The recent media coverage of Gates Foundation investments raises questions about whether assets can and should be used to encourage positive change (or at least avoid causing harm) rather than simply to make more money for its mission.
Socially responsible investing has been around for a long time, but the size of this foundation's assets gives more it weight and influence than any other charitable organization.
But why stop there? The debate about the role of foundations could apply to any institution or individual with a significant pool of money to invest.
Let's say you don't like the way a company is run -- should you steer clear of it entirely, or actively invest to change the company as a shareholder?
This conversation includes some interesting views from a charitable fund director and Amnesty International. Fund director Charlie Tomberg points out that buying or selling a company's shares doesn't have much effect on that company. Amnesty International has an arm that advocates changing companies like Dow Chemical from within by becoming a shareholder.
If the Gates Foundation pours more resources into analyzing its portfolio, will it get clear answers?
Jeff Reifman, a former Microsoft manager who advocates socially responsible investing, expressed skepticism that the Gates Foundation will break much new ground in holding corporate behavior accountable.
The issue is complicated and worth a lot more debate. Let me know what you think....