The Divest-Invest Pledge: Practicing What We Preach
Integrity is a core principal of everything we do at the Melton Foundation. It’s also a guiding principle in my own life. I often start with the question: how hard am I trying to practice what I preach? I was recently confronted with this question when I met Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund and Divest-Invest steering committee member, at the Skoll World Forum. Divest-Invest encourages philanthropies to divest from fossil fuels and invest in solutions to climate change.
After meeting Ellen, I thought about how the Melton Foundation promotes global citizenship as a way for individuals and organizations to work together across boundaries of place and identity to address global challenges. Our global network of more than 500 Melton Fellows practices what we preach every day through their projects and individual actions, be it an online climate awareness campaign, supporting a rural school in Chile, or supporting refugees in south-eastern Europe.
It became clear to me that another way we could practice what we preach is by choosing how we invest our endowment, the earnings of which fund a large portion of our programs. The vast majority of university, foundation, and NGO endowments have holdings that are “diversified” across many categories of funds. That diversification often includes investments in industries that are linked to the very problems the institutions are trying to solve. Therein lies a big integrity gap!
Recently, with support from our Board of Directors and our investment managers, the Melton Foundation took the Divest-Invest Pledge. In doing so, we joined 140 other foundations, family offices, and charities collectively representing more than $12 billion in assets who have committed to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions such as renewable energy. The expertise and support to help investors make this transition without diminishing portfolio returns now exists. Divest-Invest Philanthropy (divestinvest.org) offers such support, and we are thrilled to be a signatory.
As demonstrated by the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community and the recent Paris Agreement, the world community now agrees that climate change is an existential threat driven by human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels. This is why, as executive director of the Melton Foundation, I felt strongly that we must initiate the process of divesting from fossil fuels and re-direct those investments into businesses and technologies that promote sustainable life on Earth.
A couple of weeks ago, just after we made the pledge, Divest-Invest Philanthropy together with its signatories (that includes us!) was awarded the 2016 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Award for Brave Philanthropy. The award was made at the International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2016, organized by CIVICUS, in Bogotá, Colombia. By coincidence, our team of Melton fellows and staff was at the conference to deliver a workshop on Global Citizenship and was present to cheer on Ellen Dorsey as she accepted the award.
This brings me back to integrity. 140 institutions have decided to align their missions with their investments. While that’s great news, it’s just a start. I hope you can join us in working with Divest-Invest Philanthropy to get the “silent majority” of mainstream philanthropy to also practice what they preach!