Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Yes to "impact investment"

Spurred on by the housing crisis, Synod has passed a resolution which encourages church trusts to consider "impact investment".

Taonga News  |  08 May 2018

The church has got used to the idea of divestment – thanks to the 2014 General Synod resolution which encourages trustees to take church money out of fossil fuel industries.

Now, it's being encouraged to embrace "mission aligned impact investment" – which is the heading of a resolution it passed in New Plymouth this afternoon.

Bishop Kito Pikaahu moved the resolution, and he has been driven by desperation and inability of many Kiwis, and particularly Maori and Pacific Islanders, to afford a decent house.

"When you walk around Mangere early on any given morning," he said, "you will see people sleeping in their cars. When you visit parishioners, you will see how many people are crammed into cold, damp houses. When our people talk to clergy and community leaders, I hear how impossible it has become for our people to afford housing.

"This is a practical issue, but it is also a theological issue — an issue of justice in God’s sight.

"This motion seeks to address the specific issue of housing affordability, by establishing a new principle of positive, constructive investment of funds controlled by the church. We want to see investment by our trusts that aligns with the five-fold mission of the church.

"As a church we control huge sums of trust money. We believe that it is possible to invest that money in a way that is prudent, that achieves good financial returns, but that also advances the church’s mission."

There are snags, however, and the resolution (which was substantially amended) draws heavily on the expertise of Graham Miller, who not only headed up a corporate trustee firm for 30 years, but is also the Chairperson of the General Church Trust Board.

Trustees are bound by law to secure maximum benefit for their beneficiaries, and Graham is suggesting the church lobby Government – which is presently reviewing the Trusts Act – to negotiate some flexibility, so trustees are able to consider a broader range and style of investments without breaching their obligations.

And because trust funds are often very specific about who can benefit from an investment, Graham has proposed lobbying to make "incidental" benefit acceptable in trust law.

The motion was seconded by Bishop Ellie Sanderson – and other speakers included John Whitehead, who is the retired Head of Treasury.

"As someone with a financial background," he said, "I want to register my support for this motion and congratulate those who have worked to put it together.

"Of necessity, for reasons of social, environmental and economic justice, we sometimes have to express ourselves as being against something.

"But of course, we are fundamentally “for” not “against”:

"We are for things that provide life; we are for social justice; and we are for safeguarding God’s creation.

The resolution calls for the establishment of a small working group "to provide advice on mission aligned investments to deliver spiritual, financial, social or environmental returns in the regions of the three Tikanga that are most in need."

To read the full resolution, click here.