For an overview of more recent activities, please visit IEN's Activities to Date page (updated periodically).
In April 2014, a group of 120 leaders from the investment, higher education, foundation, and non-profit communities gathered to explore the concept of the "Intentionally Designed Endowment." Georges Dyer and Tony Cortese worked with Second Nature* and Hampshire College to convene the gathering and designed it in collaboration with a planning committee of experts and practitioners.
We developed a Primer for participants that provides a general background on the interrelated concepts of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing, and sustainable investing. Click here additional resources from the gathering, including the summary report, videos, select presentations, and a Greenbiz.com article about the event.
The agenda design was based on participant feedback, which highlighted the following questions as highly relevant to conversations about endowment investing practices that are inline with an institution’s mission, and consider the full range of emerging material ESG factors:
- Why should we consider aligning investments with ESG goals? How does this fit with our mission as educational and philanthropic institutions? Our responsibilities as fiduciaries? Click here for resources related to fiduciary responsibility
- What are financial costs and benefits of such alignment? Can we get good ROI with such alignment? Click here for resources related to performance
- What is happening across higher education and foundations and how can we learn from others who have moved forward in this area? Click here for resources related to case studies & best practices
- What are the financial structural challenges in the market that may impede action, e.g., commingled investment funds or donor advised funds?
- How might we discover and assess the range of strategies and products available for aligning investments with ESG goals? Click here for resources related to existing strategies & products
- How might we effectively facilitate a constructive conversation and decision-making process across all our stakeholders? Click here for resources related to stakeholder engagement
- How might we keep informed about and support each other in addressing these issues in the future?
With continued engagement from Hampshire College, Second Nature, and participants of the April event, Second Nature’s founder, Tony Cortese, and Georges Dyer, established the Intentional Endowments Network, a non-profit, collaborative initiative. Ceres, a pioneer in mobilizing investor action and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), comprised of 100 leading investors collectively managing more than $13 trillion in assets, served as the fiscal sponsor to get the project off the ground. In 2015, the IEN principals formed The Crane Institute of Sustainability, Inc. to serve as the organizational home for the initiative. In 2016, the Crane Institute was granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
The IEN grew organically from this initial event, and held four similar forums in different regions of the U.S. over the 18 months that followed. The IEN also presented in several workshops, conference sessions, and webinars. For a summary of activities to date, please click here.
In June 2015, the IEN formed a Steering Committee of individuals representing a range of endowments, investment firms, and non-profits that had participated in IEN activities. The Steering Committee then formed a series of Working Groups focused on key topics relevant to the network, such as financial performance, fiduciary duty, and shareholder engagement.
Goals & Outcomes
Our goal is to create a robust and active network of institutional leaders and their stakeholders, industry practitioners and academic experts, that serves as a vehicle for a variety of actions (meetings, trainings, conferences, resources, education, peer-learning, etc.) to achieve the following outcomes:
- Intentionally designed endowments, aligned with institutional mission, values, and sustainability goals, become the norm in higher education and other tax-exempt organizations, evidenced by growth in policies, practices and actions.
- Improved sustainability performance by businesses in response to investor concerns, evidenced by changes in corporate reporting, policies and behaviors related to investor demands and shareholder resolutions.
Current economic, social, and environmental trends are not sustainable. Sustainability challenges related to climate change, water, food, economic inequality, poverty and social unrest pose risks and opportunities to investment portfolios. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that fiduciary duty compels investors to consider how these mega-trends will impact their portfolios and act accordingly. Students and other stakeholders are demanding action. At the same time, there are significant and complex structural barriers to such alignment.
The Intentional Endowments Network promotes intentionally designed endowments that consider the full range of impacts – financial, social, environmental – of investment practices. The network provides safe and effective venues for institutional leaders to engage in constructive dialogue, learn about these topics, and work together to develop effective solutions. It provides a much-needed way to align the many actions, initiatives, and organizations focused on various aspects of sustainable investing relevant to endowment portfolios. It reduces confusion and provides an accessible way for institutional leaders to stay engaged with these critical issues. It is highly collaborative, working with and through existing organizations and initiatives in this space to leverage synergy and avoid duplication.
The mounting evidence of the urgency of the climate crisis, the student fossil fuel divestment movement, and other pressing social and environmental issues are prompting a conversation about endowment investment practices as they relate to higher education’s mission and purpose in the context of the 21st century sustainability challenge. The organizing team’s unique experience and relationships in this sector, combined with a new collaborative approach can engage the critical leadership of higher education senior administrators and trustees to serve as role models and create innovative new ways to ensure investment practices contribute to creating a health, just, and sustainable society.
* Second Nature (www.secondnature.org) is a trusted leader in the higher education effort on sustainability and the supporting organization of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (www.acupcc.org) – a network of nearly 700 institutions committed to pursuing climate neutrality and integrating sustainability considerations into all of their educational, research, and operational activities.