SMIF should be used to practice sustainability methods

Amanda Stefura, Contributing Writer

If you open up any social media today or news source today, headlines regarding the severe social and environmental problems facing the world probably overwhelm you. These massive global problems seem impossible to tackle, but they should also be impossible for you to ignore. You might ask, how can students like us actually address the major issues that are impacting people globally?

One answer is pushing the impact investing and shared value agenda. Defined by Antony Bugg-Levine and Jed Emerson, impact investing is the idea that “investors can pursue financial returns while also intentionally addressing social and environmental challenges.” Shared value, explained by Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, is a “more ethical and socially inclusive capitalism” that is rooted in a business generating profit while also creating valued social benefits. With impact investing and the additional understanding of shared value, many organizations are equipped to create social good while simultaneously generating profits.

This idea isn’t “cutting edge.” Founder and CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, Laurence Fink, stated in January that if companies want to receive the support of BlackRock, they can’t just make profits, they must also contribute to society. If major business leaders are embedding sustainability into their investment agendas, then what’s stopping the University from doing the same?

The University invests funds from our endowment to generate long-lasting assets (which is well over $500 million today after the success of the WE DO campaign). Such assets play a major part in funding the University’s essential functions. According to the University’s 2017 Endowment Report, the funds are used to create and finance the University experience by providing long-term opportunities for current and future students, including funding scholarships and financial aid packages. So, the endowment is used to generate and fund an immense amount of social good for the students on campus, but what additional impact opportunities exist within that fund that could improve our world?

In the eyes of social entrepreneurs, today’s major global issues are opportunities to create social good. The University’s rich endowment provides an abundance of resources that could be used for direct action to solve global issues through impact investments. Students have the power, creativity and passion to become positive leaders in impact investing by approaching the endowment decision-makers with shared value in mind. So it’s a no brainer: lets leverage the endowment to do good through our investments and our returns.

The Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF) might be the change agents we are looking for. SMIF is a two-semester experiential course in which University students manage nearly $1.7 million of the endowment in two funds. SMIF students could use a small percentage of their assets to invest in sustainable and impact-driven companies. If you’re concerned about risk and the potential for impact investing to reduce returns, we can turn to the data. According to the Global Impact Investing Network, nearly $15 billion allocated in impact investment markets produced at or above market rate returns. Additionally, in a survey regarding performance, 91 percent out of 200 respondents reported that their impact-related investments were in-line or outperformed their expectations. The numbers reveal that impact investments are quite successful in generating returns, so why shouldn’t we at least try to do good at the same time?

In April of 2013, the University published a Second Nature Report called “Advancing Bucknell University’s Sustainability Leadership” in which the University promises to establish itself as a learning laboratory that educates both students and faculty about the importance of incorporating sustainability into every aspect of the University.

Let’s use this laboratory concept to experiment and educate ourselves about our own investment strategies and empower the SMIF students to deeply consider how the University selects investment opportunities. Let’s inspire them to consider creating social good out of their allocated assets as well as returns. And maybe they, leading by example, can convince the rest of the endowment to follow in their footsteps.

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