Capitalism for a cause: Symposium speakers explore ‘socially responsible’ investing

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Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

Economist Milton Friedman famously wrote in a 1970 essay that “the social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits.”

But a recent symposium hosted by the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management took a different approach, setting out to find a more holistic view of the role companies can play.

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The second-annual Believe in New Mexico Symposium, which took place virtually on March 26, brought in a mix of speakers, from local business owners to spoken-word poets, to explore “socially responsible” investing, social entrepreneurship and other tools for shifting the lens of business practices to create a more equitable world.

“I believe capital is the key to shifting our world into a force for good,” said Lawrence Ford, CEO and founder of Conscious Capital Wealth Management and afternoon keynote speaker, during the event.

Lawrence Ford

Impact investing, a discipline where investors seek a measurable beneficial social or environmental impact alongside traditional financial returns, remains a relatively new field in New Mexico and across the country.

Reilly White, associate professor of finance at the Anderson School, said during the symposium that New Mexico’s impact investment ecosystem is a bit behind the nation’s overall, citing data from a survey of investment professionals in the state.

Still, White said New Mexico’s economy has long been driven by collaborative investment, dating back to the formation of the state’s system of acequias, irrigation canals designed to share water for agriculture.

“New Mexico has always understood the value of … community-engaged investment, over necessarily just the aspect of profit itself,” White said. “It is fundamental to the survival of the community.”

Wellington Spetic

Wellington Spetic, an Anderson School lecturer, added that a number of barriers have prevented social entrepreneurship from taking off in New Mexico, from lack of access to capital to negative associations with entrepreneurship.

To help bridge that gap, the symposium brought in speakers who have been active in this ecosystem to host roundtable discussions. Di Zhou, investment principal at Denver-based Cambiar Investors, said socially responsible investing has moved into the mainstream, with many firms offering tailored investment portfolios oriented around environmental, social and corporate governance. Kimberly Griego-Kiel, president of Horizons Sustainable Financial Services in Santa Fe, added that impact-driven investing can perform just as well as traditional investment approaches.

Di Zhou

“If you make good choices in your investments, we’re going to say social investing does not under-perform,” she said.

On the entrepreneurship side, speakers like Drew Tulchin, president of New Mexico Angels, said crowdfunding and other more egalitarian ways of raising capital can help bridge New Mexico’s historic funding disadvantages and help local companies.

Drew Tulchin

“The more we all work as a village to raise the proverbial child, the more we could have the Meow Wolfs of the world not be the story, but to simply be this year’s story,” Tulchin said.

Listening to speakers, it was easy to get lost in the details of different approaches to social investment and entrepreneurship. Luckily, the symposium’s first speaker, Vanessa Roanhorse, CEO and founder of Roanhorse Consulting, provided a broader perspective.

Vanessa Roanhorse

A Navajo woman who returned to New Mexico after working for the Delta Institute in Chicago, Roanhorse talked about the way systems of capital have excluded marginalized groups. Roanhorse said keys to creating a more equitable future include creating integrated capital structures and nurturing funds that operate in and fund communities of color.

“It’s on us as people, as individuals, to hold our money accountable and to be the owners of where we want our money to go,” Roanhorse said.

Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at shamway@abqjournal.com.