SRI in the Rockies Conference- by Ian Robertson

This year’s 22nd annual SRI in the Rockies conference (held, of course, in New Orleans) tackled a range of issues dogging the socially responsible investment community. Key topics included energy, community investment, risk management and shareholder engagement. A combination of keynote speeches and smaller, breakout sessions, the conference also managed to touch on a variety of specific topics over the course of 72 hours. One such breakout session delved into the burgeoning field of socially responsible alternative investments.

The breakout session, led by the president of a consultancy group, the director of the center for philanthropy at the Tellus Institute and a managing director / founder of a socially responsible venture fund, offered a bird’s eye view of this nascent corner of the SRI landscape. It also offered a few tangible takeaways.

First, there is strong and growing demand for socially responsible alternative investments. Unfortunately, it will take time for this demand to be met. Investors need a long-term track record in order to attract sizeable allocations, especially from institutional players. However, it’s difficult if not impossible to put together such a track record without the support of large-scale investors. Although this almost seems like a vicious circle, the experts leading the panel felt, given enough time, the problem would solve itself. They also agreed that there is no quick or easy fix.

Another interesting trend that caught my eye: socially responsible investing as a strategic advantage. David Kirkpatrick, a managing director at SJV Ventures, noted that his fund’s emphasis on SRI had helped differentiate it from other investors competing for deals. This makes logical sense. Entrepreneurs like to partner with investors who share their worldview. When a sought-after business is choosing from a pool of interested investors, why wouldn’t they go with the team that speaks their language?

Finally, I was struck by the pure number of attendees eager to learn more about alternatives. No single session garnered as much interest as this panel on alternatives—even standing room was limited. Clearly there will be challenges, but the future looks bright. For financial entrepreneurs looking to break into the field of socially responsible investing, I would recommend taking a closer look at this subset. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the SRI community has focused much of its energy and attention on mutual funds. Rather than fight for a voice in an already crowded field, why not play a foundational role in what by all accounts should prove to be a growing sector for years to come?

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Posted at 5:57 PM 28 October 2011


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Posted at 12:15 PM 05 May 2011


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Kirsten Tobey of Revolution Foods, at the Ideas 2 Impact Conference on April 9, 2011. For more short talks from the event, visit our YouTube channel!

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Posted at 1:38 PM 03 May 2011


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Haas, Happiness, and the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan

Happiness as a national objective serendipitously found Laura Unger, Brian Busch, and Cang Quach in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) class taught by Kellie McElhaney at the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business. The Kingdom of Bhutan is pioneering the path of national development that prioritizes the innovative notion of Gross National Happiness (GNH), balancing economic growth with nine other domains such as psychological well-being, community vitality, and environmental diversity. In an effort to actualize the development philosophy of GNH, as it impacts the Bhutanese economy and private sector, the investment arm of the Royal Government of Bhutan, Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), invited the trio to assist in the development of a CSR strategy and framework, that seeks to integrate key GNH principles, to be implemented by DHI and its portfolio companies. These companies include Bhutan Telecom and Druk Green Power Corporation, which together generate roughly 20% of the revenues of this fledgling democracy. DHI believes that the implementation of such a strategy and framework within the portfolio companies can serve as a model to guide Bhutan’s private sector and facilitate the adoption of GNH and CSR principles on the day-to-day operational level among such private sector participants.

To get a broader understanding of GNH and the ways in which CSR principles could be integrated into existing practices and institutions, the Haas team visited Bhutan over Spring Break to interview individuals representing a broad cross-section of Bhutanese society, including the Chairman of DHI, Lyonpo Om Pradhan, key management at several of DHI’s Portfolio Companies, civil servants, a member of Parliament, representatives from His Majesty’s Secretariat, the head of the GNH Commission, Dasho Karma Tshiteem and the Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which is responsible for much of Bhutan’s scholarship related to GNH, Dasho Karma Ura. Laura notes “the gravity of this project insofar as the CSR Framework that our team develops and the resulting best practices will trickle into the portfolio companies and has the potential to be adapted by the private sector as well.” “Companies in Bhutan, a country guided by Buddhism, already exhibit many qualities of CSR,” Brian adds, “so our task is to capture the process in a robust opportunity recognition framework with associated metrics, reporting, and communication—the three main areas that need to be strengthened in all of the companies we interviewed.”

The project initiators and liaisons from DHI, Chimi Zangmo and Jonathan Mukai—an U.C. Berkeley alumnus, put great hopes on the team to deliver a solid and impactful framework. “The heavy lifting, however,” observes Cang, “will come from local GNH and CSR champions and visionaries like Lyonpo Om Pradhan, Dasho Karma Tshiteem, and Sangay Khandu, a member of parliament, who have the courage and leadership to coopt decision makers to tenaciously incorporate CSR strategy into every aspect of a company’s operations with a healthy tolerance for uncertainty in the early years.” This project has meaningfully touched the lives of Laura, Brian, and Cang—a former private equity consultant, micro-financier, and equity analyst respectively—in a business school that asks no less from its students than to go beyond oneself and challenge the status quo—perhaps to do corporate good by merging business with happiness.

By Cang V. Quach

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Tagged with CSR, class, Kellie McElhaney, Bhutan,
Posted at 5:33 PM 13 April 2011


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Oh, Mr Porter: The new big idea from business’s greatest living guru seems a bit undercooked

A critique by the Economist of Michael Porter’s latest “big idea”, shared value.

Do you agree or disagree?

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Posted at 2:00 PM 10 April 2011


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Watch Professor Kellie McElhaney’s TEDx Presidio talk on CSR 3.0, trust, Abercrombie Kids push up bikini tops, WalMart, Millennials & JCrew!

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Posted at 11:15 AM 08 April 2011


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Article - Did the debate just shift? Recyclability vs. Compostability

Insights from the Center’s Executive-in-Residence Tony Kingsbury:

But one idea that kept recurring throughout the day was that of “keeping molecules in play”—whether metal, glass, paper, or polymers. Composting may present a satisfying storyline—just throw that bottle or bag away and it turns into dirt—but it’s actually very slow and inefficient way of returning that molecule back to re-use as a package relative to recycling. That was the observation of Tony Kingsbury, Executive-In-Residence, Center for Responsible Business, Berkeley, and an executive for Dow Chemical, and a speaker at SPS.

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Posted at 2:01 PM 30 March 2011


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Art made from plastic trash — what do you think?
poptech:


Thrown to the Wind
Thrown to the Wind is a 36-foot tall tornado of plastic garbage by Wang Zhiyuan (via startmeup) 

Art made from plastic trash — what do you think?

poptech:

Thrown to the Wind

Thrown to the Wind is a 36-foot tall tornado of plastic garbage by Wang Zhiyuan (via startmeup

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Posted at 5:48 PM 29 March 2011


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Posted at 2:00 PM 16 March 2011


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newsweek:

Nightmare in Japan

The 8.9 9.0 earthquake was the most powerful the country has suffered in a long and deadly seismic history. Read:

Japan’s Political Crisis

History’s 10 Most Devastating Tremors

Why the Scariest Earthquake is Yet to Come

((Photos: Kyodo-Landov, Kyodo-AP)

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Posted at 2:01 PM 15 March 2011


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