Harnessing Privilege for Justice

I have learned firsthand from my participation in social justice  movements that privileged people in isolation cannot end wealth inequality or the close the racial wealth divide. As a wealthy white person in this country, however, that wasn’t what I was taught. When I was a student at Princeton University, I was told that poverty and climate change were problems that we, as intelligent individuals, could solve with technical innovation and social entrepreneurship. What I learned outside the classroom is that poor people are the experts on poverty; black activists are the experts on anti-black racism; and any attempt to solve a social problem must be shaped and guided by those who are most impacted.

When I first met Tiffany Brown in 2013, she was working with Resource Generation, an organization that organizes wealthy young people to become leaders in the movement for a more equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.

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Divestment as a Moral Imperative

Few stories dominated headlines this summer like the unfolding of the family separation debacle happening at the U.S.-Mexico border. As civil and political unrest worsened in some Latin American countries, the border saw a dramatic increase of families seeking asylum. Over the spring and early summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) forcibly separated more than 3,000 children from their parents, per the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, and imprisoned them in detention centers across the country; in combination with the surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border, the number of children in U.S. detention centers has now ballooned to more than 13,000.

News reports revealed images of solitary children, huddled under thin aluminum blankets and wailing in the cages of detention centers run by two private companies: GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (referred to as “CoreCivic”); both manage private prisons as well as ICE detention centers. Immigrant children held in facilities run by these two companies have complained about

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What’s Up On Wall Street – Fall 2018

Stock markets were generally higher over the waning months of summer, with stocks of large US companies for the quarter up by 7.7%, small U.S. companies up 3.6%, and foreign stocks up 1.4%. Bonds, broadly measured, were flat for the quarter, though down 1.6% so far this year.

Trade tensions have remained front and center in economic news as the administration has continued to press for additional tariffs, as announced during the quarter. However, vigorous growth of the U.S. economy,

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Resilient Investing: Recognizing Your Real Net-Worth

Our Resilient Investing Map (RIM) invites you to invest in your life in a way that recognizes and grows all of your assets. Indeed, the goal of resilient investing is to consciously and methodically spread your time and your money around the full Map, in order to nourish all the elements of your complete “net-worth.” This will include prudence with your money (Financial Assets), appreciation of your possessions and the built and natural world (Tangible Assets), and nourishing your relationships and inner growth (Personal Assets).

It may feel a little strange to think of, say, the ways you prioritize activities that enhance your child’s wellbeing, and the strategies you’re using to manage a brokerage account, as being parts of a unified investment system. We’re trained to think of these as very different kinds of decisions. But they are indeed related, as both are investments you’re making to bring about a desired result in the future.

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Resilient Investing: One World, Many Futures

We hope by now some of our new readers are feeling eager to explore the soaring vision of resilient investing that most of our clients share. Be aware, though: if you want to be a resilient investor, you need a pioneering spirit. In these volatile, uncertain times, the old road maps that guided 20th century investors are no longer sufficient. The landscape has changed, and you’ll be traveling on new pathways that have yet to see much traffic. This can be disconcerting, as it lacks the appearance of stability. That Rock of Gibraltar was once an image of the financial industry, but turned out to be a mirage.

The uncertainty that plagues today’s investors became clear to us over the past several years, as clients and friends shared their notion that the world has come unmoored, and that “business as usual” is no longer a reliable anchor for making decisions about their investments, or their lives. While these wide-ranging conversations are often rich with insight and full of passion, our role as investment advisors asks us to act from an objective view of the world, free of personal and emotional bias. As you can imagine, this is no easy task!

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The Rule of Law, Wealth Inequality, and Our Response

The rule of law is the principle that all people and entities are subject to laws that are fairly applied and enforced. No one, according to this principle, is above or outside the reach of the law—neither presidents nor corporations.

Unfortunately, the rule of law in the United States is being undermined. The current president is well known for attacking the federal judiciary in spoken and written word, though federal judges have life tenure, which affords them some degree of immunity from his political ravings. The more alarming shift—with profound, long-term implications for the rule of law—is the current administration’s nomination of partisan extremists to the federal bench and the record pace at which the Senate is confirming many of them. (It should be noted that some of these nominees are so poorly qualified that even Republicans turned their noses).

The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process has already begun to erode the rule of law in the US. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote in the infamous Citizens United ruling, which invalidated parts of a federal law that had imposed limits on corporate money in politics.

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Investing in Community and Nature

Carpenter Training Male Apprentice To Use Mechanized Saw

Socially responsible investing (SRI) is a diverse field with various aims, standards, goals, and objectives focused on sustainability, responsibility, and positive impact (SRI, again). The industry includes both corporate and community development dimensions and covers everything from startup innovation, international micro-finance, and ecosystem services to changing corporate policies and practices, advocating for regulatory and legislative improvements, and facilitating evolutionary shifts in the financial system.

