Formation of International Interfaith Investment Group Draws International Interest

Nov 20, 2002 03:00 AM EST

LONDON – On Nov. 13, The United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits announced its key role in the formation of the International Interfaith Investment Group, dubbed, "3iG." The UMC is working alongside Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Sikhs, and other faith-based investors to unite the financial might of the world's religions.

Laura Michalowski, the pension board's investing coordinator, traveled to Britain in November with members of the U.S. Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility to discuss 3iG's goals and events. For three days, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip joined the 3iG representatives at London's historic Banqueting House for a celebration of religion's contribution to environmental conservation.

"We have come together with our consciences and with our money to effect a positive global impact," commented Michalowski, as she met with British Methodists working on ethical investments.

"The ultimate goal is to get corporations to join us in partnership," she explained. "Imagine the potential and power of corporations and faiths coming together in a way that all people are recognized, human dignity is respected, and our heritage cared for and preserved for future generations.

"Corporations have moved from an understanding of profit as the only bottom line to one that includes fiscal, social and environmental returns. ... The faiths have always believed these goals were not mutually exclusive."

The alliance sees the accomplishments of the United Methodist Church and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility as models on which to build an international ethical investment initiative. The church ethically invests all of its more than $10 billion in pension funds, and the center represents some 275 U.S. Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faith-based institutional investors.

Alliance Director Martin Palmer credits the pension board with playing a fundamental role in helping other religions around the world get involved in ethical investment programs individually and through "cluster" organizations like the interfaith center.

"United Methodists are fundamental to the concept of 3iG, the enthusiasm for 3iG and the implementation of 3iG," Palmer said. He also explained that while the International Interfaith Investment Group is being developed to help faith groups manage their institutional portfolios, each faith member would publish ethical investment advice for individuals within his or her tradition as well.

The United Methodist pension portfolio is the largest pool of assets among all U.S. mainline denominations and is in the top 100 of all corporate, charitable and endowment asset pools. The alliance estimates that the 11 major faith traditions it works with own or control nearly 7 percent of the earth's habitable land. In Scandinavia, the Church of Sweden is the third-largest owner of all Swedish forests. Followers of the Jain faith tradition, who come primarily from India, are major players in the global petrochemical industry. .

Michalowski, who has 29 years of experience with socially responsible investing, pointed out that, to date, "3iG" is still a work in progress. Not only are faith groups joining in these developing conversations, but also major financial institutions and international NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund.

"The challenge ahead is that we must proceed responsibly, keeping in mind a common agenda, while at the same time respecting each faith's mission and principles," she said. "The language of religion need not be divisive. There is a commonality here. Even though there may be differences between us, we come with a common purpose."

By Pauline J.