On January 15, 2020, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies hosted their monthly Community Conversations event, a facilitated conversation for members of the Yale community and the public to discuss issues pertaining to the School’s program and the wider Yale community. The recent protest during the Harvard/Yale football game, which called for Yale’s endowment to divest from fossil fuels, had brought the facilitators of the Community Conversations event to consider a broader dialogue about issues around divestment and sustainable investing.
The theme of this month’s conversation was titled Endowments & Divestment: How do they work and what do they mean? The panel brought together four members from across the sustainable investing and academic communities with the goal of informing attendees on what exactly the divestment movement entails and what it means for endowments. According to organizers, this lunch brought the largest audience to date for a Community Conversation.
The panelists included IEN’s own Alice DonnaSelva, who currently serves as the network’s Managing Director; Deborah Spalding, Co-CIO of Commonfund Asset Management Investment team; Gabriela M. Morales-Nieves, a Master of Forestry student at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (F&ES) and member of the Endowment Justice Coalition; and Brad Gentry, the Associate Dean for Professional Practice at Yale F&ES and Director of the Center for Business and the Environment.
The panelists discussed how endowments work and are managed by institutions like Yale, why people would advocate for endowments to divest from fossil fuels and to forgive Puerto Rican debt, and the role of transparency and accountability in endowment management, among other topics. The panel discussion was followed by two Q&A sessions, one with the full group and one with a smaller group of 30-40 students and faculty. Questions were asked which ranged from techniques for having a conversation with the Endowment Office to what can be done to invest in low carbon or no carbon investments in retirement plans. Students also talked with panelists about the performance and process ramifications of forgiving Puerto Rican debt and divesting from fossil fuels.