Mission Related Investing

In 1995 the Directors of the Weeden Foundation initiated a program designed to reduce the dissonance between the Foundation’s mission and its investment strategies. It is widely known that most investment approaches, including those practiced by a majority of foundations, have little or no connection to ideology. In fact most strategies run counter to the social and environmental beliefs held by a growing number of individual and institutional investors. The issues of our day, whether they be biodiversity loss, global warming, or child labor, are all impacted to a great degree by corporate behavior. Yet few investors are divested from those corporations whose actions – or lack thereof – may implicitly undermine broadly held societal objectives.

The Foundation’s approach, still very much a work in progress, involves initiatives in two areas:

1. Investment screening (with a positive, rather than a negative inclination);
2. Program related investments (PRI).

Screening

In 1998, the Foundation made its first significant investment in a screened fund operated by Winslow Management Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Rather than running a negative screen by rooting out companies with poor environmental performance or future environmental liability, Winslow places greater emphasis on environmentally proactive and environmentally responsible companies.

Useful online resources for portfolio screening and green investing include Social Funds and the Social Investment Forum.

The Foundation’s PRI efforts to date include real estate acquired for conservation purposes and equity investments in environmentally conscious natural resource businesses. On the real estate side, in 1995 the Foundation provided a $150,000 bridge-financing loan, since repaid, to the Cheetah Conservation Fund/WILD Foundation for the purchase of an 18,000 acre ranch in Namibia. The parcel now serves as the International Cheetah Research and Education Center and also forms the anchor holding in the regional Waterberg Conservancy. Through purchases made in 1994 and 1998, the Foundation acquired a majority interest in a remote 125,000 acre parcel of primary rainforest and savanna, known as El Refugio, in eastern Bolivia. Adjacent to the recently expanded Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, the parcel plays periodic host to elite teams of biologists from the Field Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Missouri Botanical Garden, American Museum of Natural History, and an assortment of Bolivian scientific institutions including Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado.

Starting in 1995, the Foundation initiated a series of equity allocations to two timberland investment funds whose managers are fully committed to the sustainable management of forest resources. Portions of those lands now under management are independently certified by SmartWoodCM   according to guidelines set forth by the Forest Stewardship Council and more lands are slated for certification.

In 2002, the Foundation made a venture capital investment in a kenaf paper company, Vision Paper. This investment complements the Foundation's program interest in promoting environmentally sustainable paper consumption and production. As far back as the 1950s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture identified kenaf as an ideal fiber crop to substitute for wood. Kenaf has an estimated fiber output two to three times that of southern pine plantation, and requires less water, fertilizers, and pesticides.

A number of useful publications on program related investments are available from The Foundation Center.