In late 2013 IEN co-founder, Tony Cortese, had a conversation with Jonathan Lash, President of Hampshire College and former President of the World Resources Institute (WRI) about the student-led fossil fuel divestment movement on campuses. Both Second Nature, which Tony Cortese co-founded with then US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts in 1993 and WRI had been leading efforts over the last two decades to transform societal thinking that will result in a healthy, just and sustainable society. At Second Nature we worked to transform the education, research, operations and community service of higher education because it is the only sector capable of creating the broad scale and necessary change in mindset, skills and values of professionals and leaders over the long term. In this work, Second Nature led the development and implementation of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) - a publicly transparent and accountable commitment by 679 colleges and universities in all 50 states and D.C. to become carbon neutral in their operations and prepare students to help the rest of society to do the same. There have been impressive results – a 25% overall reduction in carbon emissions in 6 years and financial savings of $1-2 billion.
Despite this progress and the explosion of new educational initiatives, most of these and other schools have not focused on the health, social or environmental impacts of their investments. Most endowment decision-making has been divorced from the strategic sustainability related improvements in education, research, operational practice and community amounting to a cultural divide. The student led divestment movement highlighted the need to redouble efforts around the climate crisis and confronted schools about their endowment policies and actions. Many schools were scrambling to respond and several had contacted Jonathan Lash because Hampshire College had been a leader in sustainable investing. Jonathan and Tony (who was now a SN Senior Fellow) asked then president, David Hales, if Second Nature would work with Hampshire College to hold a conference to help senior leaders in higher education learn from each other and financial industry experts about the ways to deal with endowment investments that would support their institution's mission and goals. President Hales agreed, we put together a steering committee of leaders and we held the first conference in April 2014 attended by 120 leaders from higher education, NGO’s, foundations and the investment industry.
From the April 2014 gathering it became clear that higher education and other leaders needed a support structure to enhance their ability to include endowment investments in their thrust to model healthy, just and sustainable action. Georges Dyer, IEN co-founder and former SN vice president, and Tony talked with over 100 leaders and professionals and decided to create the Intentional Endowments Network in June 2014. We have been delighted with the response to this effort and set our sights on working with a multitude of well-known initiatives and organizations to make alignment of endowment investments with the mission and environmental, social and governance goals without sacrificing financial returns the default in higher education over the next 5-8 years.