Every year hundreds of fund managers, impact investors, and local and global finance leaders come together at the Sustainable, Responsible, Impact (SRI) investing conference. This year I was honored to join them.
(Pictured above: An organizer of money and justice, Susan S. White and the Investors and Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IIPWG) rally wealth managers and impact investors to pull funds from the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).)
One of the first people I met was Susan White, trust enrollment director for Oneida Nation. Susan is a core leader within the SRI conference and larger field, and this year was joined by her committee officer, Carole Liggins, secretary and former chair on the Trust Enrollment Committee of the Oneida Nation.
(Photo of Investors & Indigenous People Working Group from the SRI conference in San Diego, California (November 2017). Pictured from left to right are: Carole Liggins, member of Oneida Nation; Nick Pelosi, First People’s Investor Engagement Project (University of Colorado); Steven Heim, Boston Commons Asset Management; Jan Bryan, First Affirmative Financial Network and co-chair of IIPWG; Michael Passof, Proxy Impact; Eva Schulte, Travois; Stu Dalheim, Calvert; and Hannah Heineken, Rainforest Action Network.)
Susan describes her leadership in this way, “I’m a generalist that hears the need; I connect the need to those who can make something happen, and I work to elevate the issue and the relationship.” Susan heard the need of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 2016.
Susan; Jan Bryan, First Affirmative Financial Network and co-chair of IIPWG; Steven Heim, managing director of Boston Common Asset Management and advocacy chairperson for IIPWG; and along with First Peoples Worldwide, helped galvanize hundreds of diverse wealth managers to divest from companies funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read their latest update here.
“I was always an advocate at heart when I formed an opinion about an issue,” Susan said. She has attended the SRI conference for 15 years and has been a leader in taking the message of impact investments into indigenous and tribal-decision making. Susan first learned about SRI when she was working at what is now Bank of America in Virginia.
She interviewed with the Oneida Trust Enrollment Department in 1994 and was excited: “as someone in the investment industry, to learn about the philosophy of socially responsible investing.” Susan said it required you to “look at the source of products and make sure they are not hurting or damaging the environment or people.”
Susan’s advocacy on behalf of the Oneida Nation to protect water, land and indigenous peoples has achieved powerful results and been recognized by Harvard with the Honoring Nations American Indian Economic Development award.
Susan regularly works to bring more communities together to advocate through the power of investor holdings. She says she will continue building the field. “There are so many liked-minded, good-hearted, gracious people in the SRI network,” Susan said. “I’m proud to call them allies, and they have offered overwhelming support of Indigenous peoples.”
Susan is on the board of the First Nations Development Institute. When asked about her hope for the future:
“More Native American tribes become active in the Securities and Exchange Commission process and engagement grows in Indian Country,” Susan said. “For example, we are now engaging FedEx about their sponsorship of the DC National Football League team, due to the franchise’s demeaning name. We work side-by-side to expose inappropriate behavior, discrimination and dehumanization.”
CALL TO ACTION: Susan invites tribal councils and designees to join the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). The ICCR has a database of filings to connect concerned investors to solidarity advocacy. If a Native community doesn’t own shares in a corporation, signature letters as concerned investors are still valuable. Read more about becoming a member here.