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The story of the RI Academy and its link to the PRI

Looking back at the establishment of the RI Academy, and to its future.

I was fortunate to play a role in the establishment of the Responsible Investment (RI) Academy and am pleased to see that it has been acquired by the PRI. It is not only the natural home for the Academy, it was where the idea originated in the first place. To go back to the early years of the PRI, a small secretariat was created that was led by James Gifford with Jerome Tagger providing linkages into the UN system via New York. At this time I took on a part time role with the PRI Secretariat. There was a lot to be done including media, building the PRI Clearing House and engaging asset owners and investment managers. One of the things we also did was to think about the long-term needs of responsible investment. At that time, James was developing the PRI Academic Network, but we knew that there was also a need for responsible investment education and training. I drafted an internal discussion paper that proposed some thoughts on the way to support the development of education and development on a global basis. My view at that time was that if responsible investment was to gain traction there needed to be training across the industry. When I looked at the industries I was familiar with I saw that they all had some sort of training programs. Many had originally been developed on a voluntary basis by workers who were committed to developing the professionalization of the industry that they worked in. This was the model that I thought could apply to responsible investment. At the time there was however too much going on within the PRI to be able to establish a dedicated work stream. Subsequently I had an opportunity to engage with Louise O’Halloran who was running the Responsible Investment Association Australia (RIAA). Louise’s brilliant Enlightened Self Interest slide show on responsible investment/climate change and institutional investors had been developed as a tool that had been delivered globally. There was a logic that this could be extended to provide some form of structured learning program.
The next step was to apply to Australia’s then Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett who had a small grants program. Louise and I travelled to Canberra and met with Garrett’s advisors. It took a lot to explain the links but theDepartment provided a small grant and the RI Academy was off and running. Peter Garrett launched the Academy at a small gathering in Sydney, and was reminded that one of Midnight Oil’s (he was the lead singer) most famous songs, Blue Sky Mining, written about Wittenoom Gorge Asbestos Mine – even years later the ASX listed company CSR had a $400 million exposure on its books – was actually all about responsible investment! A great video of the song and story of Wittenoom is here
The next break in the RI Academy’s genesis was, surprisingly perhaps, the Global Financial Crisis. We received a call from the advisors to Australian Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry asking whether we had any policy ideas that the Government could consider. We made a detailed pitch for funding of an RI Academy that would offer training on a global basis. After taking a delegation to Canberra and establishing an international advisory council, the Government provided funding. At the PRI’s 2009 Sydney annual conference we presented the idea of a MOU with the PRI, which was supported. Since then the Academy has built a world-class, online training program. Many people have made huge contributions, but Louise O’Halloran deserves particular credit for having the vision to take on such a project.
The question is where should education and training with the PRI go from here?
My view hasn’t changed since the early days of the PRI. If we want responsible investment to become a core part of investment, then like every other profession before us we need to invest in creating an education and training program that provides ALL professionals in the investment industry with the opportunities to learn about responsible investment practices.
The PRI is the natural home for education and training, but to succeed it will need support from the whole industry. This will mean offering to develop courses, and, of course, funding the learning programs by using them.
Gordon Noble is Managing Director Asia Pacific at Inflection Point Capital Management.
Link to Peter Garrett’s keynote address to the 2009 PRI conference in Sydney