Mission Related/Socially Responsible Investing

(This is a guest post from Debbie Kobak, Foundation Market Strategist at Shore Bank, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Debbie Kobak

I’ll admit that I have a bone to pick. Mission related/socially responsible investing, program related investment, community development…not only are these strategies for leveraging a foundation’s assets to make social change my bread and butter, they are my passion. So when COF puts together just one session on this fast-evolving and complex area of financial and social investment, I expect it to be worthwhile. I expect it to be substantive, innovative, and accurate. I expect the presentations to be made by a broad range experts with deep knowledge, representing the best practices in the field. I expect to learn.

I’ve gotta say, I found this morning’s panel on the socially responsible investing terribly disappointing.

Essentially, in a field brimming with new opportunities, the panel talked about the oldest (and arguably) least impactful of strategies: screening public equities. They did promise to talk about other mission investment strategies, but never really got there. In short, the opportunity to educate and encourage more foundations to innovate and look for best of class strategies to employ their assets for financial return as well as social benefit was lost. Maybe most baffling to me is that some of the best known and most successful of MRI practitioners and MRI service providers are in the house, but those voices were not heard. What gives?

COF did redeem itself, however, with the afternoon panel on community investment, “Taking Responsibility for Your Community.” A stellar panel of private as well as community foundations talked about using mission related investment strategies to get critically needed infrastructure development projects done. Innovative, yet practical. Complex deals made simple and replicable in other communities. And yes, inspiring. So I got my MRI education fix–I hope others did too.