September 11, 2017, Fort Pierce, Florida – Patricia Henderson of Fort Pierce, Florida, needed her roof replaced due to major leaks that developed after hurricane Matthew. Patricia could not obtain the funding she needed at an affordable rate, so she went to the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) to finance this necessary repair.
SELF is a nonprofit, Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certified statewide in Florida by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its mission is to help rebuild and empower underserved communities by providing access to affordable financing for sustainable home improvement projects that support energy-efficiency, renewable energy, wind-hazard mitigation, and water conservation. SELF is one of the many loan funds supported by the Portfolio Advisory Board of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
LEFT: A manager for Gary Marzo Roofing stands with Patricia Henderson as her home gets a new roof. RIGHT: Lesha Westberry (in the purple shirt, second from left in the middle row) has 16 adopted children that she and her husband care for. Lesha and her husband were in need of a new air conditioner as the one their old unit was barely cooling their home. With the help of SELF, the family was able to finance a new unit that could efficiently cool the home.
SELF’s lending programs focus on homeowners in low- and moderate-income census tracts, with special programs for veterans, women, and people with disabilities. SELF provides access to favorable financing to underbanked communities, people with poor credit, and individuals classified as “ALICE” — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Additionally, SELF is an approved field partner with KIVA.org, which provides clients with access to microloans through KIVA’s worldwide crowdfunding platform. This innovative program is specifically intended to promote clean energy and green jobs and to alleviate poverty.
SELF’s lending standards are less stringent than traditional banks and offer below-market-rate financing options. This enables clients to complete needed home improvement projects, reduce average household energy consumption by 23 percent; lower operating costs (i.e., energy and insurance bills); enhance comfort and livability; improve air quality and health benefits; bolster wind resilience; safeguard the most significant family asset, the home; and increase equity and market value. In the process, SELF fosters the clean-energy economy and creates green jobs for local contractors.
To date, SELF has financed more than $5 million in micro-loans, with each loan typically around $10,000. This has enabled 626 Florida families to complete sustainable home improvement projects, with 70 percent of the lending activity in low- or moderate-income communities and 40 percent for women.
To learn more about SELF, view the video below or visit them at cleanenergyloanprogram.org.
August 29, 2017, Ypsilanti, Michigan – Dawn Farm, which receives low-interest loans through the Portfolio Advisory Board, was founded in 1973 by three recovering addicts as a functional community for addiction recovery in a farm environment. Based upon group interdependence and cooperation, hard physical work, and rigorous honesty, Dawn Farm continues to care for alcoholics and other addicts.
With a mission to help addicts and alcoholics find recovery, the values that guide programming include the beliefs that any addict or alcoholic can get better, abstinence matters, community recovery works, long-term support is necessary, and work is important.
Originally a single, long-term residential facility, the “Farm” has expanded into a large continuum-of-care agency providing an array of services. Residential facilities include Dawn Farm, with 36 beds; Dawn Farm Downtown in Ann Arbor, with 13 beds; and Spera Recovery Center, an 18-bed, sub-acute detoxification and community support unit. Dawn Farm also offers a transitional housing and supportive care management for pregnant addicts and women with children. In addition, Chapin Street Project offers a 180-bed, transitional housing program for homeless addicts.
The residential programs are augmented by Dawn Farm Outpatient Services in Ann Arbor; a program for teens; Washtenaw Jail Outreach, which provides treatment for more than 200 incarcerated addicts each year; and employment services for recovering addicts, in collaboration with the local business community.
Through these programs, in 2016 Dawn Farm served a total of 7,688 individuals. For more information on Dawn Farm, visit www.dawnfarm.org.
June 23, 2017, Rockville Centre, N.Y. – People with disabilities and their families often struggle to gain access to safe, affordable housing and related services such as job training. The Disability Opportunities Fund (DOF) provides technical and financial services to individuals and organizations serving the disability market throughout the United States. The DOF is one of the many Community Investments the Adrian Dominican Sisters make as part of its commitment to social justice.
This spring, a nonprofit farm vocational program just outside of Rochester, New York, is cultivating the seeds of inclusion thanks to the DOF.
