More than money? CCF leader attends Vatican impact investing conference

| July 19, 2018 | 0 Comments

Anne Cullen Miller, president of the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota, joined Catholic leaders from around the world in Rome for the third Vatican Conference on Impact Investing July 8-11. The conference was organized by Catholic Relief Services and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The Catholic Spirit asked her to describe her experience and the difference impact investing makes. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Why did you attend the Third Vatican Conference on Impact Investing?

A. I received an invitation to attend from His Eminence Cardinal Turkson, who leads the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Sean Callahan, President of Catholic Relief Services. Since CCF of MN had recently made its first investments in the impact investing space, we thought attending the conference was an extraordinary opportunity to represent the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota and to learn and network with the best and brightest in this field.

Anne Cullen Miller

Q. What exactly is impact investing?

A. A concept that is oriented around the belief that our financial investments should be aligned with our values; that investments can and should generate positive, measurable social and environmental benefits in addition to a financial return. At the conference, I heard it referred to as “caring capital” and also defined as “a desire to model God’s economy, intentionally pursuing benefit for all affected by a transaction.” Father Theodore Hesburgh of the University of Notre Dame said it this way: “Lord, give bread to those who have hunger and to those who have bread, give a hunger for social justice.”

Q. Why does the Church care about this? 

A. The Church has had renewed interest in and accelerating energy for Catholic Impact investing under Pope Francis’ leadership. The Pope reminds us every day that we should never, ever forget about the poor among us. Our Holy Father also recognizes that the world is facing huge social and environmental challenges that institutional Church funding, government funding, and philanthropy are insufficient to solve for. As Catholics, as global citizens, we are encouraged by the Holy Father to act together to unravel the problems and work toward a sustainable future. Catholic Impact Investing is one way to come together as community in response.

Q. Why is socially responsible investing important?

A. Impact investing is an effort to unlock enormous and growing pools of private sector capital to build scalable, sustainable businesses that can help alleviate poverty and better manage our planet’s resources. After the 2016 Vatican Impact Investing Conference, journalist Inés San Martín said impact investing uses “the power of investment dollars to shift influence to local communities, so they can be the lead actors in eradicating poverty.”

Q. The Catholic Community Foundation entered the area of impact investing this year with an investment of $3.5 million. What has that experience been like? 

A. With leadership comes responsibility. As the largest Catholic community foundation in the nation, it was important to me and to our board of directors that the Foundation continues along the continuum of living out our mission in alignment with Catholic social teaching. One way we have stretched to do that is by learning more about Catholic impact investing and ultimately, entering into the field as an investor. It has been gratifying to discover that there are many professional actors consulting and collaborating in this space than I had earlier imagined and that there are numerous, high-quality options for this type of investment.

Q. How is impact investing different from other kinds of investing in which CCF engages?

A. Impact investments made into companies, organizations, and funds are made with the intention to generate financial returns with an eye toward generating social and environmental advancements as well.  Like traditional investing, they can be applied across asset classes, sectors and geographies, and they have a range of return expectations and risk profiles.

Q. Conference organizers say the conference series it is part of is responding to Pope Francis’ “vision of ‘putting the economy at the services of peoples.’” How do you interpret that vision? What does it mean to put the economy in service of people? In what way does that play out in reverse, with people in service to the economy? 

A. Pope Francis has been a leader like no other in encouraging us all to think about working to pursue profits ethically and rejecting the idea that exploitation needs to be at the center of profit. He calls us to heighten our sensitivity to the impact of our actions when we engage in trade — buying and selling decisions. Personally, I feel this call in how I participate in the chain of commerce as a homeowner and a mom and in the decisions I make around my own household in terms of how I chose to conserve or waste food or water, etc. Am I sensitive enough to the impact on people and the environment based on the quantities I buy or the places where I choose to do business? At work, I am faced with similar gut checks and buying decisions. The idea is to be more sensitive to the direct and indirect consequences of the choices we make.

Q. Did anything you learn surprise you?  

A. I was surprised by the breadth and depth of opportunities to responsibly invest in this space. I was moved and motivated by so many leaders across the globe who care about this type of opportunity because they believe in the possibilities it presents to advance the common good. I met with business leaders, investment leaders, and fund managers who could be making materially different choices about how they spend their time and significant personal financial resources. Yet, they chose this effort — Catholic Impact Investing — and they believe that by working together we answer the Gospel call and the call of Pope Francis to “never forget the least of thee amongst us.”

Q. How might what you learned from the conference affect CCF’s decisions around impact investing? 

A. Since the conference was attended by leaders all around the globe, who have developed expertise in the best way to use capital as a catalyst to advance social and financial impact, I feel the universe of possibilities to engage in the work have meaningfully expanded for the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota. Specifically, we now have more access to thought leaders in this space to consult with and learn from. Of course, I was also exposed to many new investment ideas that we will have an opportunity to consider further should we determine there is fit and opportunity.

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