Integre at the Nexus Youth Summit, New York City
By Jessica Higgins
The immense conference room at the United Nations Headquarters was dead silent. Despite 700 attendees, and probably twice as many cell phones, iPads, and other gadgets, everyone was focused on the panel of speakers at the front of the room. The topic was human trafficking, and the speakers, one of whom was a trafficking survivor, gave context on the under-reported phenomenon of modern slavery. By the time the session closed, we had learned that this despicable industry brings in ten times the profits of the global airline industry, but also that fewer people, as a percentage of the global population, are enslaved than ever before in history. "We," declared Nick Grono of the Freedom Fund, "can be the generation that ends slavery."
Nick was referring to the Millennial generation, and the venue was the Nexus Youth Summit, an annual event that brings together young wealth holders and social entrepreneurs from all over the world to learn, network, and brainstorm new solutions to age-old social and environmental challenges. Nexus participants represent a wide range of causes; the common thread is that most participants are under 40, most have access to financial and social resources, and all believe in the power of investing for social good. During my time at the Summit, I met or listened to people working to alleviate deforestation and head off orangutan extinction in Indonesia, increase consumer choice in ethical products and services, ensure that communities in less-developed countries have access to basic water and sanitation, and bring the internet to every far-flung corner of the globe. I spent most of my time at the sessions in the Impact Investing track, which broadly focused on harnessing the power of the markets to enact social and environmental change. At Integrē we call this strategy ESG investing, because we consider the Environmental, Social, and Governance characteristics of companies in our choice of investments. There is a trend among younger investors to couple their philanthropy and their investments so that their investments are working in harmony with their philanthropic values. While previous generations have invested solely for market return and then used some of those earnings for charitable giving, the Millennial generation seeks to maximize financial, social and environmental returns across their portfolio. The Integrē team is dedicated to growing our involvement in ESG investing, so the Nexus summit was a wonderful opportunity to meet with like minds and explore how we can further support this investment style.
The biggest take-away message for me is that we are on the verge of a sea change in terms of how people put their resources and energy to work. This change is facilitated in large part by the interconnectedness of the world and the speed with which we can get information. ESG investing is possible simply because we have the power to know. I am at the tail end of a generation that did not grow up with email, and I am probably among the last people to research college papers solely in the library stacks and write them in college-ruled notebooks. Now that information is available and shareable instantly, the picture that emerges of investing and charitable giving is more holistic. We hear about the plight of orangutans in Indonesia, and we wonder if our investment dollars inadvertently contribute; a quick internet search tells us which companies have committed to purchasing only sustainable palm oil, a raw material linked to Indonesian deforestation.
We hear a moving account of human slavery, and with a little research, we discover that some companies are taking concrete measures to ensure their supply chain is not supported by slavery. With this information, we can do more than shake our heads, and more than donate money to the cause. We can align our investments with our personal values and our broader societal and environmental goals. Philanthropy will always be a vital component of social and environmental progress, but our investment dollars can speak for us as well.
While the Nexus Summit is a hub for Millennials, the issues we discussed are of interest across demographics. The U.S. Sustainable Investment Forum estimates that more than 1 in 9 dollars under professional management in the U.S. are invested according to ESG principles, and that number is increasing rapidly.i That proportion will only grow faster as the next generation takes greater control of wealth.
Addressing pressing social and environmental problems requires bright minds, fresh ideas, and financial and social capital. The Nexus Summit brought all of those things together this summer for three energizing days at the UN. As a member of the Integrē team, I am proud to be a part of these important conversations.
Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of the strategy selected. Sustainable/Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) considers qualitative environmental, social and corporate governance, also known as ESG criteria, which may be subjective in nature. There are additional risks associated with Sustainable/Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), including limited diversification and the potential for increased volatility. There is no guarantee that SRI products or strategies will produce returns similar to traditional investments. Because SRI criteria exclude certain securities/products for non-financial reasons, investors may forego some market opportunities available to those who do not use these criteria. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision.