Do you ever wake up to the overwhelming feeling that you are not doing enough? Are you ever afraid of being part of the real problem? You’re not alone.
We watch the Amazon rainforest burn, millions of people are struggling to survive because they live in absolute poverty, children are unable to receive basic services or go to school. But here I find myself again, live a privileged life, consume what I want, take more than I give. It’s not comfortable, not comfortable at all. What if you could use your money to leverage change?
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Investing is defined as allocating money (or capital) to some type of business (whether it be a business, project, or something else) with the hope of future benefits. We have been told that the only future benefit worth pursuing is money.
But what if, as compassionate and caring people, we want to strive for something greater? And what if “future benefit” actually means something that goes well beyond greater financial returns, beyond money? What if the “future benefits” reflected our desire for a cleaner world? Fairer? Righteous? Dare I say happier That’s how I got involved in sustainable finance and responsible investing.
Money as a force for good
Money should be a driving force for me. That said, we should use capital to invest in activities that will bring real, constructive benefit to the majority of people around the world. At the same time, we shouldn’t invest in companies or sectors that harm people. Yes, sure, there are quite a number of issues and challenges related to how we measure benefit or identify what we mean by harm. But at no point do these problems and challenges mean that we shouldn’t try.
Sustainable investing provides a lens through which we can look at our world and the personal and social goals we set. When we choose to invest, when we choose a stock or fund, we choose one thing over another. We make our preferences as visible as the consumers when we choose to choose one product over another. We’re not just talking about the role of money. We talk about the role of companies and sectors and actively make decisions about those we want to win as winners.
This is a big deal because when we accept that we are able to make informed investment decisions – and we seek something beyond just making more money – it inevitably forces us to understand the purpose of businesses and to question the role they play in society. It is also very helpful to see the various levers of change that are available to us.
I am saving to buy a house, but my Islamic beliefs forbid paying interest so I cannot take out a mortgage. How do I achieve my goal in a Shariah-compliant manner?
For one thing, I’m tired of the way things are and being told that women have no influence. The rules of the game can change, but it is very likely that we women will have to change them ourselves.
I strongly believe that investing sustainably gives women like you and me the opportunity to influence other aspects of our collective lives. We can educate ourselves and empower ourselves to make a difference with our money.
The problem is, there aren’t many guides out there for people who just want to go on a sustainable investment journey. The financial industry does not pay much attention to anyone who does not have a lot of money to invest. And that’s just wrong. The industry also does a fantastic job of scaring people off with ridiculous jargon and nonsensical terminology. Many women feel left out of the financial industry, whether because of the trust, the excessive use of technical jargon that scares us off, or simply the way the industry treats women. The feminist voice in me calls out that this has to change.
There’s another important trend: we have a data stack that tells us that many women are excited and inspired by sustainability issues and that this extends to their financial decisions.
The gender gap
Women do not invest as much as men, save less for retirement and park more in cash. This leads to a significant financial deficit in the long term. Of course, the gender pay gap exacerbates this shortage, but it also means that women are failing to make the money they have to work better for them. The result is that women have fewer assets and are much less likely to retire than men.
Keeping your assets in cash can make you feel more secure. Of course I understand that, especially in these turbulent and challenging times. However, if you don’t actively invest in your wealth, you may miss out on potential financial returns.
At the same time, you are missing out on the opportunity to do something positive and constructive with it in terms of social or environmental impact. If you invest actively, you can invest in sectors where you really want to grow – like clean energy or sustainable consumer brands – or you can proactively invest your money in companies that have years of experience in environmental and social issues. The world is your oyster.
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How do you start?
Sustainable investing is growing – which means it is getting easier for us. First, prioritize what is important to you. Ask yourself – which topics are important to me? Then translate your priorities into sustainable investment beliefs. These are the guiding principles that define who you are and what you want to achieve with your investments.
Next, set some goals. What do you want to achieve with your investments? The more specific you are, the easier it is to determine how and where to invest. There is a wealth of information and analysis out there, so use it to your advantage. As a sustainable investor, you need to make informed, well-considered decisions.
Jessica Robinson is the author of Financial Feminism: A Guide for Women to Invest in a Sustainable Future – learn more here.