Julie Skye is a member of All Souls Tulsa and is a Registered Investment Advisor. She acts as a Family Back Office to 85 families and helps them organize, manage and co-ordinate all aspects of their financial lives including tax, estate and retirement planning. She has been doing pro-bono work with Foundations and non-profits for two decades and sees the connection between SRI and Social / Racial Justice. Passionate in her belief that we can do well, while we do good, she is Vice Chair of the All Souls Endowment Committee and offers seminars at the Sunday Emerson Forum titled “The Free Church Financial Forum.”
October 10th 2008: I arrive home Sunday night to learn I’ve been appointed to the UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. I’ve been doing work in the areas of SRI, Social Justice, and Racial Justice for two decades, but I had never made it an integral part of my client’s portfolios. I’d held seminars on the topic and included a few SRI funds for clients, but in the back of my mind I knew that once I was fully committed to SRI there could be no turning back
Putting it into practice at All Souls in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I hadn’t realized how much work there was to do, although I knew our congregation had not embraced the concept of putting our social values and ethical beliefs first. It’s understandable when they hear pundits say things like, “Index Funds outperform actively managed funds” and “Index Funds outperform those lack-luster socially conscious funds.” Yet why would someone want to be a Unitarian and not align their social values with their financial decisions?
November 12th, 2008: Emails from Boston start coming in. The official appointment. Tim Brennan’s “Welcome.”
The first thing I do is Google “Unitarian Socially Responsible Investing.” I click my way to the Board Appointed Committees and print off the last three year’s worth of meeting minutes so I can see what work has been done. Pretty impressive…we are having dialogs with the big dogs. These are real companies…real people, real issues. Is there anyone NOT affected by what big business does? How do we affect change? Can we make a difference?
Then I search for Socially Responsible Investing and find there are 5,350,000 results, each with a different definition, focus, or slant. Obviously there are many different ways of looking at SRI. The Social Investment Forum states, “As a result of its investing strategies, SRI also works to enhance the bottom lines of the companies in question and, in so doing, delivers more long-term wealth to shareholders. In addition, SRI investors seek to build wealth in underserved communities worldwide. With SRI, investors can put their money to work to build a more sustainable world while earning competitive returns both today and over time.”
Wikipedia defines SRI as: “also known as sustainable investing or ethical investing, describes a strategy which seeks to maximize both financial return and social good.” Who could say that isn’t something worth striving for? Why wouldn’t every company want to maximize returns and the social good?
Once again I go back to the UUA site to see what other congregations are doing, and I find the Congregational Socially Responsible Investing – Spectrum of Involvement.
The purpose of this spectrum is to help congregations identify where they
stand along the path to socially responsible investing and financial practices.
This will allow them to better identify the steps required to reach the goals
they set for investing their congregation’s funds in a socially responsible
Stage I: Rising Awareness and Request for Transparency
Stage II: Opening Doors to Active Investing
Stage III: Strategic Alignment/ Implementation
Stage IV: On-Going Oversight: Keep Walking the Talk
After going through the Spectrum Worksheet, I realize that even though All Souls Tulsa is one of the largest Unitarian congregations in the world, we don’t have even a rising awareness for Socially Responsible Investing. I’m feeling pretty discouraged…what is it going to take to raise the awareness of our congregation? What will it take for our Board of Directors and the Endowment Committee to begin integrating SRI into our investments? Will battle lines be drawn over entrenched views? Will open minds come to the table because so much is at stake?
I share my sense of futility with my attorney friend Ron who sends me his thoughts. I’m encouraged that it seems so simple…his email shows me how he sizes up SRI. He shows me that SRI simply makes sense:
“The thirst for individual profiteering is difficult to overcome for those that have been feeding on the entitlement mill. I understand profit, efficiency, barriers to entry, and the concept (completely unworkable in its purest form where corruption, oligopolies, and monopolies exist) of free markets. I do not think those concepts incompatible with social responsibility.”
Today our country is facing challenges that are formidable: every day I am surrounded by three screens of charts, financial news, and performance reports. Never has it been clearer: maximizing shareholder wealth is not simply a matter of making money in the short-term. Many stock prices are lower today than they were ten years ago.
For those who say that SRI just doesn’t perform as well as traditional investments, we suggest that the data does NOT support that statement. And that they ask: “Where are those excess profits and returns today? Are the companies who put profits before providing a quality environment for their employees still in business? And were the CEOs who found angles to maximize their salary also maximizing shareholder wealth or leaving companies in ruins after their short sighted business plans short circuited?
Americans want ethics and morals to return to the boardroom. We want to know we will leave our children with a healthy world that sustains them and our grandchildren. We have many change agents in place; now each of us needs to take action and voice that now is the time for Wall Street, Washington, and Main Street to come together and rebuild Corporate America.
February 10th 2009: I spent the week in Boston for my first face-to-face meeting with the other members of the UUA SRI Committee. We also sat in on the UUA Investment Committee meeting for the year end report on the UUA endowment. I am so impressed with the education, experience and commitment that each member of the various committees brought to the table.
Next time: We are presenting the first “draft” of our work to All Souls Tulsa’s Emerson Forum on March 8th…a presentation that the SRI Committee has been working on for much of the last year. Our goal? For the first “test drive” of the material we hope to turn into a workbook: a presentation that helps other congregations integrate their values, social justice work and corporate activism into their investing decisions.