Category: Sustainable Investing

Talking SIP Launch with Floris Ensink

Looking back at the launch and discussing the project’s next steps

Ankit Kumar – Social Media and Content Creation intern

 

A team of highly motivated individuals started working on the Sustainable Investing Project about a year ago. They witnessed a strong interest from different groups and individuals in investing as a way of expressing social engagement and making a positive change.

On January 15, 2018 the SIP team officially launched their guide and presented their first workshop in the JMSB building. To know more about this coveted project, we caught hold of Floris Ensink, one of the board members at Sustainable Concordia and one of the key members of this project since its inception. Let us find out what he has to say:

As per my understanding, the sustainable investing project is being launched in stages. Can you tell us what these stages are and what stage are you currently on?

“Throughout the summer and fall semesters, a team of interns have been working on a guide that demystifies the world of finance in an easy to understand way for anyone who’s never delved into the subject. The second part of the guide discusses all the ins and outs of how to integrate sustainability in investing, it discusses the different approaches of sustainable investing, ways to measure impact, and ways to assess and minimize trade offs between social and environmental impacts, and financial returns. The last part of the guide consists of a more hand on support for whoever is going to put the theory in practice.
We’re still working on that guide, but at the same time, we’re reaching out to our different audiences, such as community groups that have money to invest and individuals that are interested in the topic. We’re organizing sustainable investing workshops, hosting discussions and organizing simulations. Eventually, we want to set up a sustainable fund through which organizations and individuals can invest money, in a way that allows people to easily get started and learn as they go, while being exposed to acceptable levels of risk. The first call out for those actions was given at the launch event held in John Molson School of Business on January 15th.”

 

About the SIP launch, how do you feel it went? What kind of feedback did you get about the event?

“For us, the launch event was a great opportunity to test if we would succeed in bringing our enthusiasm and insights about sustainable investing across to a varied audience. The feedback we got from people was very encouraging. People were engaged and asked a lot of pertinent questions. We’ve been asked to come and talk or provide workshops by a number of organizations. We really got the feeling there’s a strong demand for what we’re doing and that there’s a momentum for sustainable investing.”

 

That’s amazing! At the project launch, I also go to know that the SIP is a community-oriented project. Can you tell us how this project can help the Concordia community?

“Our main target audience consists of community groups and individuals who want to contribute to the community. As mentioned before, we want to make sustainable investing, as a means to express engagement and as a way to make a difference, accessible to a broader group of people. We want to make people aware of the possibilities of sustainable investing and help them unlock that potential. What we try to bring across is that money is power, when you put that money on the bank, you give your power to the bank, when you invest it, you exercise your power. In some way, we’re trying to democratize sustainable investing. We believe that broader active participation of citizens in investment decisions will be beneficial for financial markets as legitimate centres of power, as well as for the communities that are impacted by decisions make on financial markets.
At Concordia, we have everything that is needed to set a positive example. We have the funds, the knowledge, the audience, the infrastructure and a culture that is strongly rooted in participatory governance. We strongly feel that there is a huge potential to make this subject one of the differentiators for Concordia University.”

Now that a considerable amount of research has been done on “Sustainable Investing” and the project has been launched, what would be your next course of action?

“The most important next step will be to host workshops on sustainable investing and to organize talks about it. The project will become meaningful in the interaction with people. We want to facilitate exchanges, raise awareness, share knowledge and start familiarizing people, both those with a financial and those with a community background, with the concepts and terminology that we’re using in our guide. We can’t do this alone. We solicit student groups, community groups, experts on finance, professors, professionals, artists, etc. to help us host events, validate our guide, reach out and make the project come to life. What we would like the Concordia administration to help us with is to provide more transparency about Concordia’s endowment funds and in the social, environmental and governance performance of the funds it’s investing in. I know that that has not been common practice in the past, but we must look into the future and realize that in the long term, exposing yourself to your stakeholders will create stronger ties, build trust and will eventually be a source of pride for the entire Concordia community.”

Who all are there in the team of this project? How can other interested folks join the team?