Jenny Brongo is the sibling of a person on the autism spectrum. Because her brother responded well to being on their uncle’s farm, Jenny developed a vocational program for him and others to promote skills training, socialization, self-awareness, and career exploration for people of all abilities. This program, called Homesteads for Hope, has operated two seasonal farm vocational pilot programs and hosted community outreach events since 2014.
In August 2016, with support from a $1.2 million loan from the DOF, Homesteads for Hope purchased a 55-acre historic farm in Ogden, New York. The organic farm and its collaborative partnerships with the local community offer a unique vision that will provide jobs, organic food, educational programs, and community and living spaces for people of all abilities.
To learn more about the DOF, visit www.theDOF.org
Plans for the Homestead for Hope Farm
Community members gather to help restore the farm for Homesteads for Hope.
Feature photo at top: Charles Brongo at the new Homesteads for Hope farm.
April 7, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Shareholders in public corporations have a unique privilege, opportunity, and responsibility: to use their proxy ballots to shape the values and decisions of those corporations.
That was the message of Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, Executive Director of the Religious Communities Investment Fund, in a live-streamed April 3 talk, “How One Checkmark Can Influence Corporate Policy.” Her address was given in the auditorium of Weber Retreat and Conference Center on the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
She noted the strong economic influence that corporations carry: of the 150 largest economic entities, she said, 87 are corporations. Some 91 million U.S. adults own some stock, she noted, adding that most throw away or recycle their proxy votes rather than voicing their values.
“If you own shares, you have a voice – and I’m here today to ask you to use your influence to improve corporate decision-making and creating change in the issues you care about,” Sister Corinne said. “After all, investments are your money and should be working for you.”
Sister Corinne encouraged individual shareholders to consider the values they support and the industries they would like to avoid supporting, and to ask their financial advisers to craft a portfolio that reflects these choices. Then, as individual investors, they have the right to guide the corporation’s decisions through their proxy vote.
“Proxy is just another name for a ballot that contains resolutions that are up for a vote,” Sister Corrine explained, adding that proxies also include a slate of candidates running to serve on the corporation’s Board of Directors. Resolutions can deal with issues such as environmental impacts and disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying expenses and treatment of workers.
If shareholder resolutions receive support of 3 percent of the proxy voters, the corporation will remain in dialogue about those issues. “The proxy voting is the incentive for the corporation to stay in the dialogue,” Sister Corinne explained. When shareholders don’t vote at all, their votes are considered to be in favor of the view of the corporation’s management rather than of shareholders who are trying to make changes, she added.
Using proxy voting to help bring more justice into the economy is not a new practice. Sister Corinne noted that the Adrian Dominican Sisters have been involved in economic justice through corporate responsibility for more than 40 years through the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). The Congregation is also working with hundreds of other faith-based organizations, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to ensure that the corporate world reflects values of justice, care for the environment, and concern for workers and low-income people.
A panel of Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke on their own experience of voting proxies for the Congregation. Sisters Frances Lombaer, OP, Joan Marconi, OP, and Thérèse Haggerty, OP, encouraged listeners to vote their proxies, noting that the process becomes easier with practice. “We do proxy voting because we want to support the choices that the Congregation makes through the PAB, our Portfolio Advisory Board, Sister Thérèse said. “These choices are in line with our vision statements.”
Sister Corinne concluded her talk by giving investors some ideas on how they can both diversify their portfolio and make a difference in the world.
“Please join us in this effort to create more justice in our economy,” Sister Corinne concluded.
To watch her presentation, click here.
February 13, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Many people equate Haiti with poverty – with its reputation as the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. But Leigh Carter, who has worked with Haitians for nearly 20 years, sees signs of hope in the women who have climbed out of poverty and now provide a decent life for their families.
Leigh, founder and Board Member Emeritus of Fonkoze USA – the U.S. non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for Fonkoze – gave a special presentation on the work of Fonkoze February 6 in Weber Auditorium at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse. Her presentation, “The Adrian Dominican Sisters and Two Decades of Partnering with the Women of Haiti,” followed a meeting of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB).
Founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters more than 40 years ago, the PAB helps the Congregation to use its resources to bring about economic justice through socially responsible investing in corporations and communities. The Adrian Dominican Sisters were among the first to grant low-interest loans to Fonkoze, and have been partners with the organization since 1997.
