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September 05, 2012

Muhammad Yunus, Father of Microcredit and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, to Address SRI Conference
    by Robert Kropp

The founder of the Grameen Bank will be the keynote speaker at October's SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing, which will also feature author Deepak Chopra and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Second of a two-part series.

SocialFunds.com -- At last year's SRI in the Rockies Conference in New Orleans, I mined several of the addresses and breakout sessions for articles on SocialFunds.com. Rebranded as The SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing, this year's event, scheduled to open on October 2nd at the Mohegan Sun Conference Center in Connecticut, promises to yield at least as much reportage.

"This year we have several high-profile guest speakers who are not industry players, but who are also very much involved in how do we make the world a better place," Steve Schueth, President of First Affirmative Financial Network, told SocialFunds.com.

This year's keynote speaker will be Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. The mission of microfinance—to provide banking services to the world's poor—can be traced back to the 1993 founding of the bank by Yunus. In less than two decades since then, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have grown at a remarkable pace.

"His leadership in the community impact side of the SRI space is through primarily lending to groups of women who have collective responsibility over the money," Schueth said. "His model has now been replicated many, many times, around the world."

"How do we provide banking to the poorest of the poor?" Schueth continued. "He's provided investment opportunities for those who are willing to put money into the microlending model he created."

Yunus actually has had a measure of direct involvement in sustainable investing in the US, Schueth revealed, having served on the board of the Calvert International Fund in the early nineties.

"We have invited him to speak every year for the past five years," Schueth said.

An especially intriguing addition to this year's agenda is Deepak Chopra, a popular author and speaker best-known for his works on spirituality. The mission of his Foundation "is to participate with individuals and organizations in creating a critical mass for a peaceful, just, sustainable, and healthy world."

"Chopra has never really been involved with our industry before, but has written and talked a lot over the years about responsibility as investors, consumers, and human beings," Schueth said. "Obviously, he comes at this thing from a much more spiritual perspective, and his point is that a good and somewhat enlightened person cannot help but be a socially responsible investor."

"If you have those values and bring them to the financial game, then you have to be conscious of what your money is doing," Schueth continued. "You have all of this stuff that happens with money, but ultimately it's people that guide the process and whose values are reflected in it. Chopra will help us understand that as human beings, we can bring a spiritual and holistic element to the process that can make it that much richer and impactful."

Schueth credited Rinaldo Brutoco of the World Business Academy with helping First Affirmative bring Chopra to this year's conference.

Also presenting at the conference will be Robert F. Kennedy Jr., as part of a three-person plenary presentation on corporate responsibility for waste recovery systems, which will be moderated by Bill Shireman of the Future 500. An attorney and President of the advocacy group Waterkeeper Alliance, Kennedy's efforts on behalf of Riverkeeper has helped transform the Hudson River from an "open sewer" in the 1960s to one of the richest water bodies on earth today.

The many breakout sessions included in the conference agenda address most of the issues facing sustainable investment in the US today, from climate change and corporate political spending to affinities between sustainable investors and the Occupy movement. One especially interesting session will feature the top executives of three major sustainable investment firms—Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert Investments, and Pax World Management—in which the future of sustainable investing will be explored.

Also, for the 17th year, the Moskowit z Prize for Socially Responsible Investing will be awarded for outstanding quantitative research in the field.

Schueth also singled out for particular mention two events that, he said, will serve as bookends for the conference.

"On the evening before the conference begins, those who arrive will be invited to a special presentation by Robert Zevin," the founder of Zevin Asset Management, Schueth said. "He started managing money as a separate account manager in the late sixties, and became prominent in the seventies in response to the Vietnam War. He was a pioneer asset manager in this space, and he's still out there."

On the final evening of the conference, members of the Securities and Exchange Commission's Investor Advisory Committee—including Adam Kanzer of Domini Social Investments—will hold a listening session in which attendees can ask them about issues relating to Dodd-Frank and other regulatory matters of concern to the industry.

"Everything we present at the conference has investment opportunities," Schueth observed.

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