What does mobilising your assets for people and planet really mean? And how should you practically go about doing so? These were the questions at the heart of our Faith Plans workshop on Mobilising Assets for People and Planet.
If you missed it, you can watch the webinar below and download the resources here.
Opening the workshop, Faith Plans Programme Manager Catherine Devitt gave an overview of the Faith Plans programme and outlined some of the challenges groups may face when looking at the different ways of mobilising financial assets, as well as some of the opportunities.
'Faiths have a key role – they are stakeholders, asset-holders, and they have assets that can be mobilised’ – Nana Francois
Nana Francois, FaithInvest's Director of Investment Solutions, provided a great introduction to the steps that faith groups need to take when beginning this process. The Faith Plans programme is 'really about faith groups making their commitments over the long and medium term to address the current crisis that we face,' she said, 'and setting up plans across everything they own and manage to deliver a good future for people and planet. Faiths have a key role – they are stakeholders, asset-holders, and they have assets that can be mobilised. ’
So where should they start? Nana said it was important to start from the faith values and build holistically from there. Most faith groups, Nana explained, have values that are written down or captures in some way – such as policy statements and guidelines that provide the organisation’s governance. Looking at your faith’s values and using them as the foundation is a good way to be consistent across all of your assets and all areas of your work.
Defining what assets your faith group holds – be that money, buildings, land, institutions, schools or real estate – is an important next step before considering how to use those assets.
At its core, an asset plan needs to answer a few questions: What do we have? What do we own? What do we want to invest in? And where can we create opportunities for others? From there, your asset plan can develop organically into specific investments, missions, and projects, while being fully connected to your faith values, she said.
Setting up a bank!
“It does not matter how small you start. You only have to believe and to have that good faith” – Bishop Dr Fredrick Shoo
Via a short video interview made ahead of the workshop, Bishop Dr Fredrick Shoo, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and several of his colleagues, shared their experiences creating a community-owned bank in Tanzania.
The Church decided to set up a bank several years ago because of the challenges that both the Church and its parishioners experienced when it came to accessing financial services. 'It was not very easy for our institutions and people, for example, to get credit and the conventional banking system was not accommodating to the needs and levels of our people,' said Bishop Shoo.
The Church had to raise a minimum capital of 372 million Tanzanian shillings to register the bank, which it obtained through fundraising via its churches and through parishioners buying shares. Today Uchumi Commercial Bank has capital of TZS 10.1 billion – and has revolutionised the lives of many of its customers.
General Manager Samwel Wadu said previously some people did not feel able to enter a bank. 'They think the bank is for rich people. After establishing Uchumi Bank, many people now feel that they can go to the bank, they can borrow, they can do business.'
As well as creating a sense of financial literacy among the community, it has also changed people's lives, he said: ' We have so many cases where you see someone has started with a very small business, now they are running a very big portfolio.'
You can watch the 10-minute video interview below.
The divestment campaign
'Getting started is always the hardest part. But once you get started and look at what you can do practically, it’s brilliant to see the enthusiasm’ – James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Director of Operation Noah's Bright Now Campaign, spoke in detail about his experience of working with churches at different levels.
The Bright Now campaign encourages UK churches to divest from fossil fuel companies, and to look for opportunities in renewable energy. James’ work covers a number of areas beyond divestment too, including land use and tree coverage of church-owned plots.
James explained what a divestment commitment entails, and how groups might choose to go about making one, as well as his views on divestment. Making a divestment commitment could be seen as a natural next step in a faith group's journey to using its assets for good, rather than a complete change of pace or practice.
‘Getting started is always the hardest part,’ said James. ‘But once you get started and look at what you can do practically, it’s brilliant to see the enthusiasm.’
Breakout sessions and discussion
We then broke into two breakout groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities around the faith-consistent mobilisation of assets.
Breakout room one was led by Nana Francois.
Participants discussed the amount of resource needed to facilitate asset mobilisation and shared examples of organisations that hired someone specifically to manage the process.
They also discussed the importance of getting faith leadership on board, and also of talking to their fund managers.
Sometimes what the faiths owned in terms of assets were not well documented: determining that is a major research task alone, commented one participant.
The group looked at the challenges of ensuring that assets provided good financial returns as well as being aligned with faith values, and talked about the importance of using clear, easily digestible language to ensure that members of faith groups recognise the work that’s being done.
Resources, case studies and the support of others who had gone down this path before was very important to those faith groups just starting out.
Breakout room two was led by James Buchanan, and of course divestment was a key focus.
James suggested that looking at similar organisations to your own could be a good place to start when considering the ethics of your investments.
The question of 'what next?' after divestment was also discussed, and there was a debate about whether it was important to remain a shareholder to influence within.
Other delegates mentioned the need for additional resource and effective partnerships to facilitate the use of assets, which was a common theme from both discussions.
The importance of identifying the decision makers came up in this group also: 'Are we asking the right question to the right person?'
Lack of resources was a big problem, particularly for smaller faith groups or those in the Global South; the need for partnership with those with more experience was very important.
We came back together from the breakout sessions to reflect briefly on the discussion, and next steps. There are lots of resources and guidance on offer for anyone who’d like to find out more about the process of developing your Faith Plan, along with inspiring stores from faith groups who’ve successfully executed their own plans, on the Faith Plans website.
Throughout the year we’ll be holding a series of workshops to look at different aspects of the Faith Plans in more detail, and you can sign up for the next workshop below.
Wednesday March 30
Faith Plans and faith-based tree-planting
Led by WWF's Beliefs and Values Programme this practically-oriented workshop will feature speakers from UNEP Faith for Earth, South Africa's Anglican Communion Environmental Network, Kenya's faith-based tree growing project and the Trillion Trees campaign. We look forward to seeing you there!