Value Aligned Investment

When I was younger, I believed that there was absolutely no way that large systems – like markets or governments – could respond to any real needs of people. I used to carry placards to protests, and talk extensively about the downfall of capitalism. But as I got older, I became slightly more pragmatic. I was not going to be able to break this system, and at best, I could play it in a way that aligned with my values.

As a theatre artist and a freelancer, I began to worry about the long term economic future of my career choices. The opportunities to make large amounts of money in the theatre business have always been scarce, and with the pandemic and theatres shutting down, I was forced to reconsider my savings strategy which started squarely with my investments.

I had the easy option of a fixed deposit, low risk and medium rewards, that some of my more risk averse friends recommended. Others suggested I begin looking at the mutual funds market, but I was ideologically opposed to funding large oil corporations known for their heedless environmental damage or making gains from an online giant proven to be destabilising governments. The stock markets were complicated and impossible to navigate alone, and I felt overwhelmed by the options available. It compelled me to come back to my beginnings and core beliefs. I was going to start with what I really wanted.

I took out a piece of paper, and put at the top in all capital letters, ‘MY VALUES’

Under this it said, ‘My money should support the causes I believe in. It should work towards protecting the environment (at the very least not damage it further)’

Below this it said, ‘human rights are key, for workers + all stakeholders’.

Finally it said, ‘My money should do more good than harm’, underlined twice. I added a thought – ‘I would like to use this money to build a theatre studio someday.’ I had my goals. Now, I had to find the right process.

I reached out and explained my values and my goals to a wealth manager and outlined the kinds of businesses I didn’t want to invest in. Their first reaction was incredulity – I would make no money if I didn’t want to invest in the biggest industry players. Did I even want to make money, they asked me? They implied that perhaps I’d be better off donating to a not for profit. It confirmed my initial suspicions, and took me back to the strong resistance I felt for anything related to finance and investments. I almost scurried straight back to my bank to open an FD.

They called me a week later, and offered me an ESG. I carefully scrutinised the constituents of the portfolio, and found that while it wasn’t going to single handedly stop climate change, it was definitely at least investing in businesses that were mostly neutral in their climate impacts. Elsewhere on Worthwhile, you can read in detail about how to look at ESGs but in principle, it was important to me that we were having a conversation about environmental, social, and governance factors. It brought me some comfort in the possibility of voting with my wallet.

Voting with my wallet has become one of my rallying cries in the last few years. Where I put my money is an expression of what I believe in, and we can start with where we invest. I have begun looking at spaces of interest, looking at smaller organisations in renewable energy, for instance, or waste management, to invest in, whenever I have some money to spare. In the meantime, I am content to know that I can find a way to bring my worlds together.

Now, my ESG investments are bringing me closer to my financial goals, with an extended internal rate of returns of close to 35% consistently, and therefore, closer to my dream of opening a studio. I intend to do this exercise every three years, to see if there are better options in India and if there is more good I can do with my money. I dream of a day when every investment we make, of our time and our money, can be aligned with our values.

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