Leigh became director of Fonkoze USA at the invitation of Father Joseph Philippe, a Haitian priest who founded Fonkoze in 1994 to address poverty in Haiti. She attributed her connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters to Sister Maureen Fenlon, OP, who encouraged Leigh to apply for a low-interest loan from the Congregation. Fonkoze USA received $200,000 in loans from other congregations of women religious after the Adrian Dominicans approved an initial loan.
In 20 years, Leigh said, Fonkoze has become “Haiti’s largest microfinance organization,” offering loans and other banking services to individuals – mostly women – in their efforts to become self-sufficient. Fonkoze now has 45 branches throughout Haiti, with $65,000 outstanding in loans to Haitian market women, and more than 200,000 people who are saving their money through Fonkoze.
Leigh spent much of her talk describing Fonkoze’s “staircase out of poverty” program. The first step, “Chemen Lavi Miyò,” focuses on the “ultra-poor,” women who “basically haven’t managed money ever or touched money – they’re basically begging at the marketplace.” The women receive $25 loans to help them get started in a business. In addition, Leigh said, their homes are upgraded to include a cement floor, a tin roof, a latrine, and a water filter. They are also expected to send their children to school.
After two years of group training, Leigh said, the women are “arguing over who’s going to speak at the graduation in front of 400 people” – a drastic change for women who, at the beginning of the program, “can’t look you in the eye” because they feel ashamed. Not all of the women who undergo the most basic training program move up the staircase, Leigh noted, but they have still found their lives to be “amazingly improved.
Higher up the staircase, Leigh said, women are organized into groups of five or six, forming “credit centers.” Currently, she said, some 65,000 women are organized into 2,000 credit centers. The women meet twice a month – once to meet with their credit agent or to repay their loan, and the second time to receive education on anything from cholera prevention to improving their businesses.
Leigh pointed to success stories of women who began as “ultra-poor” and became successful market women. One such woman, now in the business development stage of the program, works in wholesale, which loans in the thousands of dollars. “Instead of her husband sending her money from Miami, she sends money to him,” she noted.
Fonkoze thus focuses on “meeting women wherever they are in this journey out of poverty,” Leigh said. “Some people don’t make it,” often because of challenges such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. Nine Fonkoze branches and about 14,000 clients were affected by the recent Hurricane Matthew. Fonkoze has been monitoring all of these clients to determine who has repaid their loans, who needs to restructure their loans, and whose loans need to be written off, she said.
Photos courtesy of Fonzoke, USA
In the question and answer session, Leigh noted that Fonkoze has been able to make a difference in the lives of individual Haitians – but that Haiti, as a whole, could be in “worse shape” than when she arrived 25 years ago.
“We’re dealing with the informal sector, and for Haiti to really, really succeed, there needs to be a thriving middle class and a thriving formal sector, and people who are creating jobs,” she said. In addition, she would like to see Haiti invest more in its infrastructure, such as roads. “That helps everybody.”
In the meantime, Leigh said, Fonkoze will continue to help individual women who are striving to climb out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. “We hope to have 100,000 loan clients in the next three or four years,” Leigh said. “We’ll just keep doing what we do.”
Feature photo at top: Leigh Carter, of Fonkoze USA, gives a talk on how her organization has helped women in Haiti on their journey out of poverty. Photo by Jessica Havens.
View "Saincia's Journey Out of Poverty" on YouTube: https://youtu.be/5mAa1x3QiQQ
October 25, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) is sending out a new loan to Fonkoze USA for its efforts in securing financial and technical support to its Haitian partner, Fonkoze. The loan was recommended by the PAB and approved by the Congregation’s General Council.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters have been involved with Fonkoze since 1997, when it first received a loan from the Congregation. Sister Maureen Fenlon, OP, served on the founding board of Fonkoze.
Fonkoze is a family of organizations that work together to empower Haitians – especially women – to move their families out of poverty. The organization’s 45 branches cover every area of Haiti and are the only access to financial services for many Haitians. It envisions a Haiti where “people, standing together, shoulder to shoulder, have pulled themselves out of poverty.”
“As a Haitian institution, Fonkoze is adept at navigating the complexities of working in a failed state with limited infrastructure, insecurity, economic instability, and climactic crisis,” according to Leigh Carter, founder of Fonkoze USA.
