Sound Investments for a prosperous planet

ESG for Impact Conference Emphasizes Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

On Oct. 8-11, I served on the agenda committee of the ESG for Impact Conference in Broomfield, Colorado, and coordinated two panels within the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion track.

The first panel, “Creativity, Connection, and Community: ESG+I and Indigenous Investment Success,” discussed how investors can approach Indigenous partnership by supporting community values, data sovereignty, and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC)—the right to give or withhold consent at any point for projects impacting their territories. These uphold Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination.

With Kate Finn, executive director of First Peoples Worldwide moderating, panelists walked through common problems when well-meaning Wall Street investors want to fulfill their clients’ impact directives, but are unfamiliar with the legal and regulatory differences surrounding land, asset ownership, and other contexts of Native operations. This can result in investors withdrawing during the evaluation process because their due diligence standards are incongruous with realities in Indian Country.

Each Native community has its own unique contexts and sets of challenges and opportunities, therefore investing in Native communities should not be seen as something that can be standardized, noted Keoni Lee of Hawai`i Investment Ready. He recommended working through Native intermediaries, which have a deep understanding of cultural and relational contexts of Native communities to engagemore productively, equitably, and in right relationship.

Clay Colombe of Siċaŋġu Co, a multi-departmental economic development corporation for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe cautioned against wasting time. Too often his team collects requested information and answers questions during a series of meetings only to be rejected for not matching all the expected criteria. All information is needed up front, so that both parties can understand immediately whether and at what pace a project can move forward.

The second panel, “Practice What You Preach: DEI in Practice Management,” specifically targeted financial advisory firms. The summary description begins with the note, “SRI professionals often advocate for more Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) within corporations, but turning the mirror around shows a frequent lack of diversity within the advisory industry itself.”

I also shared Natural Investments’ history on tackling racial equity internally since 2020.

Angela Barbash, CEO and Co-founder of Revalue, presented her company’s origin story, where frustration and exclusion led to starting an independent firm. She touched on the ways the firm has intentional differences in its administration, operations, and service model to address many of the financial and practice management obstacles that traditional financial advisory firms impose on employees and clients. Barbash thoughtfully reminded the audience to take time and consider less obvious inclusivity concerns such as neurodivergent needs as well.

Jock Payten, CEO of Nubian Square Investment Advisors, shared his journey and tips for networking in BIPOC membership groups around the country. As opposed to waiting for a diverse slate to arrive at one’s doorstep, there is a responsibility to cultivate relationships in areas where diverse candidates can be found. Additionally, Jock posed the question to the audience:

“How many white advisors do you know work at Black-owned firms?”

No hands were raised. It was a poignant remark that helped frame the panel’s discussion on how normal a white majority culture seems and how difficult it can be to re-program that reigning perspective. At the end, panelists gave attendees a resource list of the discussion to take action beyond the conference.

NI’s Michael Kramer also moderated a plenary session panel called, “Impact Contenders and Pretenders: Why Standards Matter,” which featured As You Sow CEO Andy Behar, Founder and CEO of Adasina Social Capital Rachel Robasciotti, and former Head of Sustainability Research at Morningstar Jon Hale.

The session explored how broad interpretations of sustainable, responsible, and impact investing are triggering both greenwashing and greenhushing, a new trend when organizations deliberately choose to under-report or hide their green or ESG credentials from public view to evade scrutiny.

The session also highlighted the importance of adopting high standards of industry practice to preserve the field’s integrity, while deepening our commitment to create truly equitable, just, and inclusive economic and social systems.

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