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Religions to challenge the definition of “good” investments

25 November 2002:

NEW YORK. An initiative by some of the world’s major religions could help alter the standard definition of a “good” investment.

At a unique meeting held in New York this week, representatives of 22 major international religious funds agreed to move towards creating an organisation to mobilise a proportion of the enormous financial resources of some of the major faiths, in a way that is consistent with their core values.

The meeting was organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and co-sponsored by Citigroup Private Bank, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Pilkington Foundation in the UK and the Mott Foundation in the US. It was advised by groups such as State of the World Forum and Medley Global.

In a presentation prepared for the meeting by Citigroup it was estimated that just five of the faith groups, together with their congregations, had movable assets of at least $1.25 trillion.

While religious fund managers tend to avoid areas that are in conflict with their members’ beliefs (such as armaments, gambling and tobacco companies) many have not experimented widely with how they can use their financial capability to affect other areas – possibly including housing, renewable power, micro-lending and water-management – through pro-active investment.

The realisation by the faiths that they constitute a major section of the world economy underpins the agreement to work towards creating a formal structure that will enable them to alter and shape the world economic market in a fundamental way and in line with their ethical models.

It was not envisaged that all faiths or groups within faiths would work together on every issue, but that some faiths would join together to create powerful investment coalitions in those particular areas that were central to their value systems.

The faiths agreed a timetable of at least 18 months for assessing and implementing the development of what is provisionally being called the International Interfaith Investment Group – 3iG.

“It has traditionally been difficult for religions to talk openly about their financial dealings because of the risk of people saying: do you serve God or Mammon?” said secretary general of ARC, Martin Palmer. “The aim of 3IG would be for the religions to invest their funds and meet their financial obligations in ways that not only bring in good percentage returns but that are also completely in line with their beliefs,” Mr Palmer said.

ARC was formed in 1995, and now works with eleven major faiths – Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Daoists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Shintos, Sikhs and Zoroastrians– on projects to protect the environment and assist appropriate development.

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