As we pointed out in The Resilient Investor, we must embrace change on many levelspersonally, locally, and globallyin communities, boardrooms, and nature if we are to adapt to a more complex and uncertain trajectory for human civilization.

While the media and conventional investors may be obsessed with the next tech IPO or tax breaks for major corporations, we keep our focus attuned to our long-term vision of a world in balance, and that includes careful consideration of how we can support the social and racial justice and regenerative environmental activity that will allow us to thrive in these turbulent times. In other words, when investors, including SRI proponents, are focused on exclusively on short-term growthlarge companies merging and acquiring others and startups going public from nothingwe will fail to remedy the underlying social issues that stagnate the economy in the long term.

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Fighting Deregulation with Community Investment

On May 24, President Trump signed legislation to roll back critically important regulations on the financial industry. The consumer protection measures, which were put in place under the former Obama administration as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, have now joined the long list of public-interest regulations to be terminated by this administration.

When Obama signed Dodd-Frank into law in 2010, the mortgage meltdown that had begun in 2008 was in full swing, the government was bailing out the big banks that had caused the crisis with taxpayer dollars, and Americans were furious enough that legislators were able to push through the most significant changes to financial regulation since the reforms that followed the Great Depression. These include the Volcker rule, which keeps banks from taking speculative investments, and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—which is responsible for regulating consumer financial companies like banks, lenders, and credit unions. The act also created stipulations for banks to create plans to wind themselves down, instead of filing for bankruptcy, in the event of another economic collapse.

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Can You Future-Proof Your Life?

Many people are motivated by the desire to be as prepared as possible for an uncertain future, but they recognize that this is no easy task. We encourage you to take a big picture view of the world and consider the many ways that the future could unfold. You’ll want to envision where you would like to be going in both the near-term and in years to come, and to keep abreast of the wide and growing range of investment choices available to you. By thinking in this broad, creative way, resilient investing gives you the tools to design a personalized plan. This will show you where you’re currently investing your time and money, highlight areas that you might be over or under emphasizing, and provide the guidance you’ll need to move forward in your chosen directions.

As you put your plan into action, you’ll notice a newfound sense of calm, one that rests on the knowledge that you’ve taken measured steps to future-proof your life and are ready to ride out the inevitable storms and surprises that come your way. You can’t eliminate risk, but you can dial down your stress levels and have more peace of mind by knowing that you’re prepared. Having a comprehensive and diverse set of investments will provide genuine benefits when one or another market you’ve invested in has a downturn (whether it be a sudden drop in the Dow, a dry spell that decreases yields in your garden or regional food network, or an unexpected health challenge). While it is always painful to suffer a hit in one area, investments in other Zones will likely be doing better and help carry you through.

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2017 Social Impact Report

Corporate Engagements

Natural Investments is involved in a variety of efforts with our industry colleagues that facilitate positive economic, social, and environmental change, including shareholder engagement with companies and public policy advocacy. Some of our efforts in 2017 include:

We signed a letter to the dozen major banks, including Wells Fargo and Citibank, that are financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, urging them to avoid legal liabilities and financial and reputational risks associated with financing the controversial project—and to advocate publicly for the rerouting of the pipeline away from tribal land.

We signed a global investor statement to leading consumer and agriculture companies asking them to adopt zero—deforestation policies for sourcing key agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef, paper, and lumber. Deforestation in Latin America, which is largely caused by commercial agriculture, is a leading contributor to climate change, and the recent Soy Moratorium in Brazil proves that the rainforest can be protected while expanding agricultural production.

We signed a letter to sixty of the world’s largest banks calling for more robust and relevant climate-related disclosure to be supplied to investors on four key areas: climate-relevant strategy and implementation, climate-related risk assessments and management, low-carbon banking products and services, and banks’ public policy engagements and collaboration with other actors on climate change. Banks have an essential role to play in ensuring that we meet the Paris Climate Agreement goal of “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

We supported shareholder engagements with three top carpet manufacturers—Mohawk, Shaw, and Interface—to encourage them to develop plans for sustainable carpeting redesign to make it more recyclable, to use higher levels of appropriate recycled materials, to develop national recycling goals, to help develop end markets for discarded carpet, and to take at least shared financial responsibility to implement these actions.

We signed a letter to major motion picture studios urging them to eliminate tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies. We believe this is warranted to protect the company’s reputation and consumer base, to avoid legal liabilities, and to eliminate the reputational and potential financial risks caused by the company being associated with this public health issue.

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