“How have Friends collaborated with and sustained the global system of White Supremacy? George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends envisioned a revolutionary religion which professes the belief that every person has a direct relationship with God. Early Friends proclaimed our capacity for spiritual wholeness comes from the seed of God planted in our hearts. What structures are preventing Friends from living into these beliefs and growing God’s seed?“
This year’s lecture is online and free to the public, and we think it will be of interest to some in our peace and conflict studies program. Many thanks to Pendle Hill for their programming and hospitality
Tim Hirschel-Burns ’17 (@TimH_B on Twitter; now at Yale Law School) anticipates global climate summit in Glasgow in a piece published on the Fellow Travelers blog:
This November, nations will come together for the international climate summit in Glasgow. The summit is the most significant since the 2015 conference that produced the Paris Agreement, and the recent wave of climate disasters only underlines the extreme urgency of global action to fight climate change. The US, now back in the Paris Agreement after the Trump Administration withdrew, aims to play a leading role in the negotiations. But as the US attempts to return to the head of the table, one key question will be in other countries’ minds: why should we believe what the US says?
Professor Smithey’s and Prof. Paddon Rhoads’ honors seminars were covered in this story by Ryan Dougherty about the honors program during the pandemic.
“Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Sociology Lee Smithey invited six authors to join his honors seminar on nonviolent civil resistance. Students heard the inside story from the writers whose books they were reading.“The results were pretty special,” says Smithey, whose hybrid seminar was held both online and, on warmer days, on the lawn outside Trotter Hall. “And the authors were each impressed with their conversation with the students and the level at which our students engaged the literature.”
“My dad went to Swarthmore and was part of the class of ’87. As I like to say on my admissions tours, for 18 of my 20 years, I did not want to come to Swarthmore. This is the last place I thought I would end up. I really thought that my college experience would be my own and I would do my own thing. That was until I actually visited Swarthmore and had an overnight with the soccer team, and it totally changed my opinion. I realized that the community that you could build here and the people you interact with daily were things that you couldn’t really find a lot of other places.”
He Wants to Blaze a Trail in Peace Engineering
“To me, peace engineering is like the poster child of a liberal arts education. When I first came to Swarthmore, I was introduced to the Peace & Conflict program through a teammate of mine who knew Professor Sa’ed Atshan very well. I had come to Swarthmore for engineering and wanted to do that from the start, so those two came naturally. I try to think about peace engineering as trying to reframe the way that people go about problem solving. So whether it is an issue with community building or reconstructing a building, it’s all about reframing the way that you’re looking at a problem to not only incorporate issues of optimization or efficiency, but also issues of community, inclusion, diversity, and equity. Blazing the trail for peace engineering after graduation is something that I’m definitely interested in.”
Soccer and Design Help Him Give Back
“Design FC was started by Omri Gal through the Lang Center about two years ago. It’s an afterschool program for design thinking work in an afterschool setting at Stetser Elementary in Chester. We teach design thinking skills to 5th and 6th graders. Now that Omri’s graduated, I’ve taken over the program and I’m in charge of it. Being there really, one, inspired me to work in Chester. It’s an incredible place and an incredible community. And then two, to get involved in a lot of things that I never thought I would get involved with here, like tutoring, mentoring, as well as learning how to use Illustrator for design.”
All are invited to an event on Tuesday (April 20) at 7:00 p.m.: “Religion, Race, and Environmental Activism after Standing Rock” at Montclair State University. Professor Smithey will participate in the panel that follows a screening of Half-Mile, Upwind, On Foot.
All are welcome this Wednesday, 2/24, 7-8:30 pm EST for “Abolishing the Death Penalty with Sister Helen Prejean: Justice, Dignity and Faith” a talk and Q&A with one of the country’s leading advocates against capital punishment. Immediately afterwards you can join a conversation with Swarthmore students who provide academic tutoring to incarcerated youth through the Petey Greene Program, event co-sponsors.
Use this Zoom info for both events:
Meeting ID: 832 2476 7883 Password: K16de6
You can stream Dead Man Walking, a film about the work of Sister Helen, through Tripod with this link.
This event is sponsored by the Interfaith Center, the Petey Greene Program, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Peace and Conflict Studies and the Urban Inequalities & Incarceration Program at the Lang Center.
Through impact investing, Swarthmoreans put their money where their values are
Morgan Simon ’04 wants you to know one thing about money: Investing it wisely can help bring about social change.