“The project is hosted by Sustainable Concordia and credit must largely go to Mauricio Buschinelli, who is the financial coordinator of SC and who facilitates the entire process. Another person whose time and expertise has been invaluable is Marc Richards, who held the position of financial coordinator until 2016. Jueji Chen, Mariamalia Alvarez and Kamden Biggart are interns who are, or have been working on the project and who have provided fantastic support with writing the guide. Chantal Forgues is supporting the project in here role as sustainability coordinator at Concordia University. This is a rare group of people who each have expertise both in finance and in sustainability, and who, in some way, know how to make things make sense from both perspectives.”

Call-out to interested folks: Come join our team!

“As mentioned, we will be soliciting feedback from financial experts. We’ll need help organizing workshops, hosting talks, spreading the word. I invite anyone who is interested in joining our team or helping with the project to send us an email, indicating how you’d like to contribute, so that together we can make this something really exciting.”

 

How’s interning with SIP?

We are now all familiar with the Sustainable Investing Project (SIP) taken on a team of finance-savvy and sustainability-minded folks. One of them is Jueji Chen, currently conducting her thesis at JMSB, who has been interning at Sustainable Concordia for the project during the past couple of months.

 

What has the SIP team been doing these days?

Since this summer, the SIP team has been constantly gathering information to eventually create a solid guide for organizations like SC to invest in sustainable ventures. The semester is ending, and the project has evolved immensely: in January they will be launching their guide and hopefully present their first workshop.
As an expert in finance, Jueji has been editing and reviewing the content put together so far. She explains that she sees herself “in this project as a researcher and this is why they hired [her], because coincidently [her] thesis is the combination of finance and sustainability.”
The team is composed of students and professionals, working in and outside of the finance realm, but all passionate about sustainability. This diversity represents the variety of points of views and experiences in the community and is essential to the project. Everyone has something to bring and something to learn. When it comes to Jueji, for instance, while using her strength in research, she has learned to view finance in another way. She is getting to “combine [her] academic background with more real-life scenarios, hence to make it more practical.” When asked how this approach has worked so far, she said: “I’ve been really enjoying the process, it has improved my sustainable understanding, which facilitates my own research as well as this project.”

 

What is it like interning as part of SIP?

Having met (most of) the folks involved in the project, and witnessing how fast it is growing, it seemed to me that working as part of SIP was a stimulating opportunity.
Jueji approved and added to that idea, stressing the fact that the environment was inspiring: “The most precious thing I get here is to communicate with people.” She continued, “When I work on my thesis, I am alone, except talking to my supervisor. But here I can communicate with colleagues, I like to exchange ideas with people. It is this spirit of collaboration that I value a lot.”

This collaborative approach simply embodies what SIP is all about: making connections, gathering information, considering different approaches and sharing it all with the community.

Besides, as a community-oriented project, all voices are taken into account and seen as valuable. The goal is to make everyone feel more at ease with finance after all! Interning for SIP, Jueji also directly felt that it inspired participants more willing to get involved: “My colleagues always encourage me to express myself. I’m really motivated by that, I’ve become more confident.” Outside of the team, the launching will continue to embody these ideas as it will aim to “not only make more people know about SIP but also look for their opinions about it” no matter how much they know about finance, Jueji explained.

 

So, what should we expect from the launching event onwards?

Now that research is kind of settled and a launching event is being planned, we cannot help wondering what will happen next. For Jueji, the project is just starting: “There is no limit we can exert over imagination. I see entrepreneurship in this project, we can tailor and extend it as much as we want.”  

By the end of her internship, she wants to go as far as possible in completing and polishing the project: “I would expect that we get to the 4th stage, which is to present [SIP] to professionals and to collect their feedback. Furthermore, we can promote our project among non-profit organizations – which are our target audience and even help them make sustainable investment. If we can fulfill these missions or even achieve the potential of doing so, that’d be awesome.”

 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of all this positivity coming from SIP! Stay tuned for more news within the next few weeks and information about their launching event here.

