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Economic Alternatives

Ethical Investment

To invest essentially means to put the valuable things you own into a form in which they will become more valuable. When we think of investing we usually think of money. Many people invest money in shares, GICs, and mutual funds. In recent years many people have started to be more conscious of where the money they invest is going and what it is being used for. Rather than unwittingly support activities such as arms production or environmental degradation, they want to invest their money ethically.

Ethical investment of your money is a good idea. But you don't need money to invest ethically. There are lots of other things to invest besides money. For example, time. Rather than use our time for activities that are less than beneficial to human life and the earth, we can invest our time in activities that bring life and healing to our communities.

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Investing your money
People save money for many different reasons: retirement, their children's or their own education, buying a house, inheritance money for their children. Many people in the world don't have the option of saving money - they've never had enough. Other people have small or large amounts of money that they're able to save. And rather than just put it under the mattress or in a bank or credit union account, they'd like to invest it. They want to put it in some kind of fund where it will be used to make more money.

Canola wheat stocksA quick visit to your local credit union or bank (or their website) gives you an idea of the range of investment products available. From GICs (Guaranteed Investment Certificates) to mutual funds to RESPs (Registered Education Savings Plan) to community funds, there is a lot on the market. There is also the stock market and the option of purchasing shares in specific companies. So how do you decide which is right for you especially if you want to be assured that your money is going to be used for the things that you value in life?

Ask questions
The most important tip to remember when investing your money is to ask lots of questions. Every financial institution and each financial advisor has certain biases that their customers should be aware of. In order to find out, you need to ask. If you're not happy with the answers you get, don't just complain to yourself, go somewhere else. Don't forget to let the place you're leaving know why you're leaving.

Ethical funds
Today there are various funds that advertise as being 'ethical.' These funds use a set of criteria to determine whether a company can be eligible for inclusion in the fund. For example Ethical Funds®, "Canada's first family of socially responsible mutual funds," uses six criteria: non-tobacco, non-military, non-nuclear, progressive stakeholder relations, human rights and equal opportunity, and progressive environmental practices. Meritas, another socially-responsible mutual fund, uses six other criteria: human dignity, peace and non-violence, global justice, responsible management practices, community support and involvement, and environmental stewardship.

It is important to note that the judgments as to whether or not companies match these criteria are based on one person's (the fund manager's) opinion. For example, while you may consider all military production unethical, another person may decide that investment in a just war is ethical. Once again, ask questions - lots of them. You may even choose to do some research yourself into the companies in your mutual fund.

Consider compromise
It is likely that you will not find either a financial institution or an investment fund that you feel reflects your own values perfectly. You will have to decide what is most important to you and choose the option that best reflects your values. One compromise that many ethical investors choose is lower returns. It is quite possible that the more ethical your investment option, the lower the returns.

Community funds
Many people choose to invest their money as close to home as possible making it easier for them to trace its path. Instead of investing money in companies that they know nothing about and have a hard time finding anything about, they choose to invest in community funds supported by community organizations. A notable Manitoba example is the Jubilee Fund which provides loans for community economic development projects that would normally not be eligible for loans from credit unions or banks. In the past, Jubilee has provided loans to low-income people starting business, housing renewal projects, and community employment organizations.

Community funds don't have to be right in your neighbourhood. There are also funds that help build the global community, for example the Sarona Global Capital Fund. Sarona provides micro-loans for poor people in low-income countries, people whose needs are so small that they are ignored by mainstream banks. For many poor people, the chief obstacle keeping them in poverty is the lack of capital. Like Women's World Banking, Sarona provides loans to help people with a skill (such as carpentry, tailoring, marketing) find a market for that skill.

The returns on investing in a community fund may be lower than what you would receive in a mutual fund or other investment. However, the returns to the lives of vulnerable people in your community who are able to live sustainable, fulfilling lives as a result of your investment choices, is something that money can never measure.

Make donations
Not everyone understands investment as putting money aside for yourself. Some people see making a donation as an investment into their community. Donating money to community organizations that work with vulnerable people in your neighbourhood or across the globe is a way of using your money to help those whom society leaves behind. Sharing what you have can be one of the most ethical investments you can make in your world and help redistribute global income.

Investing your time
It's not only money that can be invested ethically. We all have many gifts that can be used to contribute to creating a more just world. We can invest our knowledge, our talents, our energy, our friendship, our time. Many of us are very busy. Sometimes we can't help this - we need to work just to meet our basic needs. Single mothers trying to fulfill obligations of both paid and unpaid work are in an especially tight bind. Still, many people find ways to invest small and large bits of their time to the benefit of those around them.

One of these people is Cecile. Though she loved her job at the Canadian Auto Workers, Cecile chose early retirement in order to devote herself more fully to community work. Cecile now works with the No Sweat campaign working to end sweatshop abuses around the world and she is a member of the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba promoting accessible, affordable childcare to all children in our province. Cecile is also a board member with the United Way and an Employee Labour Representative at the Manitoba Labour Board.

Lisa preparing to go to IraqFollowing her graduation from university, Lisa chose to invest her education and expertise defending human rights abuses in Canada and around the world. Lisa first spent a year working with a Cree community in northern Manitoba helping them in their struggle for adequate compensation for hydro-electric development on their land. She then moved on to Colombia working as a human rights observer in that country. When her application for a visa renewal was denied after her first year, Lisa decided to go to Iraq to act as a witness for peace in that part of the world. For Lisa, creating a just and peaceful world is simply more important than an individual salary.

Lucinda with her son NoahIn a different way, Lucinda has also chosen to invest her time. Lucinda had plans to finish university before starting a family but life had some surprises in store for her. When she found herself a single mom with two small children, Lucinda made the decision to remain at home and devote herself fully to raising her children rather than go out into the workforce. Lucinda pays the financial price for her decision - her social assistance earnings fall well below the poverty line - yet the health and happiness of her children is enough proof to Lucinda that she has made the right choice.

Gwen also values community health over her own personal financial gain. Gwen works at a collectively-owned café/bookstore in Winnipeg. Gwen's workplace is a model and inspiration to all those who believe businesses have a lot to contribute to the health of their communities. The café hosts justice-minded writers and speakers and provides healthy food options for hundreds of people each week. Although Gwen's salary is less than she could be making elsewhere, the investment is worth it to her.

Live simply
For some people, ethical investment means reducing their own needs by simplifying their lives. Some people call this approach voluntary simplicity. One of the reasons people choose voluntary simplicity is to have more time to devote to their families or communities. Voluntary simplicity also benefits the earth by lessening the amount of resources each of us needs to maintain our lifestyle. Voluntary simplicity means something different for each person who practices it but can involve activities such as car-sharing (rather than individual car-ownership), not owning a television, and limiting the amount spent on Christmas gifts. One of the mottos of a simplified lifestyle is "Live simply so that others may simply live." Many people discover a whole new enjoyment of life through voluntary simplicity. Once they have eliminated the unnecessary parts of their lives, their physical and emotional health improves dramatically.

Ethical investment is not about personal monetary gain. It's about finding ways to invest your money and your time in a way that most benefits your community and the world. We can all participate in this movement simply by sharing as we are able.

For more information
For more information on socially-responsible investment of your money visit the Social Investment Organization or see our section on Planning Ahead. For more about investing your time, take time to learn about the thousands of volunteer opportunities that are available in your community and around the world.

To learn more about simple living visit:

Thanks to Allyson Watts for her thoughtful comments.

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