Our impact investing journey: Sisters of St Joseph of Peace


In this article we share the story of how the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace chose to align their investments with their values.

In March 2020, the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace announced that they have completed the divestment of their UK investment portfolio. The sisters made the decision to divest in 2018 and were 100% fossil free in 2019. The Sisters of St Joseph of Peace are now researching how to divest from fossil fuels in the rest of their portfolio in the United States. ‘We are learning from our sisters here in the United Kingdom who paved the way,’ said Assistant Congregation Leader Sister Susan Francois. ‘The time is now to act, to put our values into action on behalf of Earth and all creation.’

This article profiling the work of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace originally appeared in the Autumn 2018 issue of Living Peace and on the CSJP website under the title, ‘The Long-Term Impact of Living the Vow of Poverty by Deborah Fleming, Chief Financial Officer’. The article was also published by the Catholic Impact Investing Collective.

Sisters of St Joseph of Peace at the Nottingham Climate Strike (photo credit: Sisters of St Joseph of Peace)

The Sisters of St Joseph of Peace have responded to the most critical needs of the times throughout their entire history. Sisters worked in ministries where they earned salaries and stipends but chose to live simply in fidelity to their vow of poverty. Funds not needed for immediate living expenses were invested with a constant eye toward continuing to respond to the changing critical needs of the times. New ministries were created, and financial assistance was given where it could have the most impact. Over time, the CSJPs have closed some ministries and sold some properties. Funds from these events were invested to provide for current operations, sisters’ retirement expenses and ministry support.

Making an impact with investments is not a new concept for faith-based organizations. The Sisters of St Joseph of Peace have been socially responsible investors for as long as there have been funds to invest. Historically, they have tried to express their values through investments primarily by avoiding investing in companies whose primary activity is objectionable, such as selling tobacco or weapons, or distributing pornography. Policies have been created that do not allow the purchase of such stocks.

In the 1990s, shareholder activism began to emerge as a way to use the power of investments to change the way companies do business. Instead of not buying stocks, the Congregation began to engage with company management on issues of concern to them. With the help of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and its regional partners, the Congregation has continuously participated in shareholder resolutions and dialogs with corporate management about policies and practices that promote social, economic and environmental justice. Some of the issues being targeted are: access to health, energy and the environment, global supply chain, gun safety, and human rights.

Beginning in the 1990s, many foundations and nonprofit organizations began to take a blended approach to investing to invest in line with their missions as well as to provide needed financial returns. The common belief was that returns for these kinds of investments would be below market rates. The CSJPs made the decision to invest responsibly wherever possible, and to make returns secondary to values.

Around 2007, the term impact investing emerged. Today there are many terms used to characterize impact investing: social venture capital, mission investment, social investment, sustainable, socially conscious, green or ethical investing. Whatever the terms or investment vehicles, the common goal is to measure social and environmental performance with the same emphasis as financial performance. People, the planet, and profit need to be considered together.

For many years, the two US regions of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace have had charitable investments in community development and loan funds. The Leviticus Fund invests capital to serve the poor by making loans to help provide housing, non-profit facilities, and healthcare centres in the New York metropolitan area. Mercy Loan Fund (now Mercy Community Capital) provides flexible funding for affordable housing in 39 states, and Partners for the Common Good funds opportunities for the poor in 36 states.

In January 2017, a United Nations summit resulted in the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are a call to action so that all countries – poor, rich or in the middle – can work together in their efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. The adoption of these goals was a recognition that real global economic growth means addressing a wide range of social needs such as education, health, job opportunities, climate change and environmental protection. The CSJPs were already making investments in funds that had adopted the guidance of these goals, and they continued to do so. An example is the WHEB Sustainability Fund in the UK region. This positive impact investor uses the 17 goals as a guide – focusing on opportunities created by the transition to a low carbon and sustainable global economy.

Recently the sisters made two new impact investments. The UNICEF USA Bridge Fund is a global fund that supports sustainable development, predominantly in Nigeria and South Sudan. This investment is helping save lives through education, nutrition, water and hygiene. Global Partnerships is a fund that strives to expand opportunity for the poorest people by providing loans to social enterprises and cooperatives globally, particularly in Latin America and Africa.

Because of their simple lifestyle, the generosity of others and wise stewardship, the CSJPs are able to become more involved in impact investing as a way to continue and sustain the mission of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace into the future, and to continue to make impacts on the lives of the poor and marginalized around the world.

One of the sisters said it well: ‘Now I know that living my vow of poverty and efforts to live simply have been worth it. We, together, are healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, and providing opportunities for education where there are none. Living the vow of poverty enriches God’s people, enriches our world, and also enriches our lives.’

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