Adrian Kulesza

Stock investors, social activists, policymakers and students from across the country gathered in Dwight Hall on Saturday and Sunday for the Student Conference for Corporate Responsibility hosted by the Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund.

Managed by undergraduate Yale College students, the fund invests in various companies and utilizes stockholder advocacy — influence over a company’s behavior by exercising the stockholder’s rights as a partial owner — to “have a positive environmental and social impact while aiming to outperform standard investment benchmarks and maximize financial return.” Founded in 2007, the fund was originally granted $50,000 from Dwight Hall’s endowment.

Last weekend’s event was sponsored by the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and the Intentional Endowments Network and included 15 speakers.

Day one of the conference featured a panel of speakers that included the CEO of Northstar Asset Management, Julie Goodridge, the co-founder of the Sustainable Finance Institute, Cary Krosinsky, and the director of engagement for the Reproductive Health Investors Alliance, Shelley Alpern. The different guest speakers shared their experiences with students through big and small group discussions and answered students’ questions.

On the second day of the conference, students from across the nation discussed strategies on how to create similar funds at different places.

“A big thing we’re trying to do with this event is to break down stigmas on either side of the table of activism and investing and think about how those two pockets can work together,” said Gabe Malek ’20, one of the co-chairs of the fund. “The idea is if we can get people with knowledge about the investment with people who have knowledge about the social and environmental issues so that we can actually make substantial change.”

Katrina White ’20, a conference co-chair, said that some similar student funds are strictly financial and do not take the social actions of their investments into consideration, while others think about the portfolios of their investments but do not necessarily take into account the finances of the companies. The Dwight Hall fund combines both of these approaches to create a group that considers both the financial and social returns of its investments, according to White.

“Four years ago, we linked forces with Fossil Free Yale in thinking about how to engage in fossil fuel companies and we started a campaign with lobbying disclosure on Exxon Mobil,” said Malek, adding that the group has since expanded its investments to include other companies, such Merck Pharmaceuticals. 

In 2015, the group, which currently has $2000 worth of stock with Exxon Mobil Corp., was the first undergraduate fund to ever cofile a shareholder resolution with a public company. In part due to the fund’s resolution, Exxon decided last summer to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council — an organization that funds anti–climate change science research. The fund is also currently engaging with Merck on its drug pricing models.

Student-run socially responsible investment funds are a relatively new trend, and members of the Dwight Hall fund hopes that other student funds develop a model similar to theirs. According to Malek, organizations at other universities have the potential to start similar funds at their respective schools.

“We also have interest from Northeastern University, Boston University, Brown SRI and more,” he said. “A lot of these organizations have students who have been to other investment conferences about socially responsible investing and have been exposed to what engagement is. We see that a lot of funds are just missing that catalyst and we can provide that expertise to at least kick start a few initiatives.”

White said she hopes that in years to come, students who enter traditional financial corporations such as Morgan Stanley can engage in stockholder activism.

Kelly Wei | kelly.wei@yale.edu

Correction, April 17: A previous version of this story stated that Merck Pharmaceuticals received scrutiny for excessively high pricing of EpiPens. In reality, it has not. Rather, members of the Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund became passionate about drug pricing more broadly due to other pharmaceutical companies’ overpricing of epipens and decided to invest in Merck.