With great interest, I attended the Oikocredit Canada (West)1 annual general meeting today in Victoria, B.C.  I am not a member so I was attending as a guest.  To-date all of my financial investing has been for the purpose of saving for retirement or for a clearly defined large purchase.  I feel that it is now time to expect more from my investing activities.  I don’t mean more returns.  I mean contributing more to our world.  I’m part of a growing trend of investors who are interested in some form of socially responsible investing (SRI).

When employed in a financial institution I sat through various conversations and presentations about SRI.  It did not resonate with me.  Although the fund managers were very committed I felt these were just funds that excluded a few corporations that didn’t fit the SRI profile.  I also felt that the SRI profile was a bit of a moving target, leading me to wonder if it was all more a matter of convenience than commitment to the SRI philosophy.  All in all, I put no effort into understanding the SRI movement.

More recently I’ve become interested in finding ways to give back that goes beyond charitable contributions.  I continue to believe in the importance of charitable contributions but I also want to feel that I’m having some influence on improving our world.  Our family has had a World Vision child since 2002 and we enjoy hearing about her family and her education.  Today I heard the Oikocredit micro financing success stories and I felt a similar connection.  There’s no doubt that these social changes are not without their challenges but I believe Oikocredit is providing another way to put some of my money to good use.  It’s about more than the investment returns.  At the same time it’s about remaining committed to my family’s financial health.

The third largest group of investors world-wide are the religious organizations (combined contributions)2.  They are interested in investing in a way that is consistent with their faith.  They put a lot of effort into educating their membership and they coordinate efforts very well.  This means that they are an influential investing force.   Oikocredit International is just one example of these religious investor groups (RIG).  It was established in 1975 and currently has about $1 billion Canadian in assets.  It has always been able to repay all investments.  Oikocredit Canada has existed since 1994 (in the west) and is divided into three geographic associations (west, central and east).  It’s a bit confusing to understand how the associations differ.  Today’s western association meeting discussed some of the micro financing accomplishments in poor countries.  These aren’t fancy corporate presentations that are well-crafted productions.  These are grass-roots examples.

There comes a time when personal money management is about more than the returns.  Socially responsible investing (SRI) continues to grow and with it the controversy and complexity of defining what this means.  I have so many demands on my time, I am unwilling to put a lot of ‘mind-time’ into understanding the debate over SRI.  I want to invest with a conscience.  At the same time I need to continue to save for my retirement.  Retirement planning is also something I do with a conscience so I am not, sometime in the future, a financial burden on my children.

Oikocredit indicated today that they have some product innovations and strategic partnerships under development.  I look forward to learning more.  I am committed to designating some of my money to be invested in a way that very clearly makes the world a little bit better.  At the same time I wonder about the future of RIGs.  The boomer generation is generally resistent to organized religions.  The boomer parents continue to be involved with organized religion and control a lot of money. RIGs may offer a new doorway back into some sort of religious affiliations for the boomers.  Time will tell.

1-http://www.oikocredit.org/en/looking-to-invest/investors-in-canada

2-From Preaching to Investing:  Attitudes of Religious Organisations Towards Responsible Investing (2012).  Journal of Business Ethics.