Whenever new leadership takes the helm at an organization you’ll always hear someone talk about their vision for the future, the great things that they’re going to achieve, and where they’re going to take the organization.
But I learned long ago that anytime you’re trying to set a course you also need to have a very good sense of where you’re coming from.
The things that SHARE has achieved over the years have only been possible because of the trailblazing done by the incredible individuals that have charted SHARE’s course over the past 20 years, and even decades before that.
The whole responsible investment movement in Canada owes a debt of gratitude to the leaders who forced it onto the agenda when others considered environmental, social or governance concerns at best irrelevant, and more likely as dangerous and subversive.
One of those trailblazers was Renate Pratt, who was the first Coordinator of the Task Force on Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR) back in the early 70s. I recently attended her memorial here in Toronto, which brought together many of the people who were inspired by her leadership in guiding church investors and others to tackle egregious human rights abuses like apartheid in South Africa at a time when few others were willing to speak out.
Some of the people who worked with Renate at TCCR included Moira Hutchinson, Bill Davis, and our own Peter Chapman, all of whom helped to create the legacy upon which the modern responsible investment movement truly rests.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with all three over the years. It was Bill Davis who, as then-Coordinator of TCCR in the early 1990s, arranged for me to represent a Christian order at my first ever corporate annual meeting (see above), where I raised questions on behalf of the Lubicon Lake First Nation about planned oil and gas projects on their unceded traditional territory. Bill is still a regular gadfly at AGMs here in Canada, raising uncomfortable questions about oversized CEO pay and poor governance. Moira Hutchinson has not only been a guiding influence and huge inspiration due to her own quiet, deliberate and persistent work on corporate accountability and economic justice over many years, but is also the person who helped Peter recruit me to SHARE five years ago, just as she had done with Peter when SHARE first started. She is and has always been an unparalleled source of wisdom, strategy, and guidance.
And of course Peter. Peter has been a brilliant strategist, a thoughtful leader, and a friend, and like many of us I owe him a lot. Anyone who has played a key role in the growth of responsible investment in Canada over the past 20 years knows the contribution he’s made to making all of this possible, even if he is loath to claim the credit himself. And within SHARE itself, he has built a team of people that are also effective, thoughtful, strategic, and a joy to work with each day.
So, as we look back at this legacy, then, and start thinking about the future, the question I believe we have to ask ourselves is: If we’re standing on the shoulders of giants like these, shouldn’t our own aspirations be equally audacious and bold?
Shouldn’t our work in responsible investment reflect the same expansive ambition to change the way things are done in our economy, rather than a narrow attempt to “reduce risk” or hedge our bets?
SHARE’s mission – developing a truly sustainable, inclusive, and productive economy – will never happen through narrow, short-term or timid interventions. Active ownership, leadership, as investors, has to be based on a bigger vision of what kind of world we are investing in creating.
Like the work that TCCR and others did, we have to mobilize coalitions that can act at multiple levels to effect change, to create networks that involve and motivate people and institutions and find ways to collaborate beyond our own immediate circles. We have to work to change government and regulatory policy, not just individual market actors. And we have to be willing to experiment, challenge models, fail, learn, and try once again as they repeatedly did in the course of bringing us to where we are today.
That’s where we’ve been, so that’s where we’re going.
I’m happy to have been given the opportunity to continue the work Peter and others started here at SHARE in my new role as Executive Director. I consider the legacy they built as a fantastic gift, and know that our team is eager and ready to continue and build on that legacy.