 

Photo: Sustainable Concordia and The Dish Project workshop for incoming interns, Fall 2017.

Catching up with the Sustainable Investing Project

A few weeks ago, we finally posted information about this amazing ongoing project at the heart of SC’s Carbon campaign: SIP. Do you also wonder what these letters stand for, what the team members do and what they have achieved so far? We’ve got all these answers for you today!

 

What is SIP?
SIP is a project taken on by a small team (some of them in the picture above!) within Sustainable Concordia, to do research and create a Sustainable Investment Project (SIP) Guide. The project, currently bottom-lined by our Finance coordinator, Mauricio Buschinelli, was started in the summer.

 

Why is SIP needed in the community?
Here you can indeed wonder, what does investing have to do with me? Except if you’re keen on stock markets, it can be difficult to relate the dark finance sphere to your daily life.

Well, being one of the not-so-sure-what-finance-is-all-about group, I asked Mauricio how it all started and why it would be needed. The answer was to actually make it accessible and understandable to a wider crowd – to folks like me (and maybe like you too!).
He explained that in the context of the university being pressured to divest (to take its money out the fossil fuel or other unethical and unsustainable industries), research around sustainable investment and tools became increasingly necessary as “we realized that a lot of people who are involved and very passionate about it have been lacking the financial argument to take the conversation to the next level.”  In the divest discussions “people who have been involved were not sure what to bring up to counter this [pro-fossil fuel investment] argument,” when facing the administration or investors in committees for instance. “So we thought maybe we create a more widespread understanding of sustainable investing and how to divest, then everybody could argue against unsustainable investing and it becomes something that’s not just elitist,” he added.

 

What will it do?
Mauricio summarized that the project thus aims “to create that research, to give these arguments to talk at this level but also to demystify and diffuse this information in the community so that everyone feels comfortable engaging in these conversations.”

The coordinator emphasized that organizations’ (and individuals’) voices mattered as “in addition to the divestment argument, if we can foster a culture of sustainable investing in the social and solidarity economy sector, we can actually influence the financial sector as a whole by saying: ‘I’m only willing to invest if you publish timely and reliable information on your environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.’” Thus educating and implementing this culture will give the tools to demand change and start a shift in various sectors.

SIP aims to offer tools to talk about investing in our future – but is that it?
It is also about actually doing it!
The project, although started at the Z annex, will be a collaboration: it targets social and solidarity economy organizations, and requires their input in the project. Mauricio explained that “we are only one organization, and we can’t create a guide for all organizations,” as each has different needs and resources. However, all together, we can start mapping different investing possibilities!

 

How, though?
The project is so far broken down into five chapters. The first two are Finance 101 and what is sustainable investing: a workshop will be developed to introduce our community to the topics. The third chapter starts getting deeper in the process, as it tackles how an organization can have this discussion with its board of directors. After that, Mauricio explained, “the last two chapters are more about how you actually do it, once you’ve decided what you want to invest in and what you don’t want, this is what you do to actually invest.”

 

What are the challenges faced when researching sustainable investing?
The small team has gone far already, as they recently closed the first chapter and are now planning a launch event. Mauricio however made it clear that it had been a lot of work, as “sustainable investing is an emerging topic, there is no industry standard.” Besides, even at Concordia with it’s John Molson School of Business, it is difficult to find mentors or information in the field: Mauricio pointed out that “Concordia only has one professor that focuses on sustainable investing, and there are databases that focus on information relevant to sustainable investing but concordia doesn’t currently pay for them. So right now, if one wants to look at information regarding sustainable investing, they have to go to databases that have very limited information.” And if that was not complicated enough, sustainable investing has plenty of meanings which, according to the finance coordinator “depend on your own values, and the definition that you give it […] there is an array of opinions on what it is and what it is not. Currently, no one can claim to know exactly what sustainable investing is. And we think that’s important to understand!”

The project is moving fast and is very promising – stay tuned for our bi-weekly updates and learn more here!

 

 

  • Pauline Soumet, Communications and Design Coordinator