The organization is working to mitigate the damage brought about by Hurricane Matthew on October 4, 2016. The hurricane brought “near total devastation” to some areas, and coastal areas continue to suffer from flooding, Leigh Carter reported. Communications channels and the efforts of rescue teams were hampered by the effects of the hurricane.
Before Matthew struck, staff members of the Fonkoze branches had taken precautions by securing files and equipment. The day after the hurricane struck, 27 branches were operating online to assist the people who desperately needed financial help in the wake of Matthew.
Staff members of Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM), a Fonkoze program that serves the ultra poor, immediately began to visit the households of their clients. CLM’s budget includes an emergency fund to support its clients in the current crisis. The nurses in Fonkoze’s Community Health Store reached out to the local community health entrepreneurs. In addition, they will hold a campaign between October 17 and October 31 to train the entrepreneurs on hygiene and cholera prevention, making antibacterial soaps and chlorine solution tablets more readily available.
Fonkoze has learned from its experience in several disasters that have struck Haiti: Hurricane Jeanne in 2004; Hurricanes Faye, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike in 2008; and a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. In those situations, Fonkoze took the steps necessary to help their clients recover from disaster: forgiving the outstanding balance of loans, offering special loans to help in their recovery, and offering money transfer services to people who desperately needed the immediate financial help.
Founded more than 40 years ago, the PAB was a response to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ vision for social change. Firmly rooted in the tradition of Catholic social teachings, the PAB helps the Congregation to advocate for social justice in two ways. Through Community Investments work, the PAB offers low-interest loans to non-profit community organizations that benefit low-income people and underserved communities. The PAB Corporate Responsibility arm monitors the Congregation’s investments and engages in shareholder activities on matters of justice involving corporations in which the Congregation invests.
Feature photo: Hurricane Matthew wreaks devastation in Les Cayes, Haiti. 161014-F-MQ799-0385 by The 621st Contingency Response Wing on Flickr, CC BY 2.0
October 4, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – Numerous aspects of the issue of climate change and its effects on Earth have been discussed and analyzed in recent years. A presentation, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), focused on a unique but vital slant: how finance can be used as a tool in the fight against climate change.
Geeta Aiyer, CFA, founder and president of Boston Common Asset Management, spoke on “The Climate Finance Landscape – Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change” in the auditorium of Weber Center, before an audience of PAB members, Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers. Geeta has worked closely with the Congregation for about 20 years as an investment manager.
She began by setting her talk in context, noting the urgency of climate change, which can bring about “disruption of climate cycles” and severe weather, as well as “food scarcity, the extinction of species, and the displacement of populations.”
For many years, faith-based organizations have tried to persuade people to address climate change and to change from using fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Financial motivation also plays a role, Geeta said. “I firmly believe there is no sustainability without finance,” she said. “Hence, your role as the Portfolio Advisory Board remains central.”
During her talk, Geeta focused on how finance tools can be used as part of a strategy to persuade corporations such as energy companies to lessen the effects of climate change on our planet.
Geeta gave a mixed review of the effectiveness of one popular tool: divestment, selling off your stocks and having nothing to do with a fossil-fuel company, for example. Divestment is a “values statement that says you don’t want to participate in it.” However, she added, the stocks could then go to other owners who don’t care what effects the fossil-fuel companies are having on the environment. In addition, other companies besides fossil fuel corporations put carbon into the air through their operations.
Geeta pointed out that activist shareholders — those who want to make a difference to the environment or social justice through their investments — have a range of tools to persuade corporations to take the environment into account, from dialoguing with the companies to engaging in shareholder resolutions. The PAB, through its Corporate Responsibility arm, engages in those actions to bring about greater social justice and enhance the common good.
Geeta noted the powers of persuasion that shareholders have with the corporations that they invest in because the shareholders would want to make decisions that benefit the corporation as well as the world. As shareholders, “we have a very different voice,” she said. “We want [the corporations] to do well. …We’ll sit with them and talk with them in a voice that can be heard.”
Dialogues between activist shareholders and the companies in which they invest can take many forms, Geeta said. She emphasized the importance of working with fossil-fuel companies to begin to produce renewable energy, with other companies to reduce their use of carbon and to be more efficient, and with insurance companies and banks, who enable continual construction that can increase the use of fossil fuels.
