Movements, Money and Possibilities 3/3

This is the third post in a series from Jenn Miller, Atkinson’s Director of Social Investment, on this topic.

“What about the other 96.5%?” is a question preoccupying many foundations here in Canada and elsewhere.

This is the amount of capital that foundations generally do not grant out to their charitable partners each year. It stays in the market and it is increasingly of interest to foundations who want to use their full portfolio, not just their grant making dollars, in the service of their missions.

At Atkinson, we have an endowment of $82 million that’s growing most days. It generates much needed income that allows us to provide grants to decent work advocates. Supporting this network of movement builders is a big part of my job at the foundation. I also work on our responsible investing initiatives.

For the uninitiated, a responsible investor is one that is concerned with more than just the financial health of their investments. Responsible investing considers environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors in investment decision-making. It is based in the idea that to address society’s increasingly complex challenges – growing income and wealth inequality and climate change, as examples – we must find ways to affect change within the market itself. Simply put, we cannot grant our way out of the problems we face.

For more than a decade we have worked with Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) as our partner in shareholder activism. On behalf of over 30 investors – foundations, universities, pension funds and others – SHARE coordinates and facilitates dialogue with publicly traded companies to achieve better environmental, social and governance (ESG) outcomes. This movement of shareholders uses its significant capital investment – more than $14 billion combined – to influence corporate behaviour and practices toward social and economic inclusion and sustainable development.

SHARE’s approach to responsible investment and shareholder stewardship has an impact. Last year alone, SHARE engaged 29 companies held by Atkinson and saw tangible results: two companies established new public greenhouse gas emissions reporting, one reduced its emissions, two companies implemented significant reconciliation practices and consistent with our focus on decent work, two companies committed to giving shareholders an annual advisory vote on executive compensation.

In the years ahead, Atkinson will build on this work and expand our ability to leverage our endowment for public benefit by:

  • being more proactive in the monitoring of our portfolio’s ESG exposure on an ongoing basis by actively engaging our fund managers on social, economic and environmental issues that matter to the foundation
  • investing up to 5% of our assets in mission related and impact investments to complement our grant making and expand our reach
  • continuing to work with SHARE to develop tools and strategies to support investors to promote decent work policies and practices in publicly held companies.

These are turbulent times and Atkinson, like many others, is being called upon to step up as an ally, a grant maker and an investor. This means using all of our tools in the toolbox. Over many decades, we’ve learned that managing our investments in ways that hold corporate leaders accountable and encourage strong corporate environmental, social and governance performance is not only not only necessary, it’s possible.

This is the third post in a series from Jenn Miller, Atkinson’s Director of Social Investment, on this topic.