By The Citizen Staff
Harvard University is taking steps to address a resounding concern among the student body about responsibly investing the university’s $30.7 billion endowment managed by the Harvard Management Company (HMC). Recently, HMC created a new position called the Vice President (VP) of Sustainable Investing, a week after the very first student-initiated referendum at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). The referendum, which called for the investment of 0.1 percent of the endowment into the recently created Harvard Social Choice Fund, was supported with an overwhelming majority of Kennedy school students (93 percent).
The new position created by HMC will be devoted to researching and understanding the environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues related to the endowment portfolio as well as serve as HMC’s primary liaison to other University offices dedicated to sustainability and investor responsibility. The job description on the HMC Web site also states that “the VP of Sustainable Investing will also work within HMC across asset classes to analyze how ESG issues are currently integrated into the investment process and suggest enhancements where appropriate.”
HKS students directly involved with the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, while impressed with the response of HMC to the student body’s demands for responsible investments, advise cautionary optimism.
“It’s a great first step to see Harvard taking student concerns seriously and hiring someone to lead efforts on responsible investment,” says Casper ter Kuile, MPP’14. “We must be clear that this does not yet mean any changes in the investment portfolio. There is still work to do. We will be building on the overwhelming vote of support from Kennedy School students in the coming weeks.”
Nonetheless, HKS students are hopeful.
Dan Bowles, MBA/MPP ’15, who previously worked in investment banking and private equity, agrees, “I support the recent initiatives around sustainable investing taken up by HMC. Its investments affect the lives and well-being of individuals, communities and the environment; it only seems right that these investments should be made in a manner that reflects the commitment to service-oriented leadership taught within the University’s classrooms.
“Institutional investors have increasingly sought to incorporate environmental, social and governance concerns into their investment decisions, and I’m glad to see that Harvard is taking a leadership position in this area.”