Geeta expressed her own optimism that fossil fuel companies and other corporations will eventually act to make the environment more sustainable. “When we know people are watching, we change how we do things,” she said. For example, if fossil fuel companies realize that the demand for carbon-based energy has been reduced, they might supply more energy through renewable sources. Companies in every sector could become aware of opportunities to make a difference through more efficient use of energy or through technology that helps consumers to measure their own use of energy.
To hear more about this complex issue, watch the video of Geeta’s entire talk.
September 2, 2016 - A well-known asset management specialist will be the featured speaker in a presentation hosted by the Portfolio Advisory Board.
Geeta Aiyer, CFA, founder and President of Boston Common Asset Management, will talk about "The Climate Finance Landscape — Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change" at 1:15 pm. September 8 at the Weber Retreat and Conference Center.
Aiyer uses her extensive experience in finance to fuel leadership and innovation in the areas of environmental sustainability and social justice.
More details about Aiyer and the upcoming talk are available here.
August 25, 2016 - The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) is pleased to announce two new loan investments for August 2016.
Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN) invests in community-based partners that help improve the lives of the working poor in Latin America through finance, service, education, training, employing or doing business them. WCCN currently operates in six countries: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru.
WCCN assists workers such as Fidelia Gama, an Ecuadorian coffee farmer.
photo by Michael Kienitz
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ loan will be pooled with other funds and lent to microfinance institutions and democratically controlled cooperatives. These organizations provide credit to the poor in addition to other services such as health care, business training, empowerment and environmental education.
The Sisters are also investing in LiftFund, a nonprofit organization that has helped new and existing entrepreneurs grow their businesses by providing loans to those who do not have access to capital from typical lending sources. Along with vital business loans, LiftFund provides educational services that are essential to foster self-sufficiency.
LiftFund Client photo: Roxana Collazo, Firefly Dual Language Academy,
Over the past 22 years LiftFund has successfully fulfilled its mission by providing more than $210 million in over 17,400 loans to clients in 13 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ loan will be pooled with other mission-minded investor funds and used as lending capital for small business owners. Loan capital provides LiftFund clients with opportunities to build their business, provide for their family, and make their community a better place.
Founded more than 40 years ago, the PAB was a response to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ vision for social change. Firmly rooted in the tradition of Catholic social teachings, the PAB helps the Congregation to advocate for social justice in two ways. Through its Community Investments committee, the PAB offers low-interest loans to non-profit community organizations that benefit low-income people and underserved communities. The PAB Corporate Responsibility arm monitors the Congregation’s investments and engages in shareholder activities on matters of justice involving corporations in which the Congregation invests.
August 8, 2016, Detroit, Michigan – Many people might write off Detroit as a “lost cause” because of the well-known poverty and violence afflicting this town. However, Lura Mack and Kristine Cooper, director and executive assistant, respectively, of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), spent a day visiting a variety of organizations that have made a difference for the individuals and communities in this troubled city.
For more than 40 years, the PAB has helped the Adrian Congregation to use its financial assets to further the values of the Gospel in the economic realm, through the wings of corporate responsibility and community investment. During a recent tour of Detroit hosted by IFF Detroit. The PAB has granted low-interest loans to IFF Detroit for its work, in turn, in lending to organizations that “create opportunities for low-income communities and people with disabilities.”
During the tour, Lura and Kris visited three organizations that have received low-interest loans from IFF Detroit:
“The trip reminded me of the ‘bus trips’ the Adrian Dominican Sisters used to provide when they first began doing this work as a way to educate the members about where their dollars were being invested in the community,” Lura said. “What a great experience and inspiration to see first-hand how the investment dollars are being used to benefit these organizations as they provide creative opportunities and hope to individuals.”
Insights, the Portfolio Advisory Board’s electronic newsletter (published quarterly), features stories about the socially responsible activities of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, including community investments and shareholder resolutions.
Renaissance Marks 10 Years of Serving Families and Businesses
PAB among Faith-Based Investors Speaking Out for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
LiftFund: Empowering Diverse Entrepreneurs, Businesses
Shareholder Advocacy News
PeopleFund Working for Economic Justice
ICCR Conference Brings Opportunity to Study Issues of the Day
Changing Lives Through Business
Con-Way Held up as Socially Responsible Corporation for Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking
Meet the Florida Community Loan Fund
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