For almost 20 years, she’s done just that as a pioneer in impact investing, or the practice of investing not only for financial returns, but for social or environmental returns, as well. As a founding partner of the Bay Area-based Candide Group, a registered investment adviser, Simon and her team provide custom advice to families, foundations, athletes, and actors “who want their money working for justice,” she says.
It’s an ambitious endeavor that traces back to Simon’s Swarthmore days, when her shareholder activism led several Fortune 500 companies to amend their nondiscrimination policies. But Simon’s not alone in this burgeoning field, where monetary value meets Quaker values. Through impact investing, numerous Swarthmoreans are changing the world, one dollar at a time.
Purpose at the Center
Amit Bouri ’99 knew from a very young age that he wanted to do something that helped improve the lives of others. Raised by a single mother who put herself through school to bring the family to a basic level of middle-class stability, Bouri was keenly aware that most kids from similar backgrounds didn’t have access to the same kinds of educational opportunities that he had.
“I wanted to have purpose at the center of my career,” says Bouri, who holds an MBA from Northwestern and a master in public administration from Harvard. “But at the time I was in school, I did not have a very clear view of what that purpose would be.”
After working for a consulting firm and helping to author a report about investing for social and environmental impact, Bouri co-founded the nonprofit Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), “the global champion for impact investing,” he says. “We’re trying to develop a market that steers massive amounts of investment capital to address the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems.”
And from Bouri’s experience, interest in impact investing is booming — in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and elsewhere.
“We see more and more investors who want to put their money to work to have a positive impact on the world,” he says. “This ranges from big institutional investors, pension funds, and university endowments, all the way down to individuals who want their money to be invested in the world that they want to live in.”
A Meaningful Difference
Tralance Addy ’69 has seen a similar trend. The Ghana native is in the process of launching Yaro Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm that will invest in African companies in fields like health care services, clean technology, renewable energy, and food and agriculture.
“One of the most effective ways of addressing the needs of the developing world, especially poverty, is by much stronger engagement with private enterprise and entrepreneurship,” says Addy, who holds an engineering Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For his present venture, he’s drawing from his past experience as executive director of Stanford University’s Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies and as CEO of WaterHealth International.
Addy is passionate about Yaro’s potential for using business solutions to solve social problems.
“Our thesis is, there should be no conflict between making a return and having an impact,” he says, explaining that once a problem is solved in a way that is profitable, the solution can be sustained even after project leaders or philanthropists leave the scene.
“For instance,” he says, “with clean water, what we had to do was say we have to find a way to provide clean water that is affordable for people who earn $2 a day. Once you can make that a sustainable business, you have solved the problem.”
Sampriti Ganguli ’95, CEO of Arabella Advisors, says philanthropists are increasingly looking to move beyond grant-making to invest in socially conscious businesses.
“It’s part of a broader trend in philanthropy,” says Ganguli, whose company advises individuals, corporations, and foundations on philanthropic giving and impact investing. “There’s a transition into the next generation of donors who want to be much more actively involved, and they want to think more creatively about their giving strategy.”
Ganguli — who was born in India, grew up in the Philippines, and speaks five languages — holds an M.A. in international affairs from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Wharton. Before joining Arabella Advisors, she had roles in finance and consulting. But something was missing.
“The greatest value — and, in some ways, the greatest burden — of being a Swarthmore graduate is you always wrestle with that existential question of ‘How am I making a difference in this world?’” Ganguli says. “I always felt dissatisfied with where I was until I could answer that question: ‘Do I feel like the work that I’m doing is making a meaningful difference in the world?’ I now feel myself finally at peace from a career perspective.”
Making a Real Impact
Those existential questions are also at the center of the Candide Group, where “we’re able to invest in things like solar energy for low-income households in Louisiana, or direct-trade cacao that can give farmers three times the income,” says Simon, who in 2017 released Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change. Other investments made through Candide assisted a media production company in telling positive stories about people of color, or helped Black hairstylists increase their income by selling products directly to customers.
More than half of the companies and funds in Candide’s portfolio are led by women or people of color. That fact makes Simon particularly proud.
“Less than 2% of global assets are managed by firms owned by women or people of color,” she says. “Now, I’m managing a team that’s majority women of color, managing an investment portfolio that’s majority women and/or people-of-color led, and being able to exercise my values while deploying over $30 million a year.”
Among her teammates is Jasmine Rashid ’18, whose upbringing in a highly class-stratified community on Long Island sparked her interest in exploring economic inequality. Working with Simon, Rashid helped develop Candide’s Real Money Moves campaign to encourage divestment from private prisons. She also helped launch the $40 million Olamina Fund, focused on lending to “historically disinvested communities in rural America, the deep South, and Native country.”
