The Harvard Corporation’s existing mechanisms for addressing the social, environmental, and reputational risks of HMC’s portfolio are outdated and in need of reform. Since the 1970s, Harvard has faced a series of high-profile and reputationally-damaging protest campaigns related to its investment practices. We continue to lack a functional early-warning system to identify investments that are inconsistent with the university’s values or could pose a reputational risk for the institution. Coupled with the opacity of Harvard’s investments, these concerns are undermining trust in our community. We therefore recommend the following actions to improve Harvard’s capacity to respond proactively to extra-financial risks related to its endowment while preserving the confidentiality, flexibility, and fiduciary responsibility of HMC’s investment activities.
1. Create a Social Choice Fund that prioritizes investment opportunities which promote the social good and yield high returns
- Donors would be empowered to decide how they want their donations managed.
- Peer institutions, including Brown University, have recently created similar funds.
2. Create a transparent policy to incorporate environmental, social and governance due diligence into all aspects of the investment portfolio
- Traditional financial measures are mostly backward looking and provide information on short-term investment performance. In contrast, ESG analysis can identify long-term investment risks and opportunities that are critically important for institutional investors with multi-decade planning horizons.
- ESG performance can impact a corporation’s ability to expand to new markets, attract skilled employees, build a positive brand, and avoid unexpected liability.
3. Disclosure mechanism for past investments
- We recognize that releasing strategic investment information would be damaging to Harvard’s long-term interests.
- Disclosing past investment information after a reasonable period of time has passed would foster transparency without undermining our investment strategy.
4. Strengthen the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility
- The ACSR and the CCSR are the only entities designed to take on complex issues of broader social responsibility, and their mandates have not kept up with the changing nature of our investments, most notably greater activity in private equity and emerging markets exposure.
- Increase the ACSR and CCSR’s purview beyond proxy voting so that they can proactively advise HMC on controversial investments and work to institutionalize the consideration of ESG risk.