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What has faith to do with finance? Inspiring book launched in China with global impact

December 12, 2016:

A groundbreaking paper on Faith and Finance launched in China yesterday.

The 84-page paper, written and compiled by ARC, was commissioned by OECD and UNDP to explore the role of faiths as investors in the future, particularly in connection to the strategic development goals (SDGs) created last year by the United Nations.

Billions of dollars will be needed from both government and civil sectors of communities and nations all around the world, and some of that could well come from religious funds - both those held by religious organisations as pension funds or invested to pay salaries and costs, and also the vast funds held by religious believers, wanting to do something positive with their money, while still finding a financial return on investments

Martin Palmer presents Faith in Finance in Nanjing
Faith in Finance was launched in Nanjing at a major meeting held by the Amity Foundation, the largest charity in China. It was created in 1985 on the initiative of Chinese Christians to promote education, social service, health, community development and civil society building from China's coastal provinces in the east to the minority areas of the west.

"Faith in Finance has a global view, but we chose to launch it in China to reflect the significant potential input from religions in China, and in particular Daoists, Buddhists and Confucianists... and also because China is the country where membership of religions is growing fastest in the world," said ARC's Martin Palmer.

"China is investing significantly in renewable energy [as well as nuclear and coal-based energy], and is a major investor in Asia, Africa and Europe, so to have Chinese religions promoting ethical investment to their followers could have a huge impact."

"The choice of China reflects the new significance of faiths in the modern commercial world. Faiths have values about nature, they care for people, they care about the proper use of resources, all of which are critical values for everyone, if the world's going to have a just and sustainable future."

The idea arose directly from a major event ARC ran with the UN on the faiths and the SDGs in Bristol in September last year.

"We consulted very widely with faith fund managers around the world and undertook considerable research tracing faith finances," Palmer said."This is also an area ARC has been active before, particularly in the International Interfaith Investment Group (3iG) a decade ago.

Read the full Faith in Finance paper here

Contents

The paper explores different investment strategies by the faiths, looks at the amount of financial investments held by certain religious organisations and faith leaderships, explores core faith teachings about investment (both modern and ancient), looks at investments in the context of the SDGs, and proposes a meeting of key players in 2017 to make these ideas become manifest in strong positive programmes to improve the world while still making the financial return that is necessary for faiths to pay their staff, pensions, rent and other key payments. This is not about faith charitable donations, although these are also significant.

Results and successes so far

A number of interesting things have already happened as a result of working on this paper.

One has been the reconnection with many with whom ARC worked over a decade ago when we helped create the International Interfaith Investment Group (3iG). That impetus was still very active in a few groups (including the Church of England which has a detailed plan and programme for ethically and positively investing its funds). Others have found that the process of being part of the research for Faith in Finance has helped them get started again on the path of faith consistent investing.

The document includes a critique of the way the SDGs were being promoted and used by the UN. It helps voice the concern of some faiths and also some philanthropic bodies about how the UN saw them as instrumental for the fulfilment of the UN’s goals rather than as partners in sustainable development per se.

Instead it suggests a different role: “Faiths will become SDG investors because it makes sense within their world-view and values. They are not there to be adjuncts to the UN, OECD or any other group, They are there to be partners pursuing values that accord with the teachings of their faith, not as instruments of policy for others.” (Faith in Finance p 67)

Other results of the Bristol Commitments meeting

As another result of the Bristol Commitments, the major report on “Financing and implementing the Global Goals in Human Settlements and City-Region’ prepared for the Habitat III meeting last month (November 2016) called “Roadmap 2030” has placed the faiths as one of the five central partnerships which need to be developed.

The compilers of the Report used the Bristol Commitments to see if the faiths had anything to say on the key SDG issues relating to urbanisation. They found that every one of the issues was addressed through the Bristol Commitments which increases the likelihood of these partnerships being made, and the speed at which this might happen.

Background

During the run up to the Kathmandu Sacred Gifts meeting in November 2000 ARC undertook a survey of the assets of its major faiths and during this discovered the vast holdings of stocks and shares which so many of the faiths have.

While there has long been a tradition of some faiths using a screening policy in order not to invest in certain products explicitly banned by their teachings (e.g. alcohol, pork, gambling) little has been done to seek to pro-actively invest in areas which can be seen as supportive of the principles and teachings of the faiths. The Bishop of London described it as choosing to follow the "via positiva" rather than the "via negativa".

By the time Kathmandu took place, ARC had produced a first study and book called A Capital Solution. We had identified the fact that the faiths between them constitute one of the major investing blocks of the world economy and had begun to suggest that this power and influence could be more effective if it was done in collaboration with the different faiths rather than as faith groups by themselves.

The key phrase is that each faith should assess its portfolios with “due regard to the faith’s beliefs, values, the environment and human rights so that all life on Earth can benefit.”

The faiths are almost unique in having a long-term perspective on investments over against the more rapacious culture of the general market. Increasingly however, ethical investments are being seen by the commercial world as of significance because of their sustainability.

Everywhere there are structures - roads, railways, aquaducts, parks - set up because somebody somewhere made a decision that this is how they want the world to look. Now it is time for our generation to decide how the world will be.

As a result finance officers for some significant faith groups looked at their investments, and see whether they can use the money not only to make a profit, but to make a difference.

It is a model that every individual, of every faith and of no faith, might be encouraged to follow.


Links

Faith in Finance, 2016

How do you invest £8 billion ethically? 2014 story

Chinese Pilgrimage City transformed by huge investment

Why some faith institutions find responsible investment difficult

Social investment a weapon of change for the world's faiths

3iG launches in 2005 with 27 founder members and partners




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