Rashid named the fund after the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a novel she fell in love as a senior at Swarthmore.
“I actually started out Swarthmore as an economics major,” she says. “But I learned fairly quickly it was hard for me to stay focused just working with equations.” Instead, she wanted to talk about capital in the context of power, history, and society. “A special major in peace & conflict studies allowed a more nuanced exploration of that for me,” she adds, “and prepared me to begin drawing clear connections between money and justice — or lack thereof — in any social issue I encountered.”
For Simon, a similar connection was made in 2002, during her sophomore year in college. Troubled by the lack of protections offered to LGBTQ employees at Lockheed Martin, which was part of Swarthmore’s investment portfolio, Simon proposed that the College file a shareholder resolution with the aerospace and defense company. The resolution was hugely successful: Lockheed added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, and — through persuasion from Simon and other activists — three other large companies in the College’s portfolio made similar changes, as well.
“It was really because Swarthmore had faith in young people to not only think about how to make a difference but get real experience,” she says. “I was the first student since the apartheid era to have filed a shareholder resolution, and that led to students across the country reaching out and saying, ‘This is amazing. How can we do that?’”
The actions motivated Simon to found the Responsible Endowments Coalition, which at its height was on more than 100 U.S. college campuses influencing more than $150 billion. They also created a career path for Simon, “even if I wouldn’t have known it at the time,” she says.
“My objective was always strategic activism,” she adds, “and I learned that impact investing was an incredible way to do that.”
The selection committee honored both Lucy Jones ’20, who explored the experiences of Central American migrant women on the U.S.-Mexico border for her thesis, and Vanessa Meng ’20, who examined the debates surrounding colonialism in contemporary Chinese-African relations.
The students, who graduated in May with high honors, were honored at PJSA’s annual meeting, held virtually in November.
For Jones, it was an opportunity to properly celebrate her thesis, “Resistance, Resilience, and Survival: Central American Refugee Women Across the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which she completed while in quarantine during the pandemic.
“It was a huge honor, and very exciting to have my work recognized and to be able to talk about it with peace scholars from around the country,” says Jones, who majored in peace & conflict studies at Swarthmore and is now a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Philadelphia.
For Meng, it was particularly rewarding to be recognized for her thesis, “The Middle Kingdom Dreams: Understanding and Reframing China-African Relations,” at what she considered a time of heightened hostility from the Western media toward her native China.
“I hoped to show that there is an opportunity for peace between the U.S. and China, because the values and ideas that I was taught at Swarthmore, specifically the American revolutionary dream from activists in the United States, are in fact aligned with the dream of the country I grew up in,” says Meng, who majored in peace & conflict studies and has been writing a children’s book on environmental science.
Both students expressed gratitude for the faculty and students of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program, citing its depth of collaboration and support. They follow PJSA thesis award winners from Swarthmore in 2013 and 2014.
“Research and writing are important in our program, so we are understandably thrilled when colleagues in our field recognize that our students are doing important and often cutting-edge work,” says Lee Smithey, professor and program coordinator. “Lucy and Vanessa exemplify student scholarship in peace & conflict studies.”
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06 advised both students on their thesis projects, and offered comments on their behalf at the awards ceremony.
“Lucy arrived in my office in August 2016 from Birmingham, Ala., where she was born and raised,” Atshan recalls. “In our very first meeting, she expressed palpable enthusiasm for peace & conflict studies, reflecting on her Irish heritage, and proved to be a brilliant student.”
Atshan says Meng joined the College community “with a very clear consciousness regarding peace and environmental justice, speaking eloquently about climate challenges she witnessed in her hometown of Beijing.”
On Wednesday, a group of students from Professor Smithey’s Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking course observed a nonviolent action mounted by Earth Quaker Action Team. EQAT has called on the private electric utility PECO to distribute 20% of its electricity from local solar installations by 2025. Currently, solar makes up less than half of one percent of PECO’s energy portfolio.
Activists blockaded PECO service centers in Phoenixville, Coatesville, and Warminster saying that PECO is not preparing for the climate disruption crisis and is not properly investing in the region it serves. EQAT’s campaign is called “Power Local Green Jobs”.
Four activists were arrested at the Phoenixville site, where Swarthmore students observed. News coverage, including statements from EQAT and PECO, are available here and here. EQAT’s press release is here.