Almost two years ago my idea for ESG Ireland was born, in Argentina of all places. On a little laptop in a funky hostel in a small town called Tilcara, in the Jujuy province in northern Argentina, the seeds were sown and ESG.ie became real.
I had one very clear objective from the start; to develop an ESG knowledge centre that could help decision makers with the integration of Environmental, Social and Governance factors in the decision-making process. The idea was, and still is very simple. It is about sharing knowledge.
When I think about knowledge sharing, I am always drawn to a history lesson from a local Mayan guide during my visit to the Mayan temples in Chichén Itzá in the Yucatan Peninsula, Eastern Mexico.
The temples/pyramids were designed by the astronomers and the mathematicians of the time – based on knowledge of the solar system – to signal the time for planting and harvesting. This was invaluable information to the farmers and the working people looking to survive off the land.
However, rather than democratise the source of knowledge, it became the mode of control for the elites. The farmers were merely provided with the relevant dates for planting and harvesting, never allowed to learn the source of this knowledge.
Amazingly, the caste system ran so deep the all-knowing elites went to some unusual ways to sustain the illusion of superiority. They changed the shape of their heads! These elites – governors, priests and the astronomers – would actually reshape the heads of their babies over the first three months of their lives. Every night a piece of equipment was used to apply pressure to the baby’s cranium, in turn changing the future development of the skull.
Governors had cone heads, priests had flat heads, and the astronomers had long heads. The working people believed these people were born this way. Along with their ability to tell the future seasons this was further confirmation of their divine status.
While we don’t have any coneheads walking around today, it is still this asymmetry of knowledge – one party having more knowledge than the other – which drives our economic development, investment and society.
If we want a more sustainable and inclusive economy, then we need a much more informed population. One needs knowledge to hold power accountable. For me, that is what ESG is fundamentally about, more accountability. The purpose of ESG Ireland is to make sure people have the knowledge to realise the full potential of applying ESG.
We live in a very corporate and political world, full of inner circles. However, I still believe that one individual can make a real difference. It can be directly, but also indirectly by being a positive influence on others. Inspire.
We should all be asking ourselves the question: how can I as an individual, given my education and/or experiences influence change for the better? Be part of the solution to building a more sustainable and compassionate society.
Out of nothing I started ESG Ireland. There have been challenges along the way and long hours, but now month by month more members are joining the ESG Ireland community, committed to making ESG and responsible investing accessible to everyone. I have also got some major new initiatives on the way that will bring real change.
In life, everyone craves certainty, but it is in the uncertainty where you get to test yourself the most. You also get to see who you can really count on. Discipline and perseverance are what make the difference. Also, the Godfather was right, having a consigliere you can rely on is invaluable.
There is a lot more to come.
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In this blog I share some reflections from my return to Ireland in December, a summary of some of the projects that I have been working on from México, my upcoming trip to Ireland at the end of April and a thought-provoking quote from the legendary Seneca. (c. 6 mins read)
Rewind. December 6th 2018, exactly 19 months after leaving Ireland
Thursday December 6th, 6am, the alarm went but I’d been awake for hours. A mixture of jet lag from the long-haul flight a couple of days earlier, a wandering mind processing being back in Ireland again after so long away and the restless anxiety of wanting everything to go well for the day ahead. My workshop had been months in the making, but the journey had begun in Guatemala 18 months earlier when I started to immerse myself in the world of impact investing.
A hot shower to get the blood pumping, some porridge and a strong cup of coffee and I was on a familiar walk to the Luas stop in Ranelagh. It all felt a bit surreal, my mind adjusting to being back in the place I had lived for so many years while at the same time I found myself walking through the inner slideshow of my experiences from Latin America.
Still, I had an excitement in my step as I was about to share a part of my adventure with those attending my workshop. Not long after 7am, the first Luas was full, so I had to wait for the second. An economic indicator that ‘the good times are back’ maybe, I pondered. Almost full, I squeezed into the next Luas with the other sardines. There was no shortage of glum looking faces grinding it out, a reminder that the good times are not always that good.
