Recap: Investor Convening on Racial Justice

Transform Finance’s racial justice project seeks to understand, analyze, and offer actionable insights for investors exploring how racial justice outcomes are affected by their capital allocations across asset classes. The project highlights in particular the ways in which seemingly race-neutral investments often have disparately negative and non-obvious racialized outcomes. If you care about racial justice, what should you know about how it shows up in your investments?

To further explore this question, Transform Finance convened a group of investors ranging from institutional asset owners to advisors and foundations for an afternoon of exploration at the Rockefeller Foundation on December 18.

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This investor convening follows last year’s convening of racial justice practitioners – community organizers, activists, scholars, advocates, and more – to ground the work within the needs and aspirations of the broader racial justice agenda, as opposed to a separate, investor-initiated flank. From the first practitioner convening we developed a research mandate that guided the direction of the project and identified target areas for research and recommendations. At the direction of this group, and building off of efforts like those of PolicyLink to characterize the many facets of racial justice in the US, we centered our analysis around six core themes: work, wealth, health, place, justice, and education.

Since then, we have been conducting interviews, secondary research, and literature reviews, and we developed briefings for each of the 6 issue areas. The convening this Tuesday was designed to help synthesize those findings and generate recommendations and outcomes that are most salient to the investor community, while maintaining the mandate from the racial justice practitioners.

Fundamental to that effort is a set of challenges around the very nature of the investor’s role. What actions exist – or ought to exist – outside of well-documented strategies such as shareholder resolutions in public equities, and support for investments for entrepreneurs of color? What are the obstacles to investors for changing strategies along racial justice lines? Who is in a position to do what?

The investor convening enabled us to gather feedback on potential recommendations and next steps, as well as highlighting the concrete needs of investors sitting in different spots within the world of finance. In the room were large asset management firms like Rockefeller Capital Management and Alliance Bernstein, Boston Common, Zevin, and Northstar, advisors such as Cambridge Associates and Cornerstone Capital, and some of the country’s most prominent foundations in this space including W.K. Kellogg, Nathan Cummings, Ford, and Surdna.

Building on our initial research findings (which will be included in a report, due out in early 2019), the conversation centered on strategies to activate the investor community. Below are a few themes that investors offered:

  1. The field lacks, and urgently needs, a framework for investing for racial justice across portfolios and all asset classes -- building from an understanding of how, precisely, race manifests in otherwise neutral-seeming economic and financial activity. This requires an approach that views racial justice considerations as an overlay to an entire portfolio, as opposed to a racial justice carve-out

  2. Several innovative strategies with an explicit racial justice lens were offered as case studies – from municipal bond financing strategies geared towards decarceration and support for city strategies around investments in communities of color, to a staking fund to support first time fund managers of color, to supporting financial intermediaries like CDFIs and Community Loan Funds to establish alternatives to payday lending

  3. There is a need for experience sharing and best practice development if investors are to take on new strategies, pointing to Cambridge Associates’ current initiative around diverse fund managers

  4. The degree to which different investment actors can implement a racial justice approach needs to be further clarified. This can help uncover a sequencing strategy in terms of initiatives and a clear adoption curve

  5. Foundations, as mission-driven asset owners, are well positioned to take the lead on adopting this type of framework and pushing their managers to wrestle with it

  6. There is a broad need for education and dialogue around the intersection of finance and racial justice. In particular, the programs and investment sides of foundations should be put in the position to dialogue constructively (including by being educated on each other’s roles, contributions, and limitations)

  7. The current iteration of gender lens investing provides a useful roadmap for the racial justice analysis

  8. Given the plethora of initiatives that can be undertaken, the analysis by asset class and by theme should be complemented by an assessment of urgency as well as ease of implementation / low hanging fruit, so that easier first steps can create momentum

Transform Finance will take the insights of the convening as a basis for refining the remaining work, which will culminate in the report and recommendations as well as a set of support opportunities for investors seeking to move forward. This includes compiling additional case studies, mapping potential interventions by actor, by asset class, by issue area, and by urgency/feasibility, and systematizing the initiatives already under way to glean a sense of where the gaps and complementarity might be.

Stay tuned for further news on our report. Please make sure to send your feedback, studies, initiatives and the like to info@transformfinance.org. We would love to hear from you.