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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Learning our ABCs/SDGs

Posted by: David Morrissey on 2/18/2020

Learning our ABCs SDGs

My wife is a teacher at the Salisbury Community School and our fifth-grade daughter is a student in her classroom. This not only affords us nightly parent-teacher conferences (much to our daughter’s delight, I am sure) but also gives me a front row seat for her curriculum ideas. Recently my wife brought up her plan for the class to study the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 interconnected goals—agreed upon by all UN nation states in 2015—address poverty, clean water, reducing inequalities, and more. When she asked if I knew anything about them, I smiled knowing we were grappling with a similar lesson at the Foundation.

The Community Foundation underwent a comprehensive review of our Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) pool over the past couple of years. Up to that point we invested with managers who offered various socially responsible (SR) screening options but we wanted them to be more intentionally aligned with our organizational values. As the SR sector—and our understanding of it—evolved we realized that these charitable assets could be invested sustainably for the future in a way that also allows the Foundation to be supportive of community needs now. We began with an internal exploration of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors that were supportive of our mission and of our values. This work led us to commit to four core values that drive how we allocate capital in the SRI Pool:

  • Civil Society
  • Environmental Integrity
  • Community Improvement and Betterment
  • Economic Durability.

Once we outlined our own core values, we knew it was important to find a common language to interpret our values for our investment managers. Our CFO Deb Dabrowski studied the SDGs and realized they were a great complement to our framework and universal enough that aligning our values with the 17 goals would help clarify our position to donors, fundholders, and investment managers.

You can read the details of our SRI pool and guiding principles here, but it wasn’t until sitting at my dinner table that I really understood how relatable they could be. I asked my daughter about the SDGs and which ones she felt interested in exploring. She said it was hard to choose because they were all so important but that ending poverty or promoting gender equality were high on her list.

That conversation with my daughter reinforced for me that aligning our values with the SDGs has tremendous capacity for guiding our asset allocation. The goals are relatable and accessible whether you are a fifth grader or an investment manager, and they help us be more intentional about putting our values into action.

It is true that the nature of SR investing will always be iterative to meet changing economic, political, and social needs. However, by embracing our values, committing to asking these questions, and proactively managing this pool of assets from a place of sustainability, we can offer a vehicle for charitable capital that can be engaging and inspiring for our donors and fundholders. And even relevant to a group of fifth grade students at the elementary school right down Route 7 from our office in Middlebury.

To learn more about our impact investing and other areas where the Foundation is deploying charitable capital, see the resources below:

 

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