition is calling on the Harvard Management Company to better align its endowment investment practices with the stated values of Harvard University. While Harvard College’s mission statement urges its students “to assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions…to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society,” the HMC mission statement simply pledges to maximize returns in order to fund the operations of Harvard University, regardless of the cost in social harm.

The HMC has historically made ethically questionable investment decisions in pursuit of maximal returns, sometimes sparking student and alumni concern. In the 1970s, students and alumni called for divestment from apartheid South Africa; after years of controversy, Harvard partially divested. In 2005, students successfully called for divestment from PetroChina, which notoriously funded genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. More recently, Harvard announced that it would not re-invest in HEI Hotels and Resorts after years of student protest about HEI’s labor practices. However, other than these isolated instances, the HMC has no policy of socially responsible investing. RI@Harvard hopes to catalyze Harvard’s transition into a more socially responsible, transparent, and accountable institutional investor.

With 375 donors, one for each year of Harvard history, the Fair Harvard Fund is on its way to realizing the establishment of a Social Choice Fund at Harvard. To learn more about the RI@Harvard Coalition, visit www.ResponsibleHarvard.com. To donate to the Fair Harvard Fund, visit www.FairHarvardFund.com.

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The Crimson endorses the Fair Harvard Fund

Read their staff editorial endorsing the Fair Harvard Fund and offering recommendations for its management here at thecrimson.com or below:

 

Funding Harvard More Fairly

Fair Harvard Fund is a commendable movement that should develop concretely

Once again, how Harvard manages its money is a target of attention, and deservedly so. Just last week, we commented in favor of Harvard’s pledge not to reinvest in HEI Hotels, a company widely alleged to have engaged in labor rights violations. At the same time, several students have begun the Fair Harvard Fund movement, which aims to make responsible investment a priority at Harvard. The main goal of this movement, which counts former undergraduate council president Senan Ebrahim ’12 as one of its founders, is the creation of a social choice fund to manage a portion of Harvard University’s endowment. Ideally, donors to Harvard would have the option of having their gifts managed by this particular fund, which would follow strict social, environmental, and governance criteria.

By incorporating a social choice fund into the management of our university’s endowment, the Harvard Management Company would send a positive signal to donors, the campus community, and the public at large. In order for this to be accomplished, the Fair Harvard Fund must continue its welcome presence on campus and work to see its goals develop concretely. Many institutions such as Brown University already have comparable options for their donors, and the market performances of such socially responsible funds have in fact been generally aligned with those of more traditional investment tools. By establishing a social choice fund, Harvard would likely be able to expand its endowment by attracting new inflows while simultaneously promoting ethically oriented business.

There are several steps that the Fair Harvard Fund could take to see its immediate objectives carried forward. To begin with, the students behind the movement have issued a statement endorsing a future town hall meeting, where the Harvard community could discuss the guidelines for socially responsible investment at our university. Although the intention of promoting “direct democracy” with a town hall meeting is certainly appealing, we should all be wary of using such  an open forum to determine the specific investment criteria of the Fair Harvard Fund. The term “social responsibility” is vague to start with, and the proposals generated from this kind of event might only complicate attempts to come up with a workable and ethical set of principles to act on. Instead, let us suggest an alternative: the social choice fund could follow the strict guidelines already set forth by the Responsible Endowments Coalition. These include a commitment to investing in companies that do not abuse their workers, as well as particular attention to ventures that uphold environmental sustainability. By employing both negative screening—refraining from investing in companies that are judged harmful to society—and positive screening—an active effort to boost businesses that advance environmental or welfare causes—the social choice fund could become an effective vehicle for tangible change in the local and wider community.

One of the current goals of the Fair Harvard Fund is to persuade the HMC to take over the administration of its assets. We urge the HMC to consider this proposal seriously, since there can only be benefits for both sides of the potential partnership, not to mention all who wish to see social choice investing become a reality at Harvard. On the one hand, by handing over its resources to the HMC, the Fair Harvard Fund would benefit from the supervision of established industry professionals. On the other hand, the HMC would have the opportunity to promote worthy causes alongside its continued management of the endowment at large, and presumably attract new donors who prioritize socially responsible investing.

As of today, the Fair Harvard Fund continues to solicit donations from members of the university community. With the constructive potential of its vision, the movement surely has a bright future. With the recent experience of HEI to serve as a reminder, we should all push for a Harvard where fairness is not merely option and an interest, but a priority.

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!