Matthew W. Patksy, CFA, CEO
As I sit down to write this column having just returned from South Africa, I am reminded of the key reason I entered the field of socially responsible investing over two decades ago. It was (and is) my deep belief that the capital markets could be leveraged for positive social and environmental impact. To that end, it is clear that the international divestment movement had dramatic impact on the South African economy and helped to bring down the government that had developed the system of apartheid.
I traveled to South Africa as part of a delegation from Shared Interest. Started just after the election of Nelson Mandela to the Presidency of South Africa, Shared Interest began focusing on turning from disinvestment to reinvestment and helping to lay the practical economic foundation for the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy.
While the scars remain, there is a general sense of optimism for the future everywhere we traveled. This is particularly true among the young people we met. Those who grew up in the post-apartheid era have a deep sense of there being no limit to what they can do and achieve, and I could feel their enthusiasm when visiting the townships and talking with the families and business owners.
While visiting the province of Limpopo, I met Constance Makgato, who is raising four children from an infant to a twenty-one year old. With the financial education she received, along with loans guaranteed by Shared Interest, Constance has built a business within her village, purchasing peanuts and other food supplies in bulk and selling them in smaller quantities within her community. Constance welcomed us into her home and proudly displayed her well-appointed living room, and we learned how she has grown her business.
We toured Robben Island with former political prisoner Thulani Mmabaso. A true testament to the triumph of the human spirit, Thulani shared with us the discussions of the need for reconciliation that the prisoners had discussed during their many years of imprisonment. The prisoners believed that they were forming a government-in-waiting. They held true to their conviction that ultimately apartheid would fall and they would need to be prepared to run the new government. How right they were!
As we met one family after another who had been helped by the programs supported by Shared Interest, I was struck by how powerful a model this is for positive social and environmental impact. Joan Bavaria founded Trillium Asset Management back in 1982 with the belief that it was possible to incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into the investment process without sacrificing the financial return needs of our clients. As we look back at the past 10 years of market returns, it is remarkable how true this has been. Trillium’s unique focus on direct Community Investing has demonstrated to our clients that high social impact investing can achieve consistent financial returns.