‘One of your guests has already arrived’, the lady working in the Shelbourne Hotel informed me, as she directed me to my meeting room upstairs. Seeing the event name out front gave me great pleasure. Just seeing Guatemala in the name brought me back to my apartment in the hills of Xela. A long way from Guatemala now I thought to myself, amidst the plush surroundings of the Shelbourne.
Entering the room, I was greeted by a trustee who I had worked with for years, sitting comfortably reading the Irish times and drinking a coffee. ‘Ah Vincent, welcome back. Good win for Liverpool last night. This could be the year’. You can’t beat a friendly face. Any pre match anxiety was gone.
The workshop went great. Four hours is quite long but with an engaging audience the time went by quickly. I’ve always believed that there are two key ingredients to delivering a successful workshop or presentation. The first is your understanding of the subject matter. However, equally important is the passion and interest you have for it. It is that special something that illuminates the knowledge you are sharing with your audience; it goes beyond just doing a job.
Afterwards, I caught up with some friends in the bar downstairs and the few celebratory drinks went down well. It was a marking of the perfect return to Ireland, a culmination of experiences that had led me to that moment. Leaving Ireland in May 2017 I left with an open mind on where the adventure might take me. In the end it took me back to where I started, just with new perspectives, knowledge and wisdom. The only motive for it all was the desire for a new challenge and self-development.
Life does not always go according to plan
Life can surprise you though when you least expect it. From the highs of that Thursday, the following Tuesday I was in an ambulance to St Vincent’s hospital after an early morning health scare. I won’t get into the details, but I am okay. I am just grateful that I was in my brother’s house for his help and that I was in Ireland. Like most people I don’t like hospitals, but the hospital staff were great. A few days in hospital provides a quick dose of perspective.
As a result, my trip didn’t quite go to plan and I couldn’t meet everyone I’d hoped to, but of the people I did get to meet while I was back it was great to see them again. I also got to spend some quality time at home with my family in Ardmore, Co. Waterford. As well, my 10 days in Italy, which I had previously planned, ended up being a nice recovery trip. Italians in one word. Food!
Working from México
I returned to México in the last week of January, back to my base here in sunny Mazatlán, the pearl of the pacific. After a few days of reacclimatising and getting back into Spanish speaking mode, I returned to work on various projects, some of which I have outlined below:
1. Centro de negocio | Impacto, Educación, Finanza Inclusiva
One of the projects I have been working on here in Mazatlán which is particularly interesting is the development of a small business centre with a focus on impact. A core part of the idea is to try and deliver real impact by promoting financial inclusion through education.
Financial illiteracy is a problem worldwide but in countries like México it is even more widespread. The people here are admirably industrious; sometimes all that is missing is basic financial education to be able to make more of their efforts. I see this project as having a huge potential to make a positive contribution to the community here.
2. CoTerra Impact | Independent Consultancy
I have also been focused on developing my consultancy practice CoTerra Impact. Building on my work from last year, I have been busy fine tuning a series of educational investment workshops and various templates and frameworks covering everything from financial analysis, financial plans, investment committee structures, investment reviews, fund research and more.
We live in an age where remote and freelance work is becoming more the norm, so I see no reason for the need to work just from Ireland. If required I could be on a flight to Dublin in the morning for a project or equally the United States is just a stone’s throw away. I also see huge opportunity here in México and Latin America in general; and between regions.
As it happens, I am flying to San Diego in less than two weeks and I am back in Ireland at the end of April for a few months to work on some projects and to meet with potential clients. So, if you want to meet up to discuss potential projects or my services in more detail drop me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone that has worked with me in the past will know the quality and diligence of my work. To everyone else, I welcome the opportunity to prove it.
3. ESG.ie | Empowering Responsible Investment
Most recently, I developed ESG.ie, an independent knowledge centre focused on delivering the latest news and insights on the practical application of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria in decision making frameworks. Unfortunately, Ireland remains a laggard in this area. The purpose will be to go beyond the jargon and to bring a more real world understanding of how to apply it.
ESG.ie is particularly timely for pension scheme trustees given that the European IORP II directive came into effect in January 2019 for Irish pension schemes, requiring trustee boards to disclose how they consider the ESG criteria in their investment decision-making processes. My expectation is that regulation will only become more stringent on how companies and investors integrate ESG within their decision-making frameworks.
Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the largest asset manager in the world is projecting exponential growth: “Sustainable investing will be a core component for how everyone invests in the future,” the BlackRock chairman and chief executive said in an interview with the FT. “We are only at the early stages.” He estimates that “assets in ETFs that incorporate these “ESG” factors will grow from $25bn to more than $400bn in a decade”.
Apart from my work related to finance and investments, philosophy is where I continue to exercise my mind. I leave you with a quote from Seneca, the great stoic philosopher, whose letters I am currently reading. Advising his friend Lucilius on the importance of exercising the mind in the pursuit of wisdom “to strive and develop”, Seneca wrote:
“Cultivate an asset which the passing of time itself improves.”
(Source: FT Article, Oct 2018: BlackRock stakes claim on ‘sustainable investing’ revolution https://www.ft.com/content/f66b2a9e-d53d-11e8-a854-33d6f82e62f8)
This workshop is particularly timely, given that the European IORP II directive comes into effect in January 2019 for Irish pension schemes, requiring trustees to disclose how they consider the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria in their investment decision-making processes.
Sharing key learnings
The last blog I wrote – on the theme of impact investing and my own experience in Latin America – was concluded with a clear message, Intention is never enough!
As I said, I want to be part of this process of evolution for the better in the way we think about business and investment, to assist companies and investors in finding practical ways to apply a responsible philosophy that can explicitly integrate the concept of impact. Read More
“For me, the impact revolution is going to be as pervasive as the tech revolution has been.” – Sir Ronald Cohen
We are all students. If you are not learning something new in your field then you are going backwards.
Despite having over 12 years of investment experience, working in the US and Ireland, advising private and institutional clients, my study of impact investing and the wider theme of responsible investing really began when I arrived in Guatemala in May 2017. What I mean by that is my leap from a high level understanding of the subject to a deeper exploration into the minutia through practical experience, research and some philosophical thinking in the context of the wider system. Read More
(Yesterday I scribbled down these thoughts about what I think we need from the next President of Ireland, whether it is the incumbent or a newly elected individual. Since I wrote in Spanish and that is how it flowed I have kept it in Spanish as it would likely have flowed differently if I had been writing in English. However, I have included the English translation below it.)
Se dice que el papel más importante de nuestro Presidente es el papel de embajador porque no tiene poder político como Presidentes en otros países. Sí, estoy de acuerdo que este papel es importante, representar a Irlanda afuera de una buena manera, pero en este momento necesitamos mucho más del nuestro próximo Presidente. Read More
To the delight of all ABU fans – Anyone but United – Manchester United Football Club appear to be in crisis, of identify and direction, the source of which ultimately lies in the club’s decision making since the retirement of the long standing and hugely successful Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
The period of transition after Fergie’s retirement was never going to be easy but the regression of the football team over the last five years offers an interesting case study on leadership and decision making.
Below are a few of the lessons that I believe can be taken from the situation: Read More
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up” – Stephen Hawking
More of the backpacker life
I have just recently moved back to Mexico after travelling through South America. The latest chapter of my adventure has been much more that of the backpacker life, hostels, overnight buses, and moving from place to place relatively quickly. As I flick through my notes and photos from my trip I am reminded of just how much ground I covered, the amazing things I have seen, the people I met and also those moments of reflection. Below I have shared a snapshot of my experience: Read More
Hola mis amigos
I am in the land of the gods, Maradona and Messi! I have the spent the last month living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Wednesday I fly to Santiago, Chile. I haven’t really published much this year so I have written this blog in two parts, a brief recap on my adventure leading up to Buenos Aires and then some takeaways from my time here.
The reality is that providing a snapshot of my experiences in these blogs I am inevitably leaving out the intricacies that have made the experience memorable, whether it be the little things about the places I have been or with the people I have spent it with. Or even the brief exchanges with locals that can sometimes be quite philosophical, where you are reminded of what is important in life.
Nevertheless, in this blog I have shared some of what I have been up to over the last five months. Read More
Hola mis amigos
I am writing from Fidel country, Cuba. I am based in the centre of Havana, close to old Havana – the centre of the original colonial city and the main tourist attraction. From my balcony facing onto the street Cuban life passes by; despite the initial culture shock when I arrived (made worse by being sick) it is cool to be here. Read More