Here's How a Socially Responsible Investment Firm Does Its Giving

The group Sum of US pressured a top Norwegian Bank to stop financing the Dakota Access Pipeline

The group Sum of US pressured a top Norwegian Bank to stop financing the Dakota Access Pipeline

Giving Tuesday is here again, and for some of us, the day spotlights how difficult it can be to decide where to to give. Which organizations are having real structural impact, as opposed to just trying to clean up the mess? 

One leader in the social sector who thinks a lot about that question is Kristin Hull, founder and CEO of Nia Global Solutions. Nia invests in 35 to 50 companies that are considered some of most creative and positively impactful publicly traded companies, all of which have women in executive management, and are open to engaging with Nia to promote diversity and sustainability. A portion of the profits from Nia Global Solutions go to the company’s nonprofit partners.

For Giving Tuesday, Hull wrote a post featuring five of those nonprofit partners—all of which Hull sees as having a deep structural impact, particularly on our financial systems.

“Disrupting our capital system needs to occur at all levels of investment and across the capitalization spectrum, from early stage start-ups to multinational corporations,” said Hull in her Giving Tuesday post.

Let’s take a look at each of these organizations and how they are tackling big problems in a structural way. 

As You Sow

Hull called As You Sow a “powerhouse organization engaging companies to build and adopt strong social and environmental policies.” As You Sow is working on global issues related to energy, waste and the health of the environment. For over two decades, As You Sow has been using the “power of the proxy”—that is, proxy voting in corporate shareholder meetings in order to drive a corporate responsibility agenda. It counts among its recent successes commitments from “Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé Waters NA to recycle 50 percent of their plastic bottles (70 billion bottles a year) in North America.” These are big gains that help corporations do their fair share of the cleanup from the environmental damage they wreak.

Rain Forest Action Network

For RAN, the goal is holding corporate feet to the environmental fire, so to speak. This organization is focused both nationally and globally, with the global focus on issues including the forests of Asia and palm oil plantation expansions in Indonesia.

"I appreciate RAN's ability to identify bad actors and help these large global players to curb their destructive practices," said Hull. "I have been involved with RAN since the early '90s, and am a big fan of their strategic campaigns as well as their collaborations with other nonprofits." 

RAN, in conjunction with several other nonprofits, produces the Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card, which calls out the bad actors and gives them bad grades on the many areas of fossil fuel production, as well as their record on human rights. 

RSF Social Finance

RSF is a very old foundation (originating in 1936) with a very new agenda—to provide fair funding opportunities for businesses that are adding both social and economic value to the community. For example, in 2002, RSF launched its first for-profit lending venture called the Fair Economy Fund, which gave loans to local businesses including Organic Bouquet and Bent Oak Farms.

In 2016, with partners, RSF published a white paper called A New Foundation for Portfolio Management, that “challenges the traditional notions of portfolio theory and investment management.” The new theory is based on recognizing that on a planet with finite natural resources, there cannot be infinite economic growth. “With a $1000 minimum to open an account, RSF offers a beautiful way for many of us to begin impact investing,” said Hull.

Sum of Us

This global watchdog organization has an unusual strategy of uniting consumers and investors to push for big changes. For example, Sum of Us has fought against the use of slave labor in Eritrea. It's also successfully lobbied the banks supporting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and recently claimed a victory with DNB, the largest bank in Norway, which withdrew its assets supporting the pipeline’s construction. 

"Sum Of Us has a great commitment and ability to encourage and amplify the voices of consumers from around the world to help make big differences in our largest companies," said Hull. "I was honored to be a seed donor to Sum of Us in 2011, and have watched their successes grow, and their influence expand these past 5 years."

Transform Finance

This new addition to Nia’s nonprofit partners is putting the words “finance” and “social justice” together for companies large and small. The plan, here, is to get companies to structure their businesses to prioritize human rights, rather than structuring the business around making profits.

Transform Finance is not as seasoned as the other organizations out there, but appears to be very active in convening important meetings for developing nations like Haiti and being part of roundtable discussions with organizations like the Ford and Kresge Foundations on how to build more social justice into their environmental and workforce development grantmaking. Hull writes: "I'm proud of the work that TF is taking on: helping investors to understand their role in making change, and providing tools to both investors and early-stage businesses looking to make a key difference."