Over at Ceres, nominations are still open – through next Tuesday, March 8th – for the Joan Bavaria Awards, so it’s a good time to reflect on this extraordinary woman who gave so much to what is now a large and vibrant movement.
Established in 2008, the Joan Bavaria Awards for Building Sustainability into Capital Markets were created by Ceres and Trillium Asset Management “to recognize investors, corporations, and NGOs that have helped move the capital markets from a system focused on short-term profits toward one that balances financial prosperity with social and environmental health.” Should circumstances warrant, each year, an Impact Award and an Innovator Award goes to an individual or organization that “shares the spirit of collaboration and coalition building demonstrated by Joan Bavaria and the organizations she founded.” Previous award winners include, in 2009, Murninghan Post Co-Founder and Publisher Emeritus Robert K. Massie, now running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts; and in 2010, Tim Smith, Senior Vice President at Walden Asset Management, and the Center for Political Accountability.
Joan’s physical form left us in November 2008, but she lives on in the hearts, minds, and work for thousands of us, each day. If you don’t know who Joan Bavaria was, you should. Plain as that. Here’s a glimpse.
I first met Joan Bavaria in autumn 1983, me holding a freshly-minted Harvard doctorate, her holding a vision of a more sustainable, compassionate, and just world. In those days, discussions of corporate responsibility (CR) were bound up in debates about affirmative action, urban renewal and economic development, the proliferation of military weapons, and environmental degradation. I’d several years of hands-on experience seeking to make institutions more accountable and just; my doctoral work addressed Federal Court involvement in the Boston Public Schools, and it was the Harvard Ed School and Law School deans who ushered me into this new world of CR and social investing, but it was a continuation of my work to align institutional behavior with civic moral principles.
I knew a lot about race and schooling, about values, law, and politics, about organizational governance and behavior, but absolutely nothing about ethical investing and corporate responsibility. I was hired by a firm called Mitchell Investment Management Company and put in charge of corporate social equity research for a social responsibility mutual fund seeking to launch; the Harvard deans were trustees of this endeavor, and figured it was a good match for me, even as I felt clueless. (Sidebar: Our fund, the New Community Fund, never quite made it, but our chief competitor over at Calvert sure did!)
Joan, like others – Amy Domini, Steve Lydenberg, Peter Kinder, Tim Smith – showed me the ropes. She was, and remains, my teacher. She helped me recognize that it wasn’t the numbers that mattered as much as the impact they had on people’s lives and the planet.
In those days Joan was married to Don Falvey, and running an investment company they co-founded called Franklin Research & Development, in Boston’s North End. Around that time, she and Don pulled together a number of CR and social investing practitioners to organize a national association of like-minded souls. It was a loose coalition – I remember attending early meetings, sitting on folding chairs – that eventually incorporated into a bona fide organization. Thus was born the Social Investment Forum (SIF), now a large and robust membership association for professionals, firms, institutions and organizations engaged in socially responsible and sustainable investing. (You can find them on Facebook and on Twitter.) SIF is but one of many outcomes of Joan’s artistic vision and creative energy. Other institutions that owe their lives to her include Ceres, the Global Reporting Initiative, and the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR).
But it was through FRDC and, eventually, Trillium Asset Management, that I knew Joan best. In the 1980s, she occasionally asked me to contribute to Franklin’s Insights and Investing for a Better World, publications that provided clients and a wider public reviews and commentary on the-then nascent movement. Joan believed in continued exploration and education; her feminist sensibilities – even if she didn’t call them that – recognized wholeness and the value of relationships and alliances in cultivating lasting change.
Over the years, we would lose touch, then meet again and continue to share. In addition to responsible investing, we’d talk about our mutual love of art, of philosophy and ethics, of good writing. She was more literary than I, but we shared an aesthetic, an appreciation of beauty, simplicity, and style.
The other day, I found a pale green paper file containing a number of printed email exchanges between us, from about ten years ago. We were reflecting upon the role of art in social change, and I was asking her if she ever wished to get back to art making.
“Marcy,” she wrote, “you have lived the life that I might have lived in another dimension. I had my first kid when I was 19 and attending Mass College of Art.
I was 23 with two kids, divorced and trying to finish Mass College of Art when I had to get a “job” and went to the First National Bank of Boston because my uncle knew the head of personnel. Eighteen months later I was managing 50 portfolios in Old Colony Trust, still clinging to my quasi-art/creative life. Then the bank’s bureaucracy began to seem ridiculous, and I was radicalized, if living in the ‘60s in the era of Timothy Leary in the art scene in Boston hadn’t already done it. The rest is history. I am envious of people who have been able to live that life. You make tradeoffs, run with the flow, or whatever. I wouldn’t trade my two sons and now grand-twins for anything…interesting how it all plays out! Sometimes in Europe I feel like I DID live another life, like in Paris, and am re-visiting an old scene.”
Joan was an artist, a social entrepreneur in the best sense because while seeing things the rest of us could not, she knew how to bring forth. Her intellectual curiosity, her sense of proportion, beauty, balance, and good design in building and sustaining both a business and a better world form an unparalleled legacy. For that, we are eternally grateful. We also are grateful to Trillium for being our first sponsor, enabling us in our own small way to carry and pass that legacy on.