Quiet Legacy was a proud sponsor this past year of the Pillar Community Innovation Awards. The collaboration award was won by the partnership that lead to London’s Safe Injection Clinic.  Their story, and the deeply personal connection below led me to wonder what can be done by you and I in our investment planning to help fight this growing concern.
Image via CC2.0 license from Flickr by K-State Research

 

If you’ve spent any time in downtown London this summer, one of the most striking things you’ll notice is that our population of homeless folks has grown exponentially.  In particular, the rise of the opioid epidemic has been heartbreaking and breathtaking to see.

I had a strong reminder of this a month ago. One of my former colleagues from almost 20 years ago, Pete (I have changed his name for privacy reasons), has struggled with mental health issues and drug addiction and ended up living on the streets for the last two years. Pete was a kind man, and in fact, had a university degree as a youth minister. His faith was a key part of his life. He had a former spouse and three children, whom he clearly loved dearly. I tell you all of this to illustrate a simple fact: addiction and mental health issues – and in a worst-case scenario a combination of the two – impact all parts of our society, and the repercussions are severe.

In our office, at least one of us would run into Pete every few weeks. His struggle was heartbreaking, but like many addicts, his mental health challenges would interfere with him getting proper support and treatment. The last time I saw him, he told me he was refusing to take his medication to prove to everyone that he did not have mental health issues. He was clearly in distress, and while I’m not a psychiatrist, I think I can safely say as someone who knew him for a long time that he obviously was in the midst of a severe mental-health crisis.

Shortly before Sarah, our Operations Director here at Quiet Legacy left on her maternity leave, she had commented that it had seemed odd that neither her nor I had run into Pete for a couple of months. I’d hoped at the time that he’d found his way back into a drug or mental health treatment program. Unfortunately, at the end of the summer I came across his obituary. Based on the wording , I inferred that my friend was yet another victim of the crisis in our city.

I wish I had a solution to what’s become an immense problem in our city. This one has weighed heavily on my conscience for the last few weeks. Could we have done more for him? Would it have helped?

Strangely, an answer may be found in the world of investments

Recently Dan Han, Vice President, Sales with NEI Investments came down to our office for a visit. NEI specializes in Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Funds. Responsible Investment funds companies such as NEI have a specific mandate to not only focus on numerical returns like regular investment funds, to but also look at environmental, social and governance issues. As a result, SRI-oriented companies will screen and advocate for things like gender equity, environmental stewardship and many others. Each company takes a slightly different approach to this, but in the end, SRI companies are looking at more than just the bottom line as a measurement of success.

Dan and I, like his counterparts at other SRI companies have had several wide-ranging conversations over the years, but this one really hit home. In our conversation, Dan mentioned that NEI has become the first Canadian investment company to sign on with a group called Investors for Opioid Accountability (IOA). IOA’s members (a mix of SRI, faith-based, labour-based and government investors) control over 1.3 trillion in investible assets, and as a group, have undertaken an effort to advocate for greater responsibility from companies involved in the manufacturing and distribution of Opioids. Their collective hope is to see better controls in place to prevent the massive crisis plaguing our streets. Their efforts are one of many steps, and one of many innovations in the investment world that moves us away from traditional “return at any cost” investment strategies, to measuring multiple bottom lines.

Having investment companies hold Opioid producers and distributers to a higher standard will not bring back Pete – but it might, in its own way, bring change for the future to help others down the line. I’m certainly glad to see that my industry is acting for positive change. If I have the choice between a company which keeps this in mind or one that doesn’t, I’m going for the more socially responsible choice every time.

Ask yourself what’s important to you – and what your investment portfolio does to match your values

It has never been easier to incorporate your personal value system into your investment portfolio.  Whether your interests are health-related, environmental, gender equity or others, it’s never been easier to ensure your investments are not compromising your values. There’s never been a better time to put what is important to you in your investments.

Ryan