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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.