By SUSAN JONES
Carey Treado spent the summer on a Franklin Fellowship at the U.S. State Department, and now she’s bringing the project she started there back on campus to recruit an interdisciplinary working group to develop strategies for socially responsible investing using Pitt’s own efforts as a case study.
“The University of Pittsburgh is one of 35 universities that are called diplomacy lab schools,” said Treado, a lecturer with the Department of Economics. “The State Department reaches out to those schools when they have a particularly long-term research or analytical question that they would like some assistance with. And so, they’ve taken the work that I’m doing in my fellowship and made it a diplomacy lab project.”
The Diplomacy Lab project at Pitt will provide information to the State Department, but will not receive any financial support or advisory services from State for the project or toward Pitt’s efforts to consider socially responsible investment strategies.
The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor asked Treado, who has previously worked on issues surrounding refugees, to spend a year trying to identify what are investor responsibilities when it comes to human rights.
“If you have a pension fund or a large index mutual fund that’s investing in multiple companies, increasingly, the people that are putting their money in those mutual funds are interested in what’s the impact of those businesses — are they having a negative environmental impact; are they having a negative human rights impact,” she said.
The investment community wants to be able to tell investors, particularly millennials, that their money is going to companies that don’t use forced labor or that do respect the rights of indigenous peoples or other socially responsible criteria, Treado said.
Large investors, like Pitt’s endowment fund, are feeling increasing pressure to look at investments through a socially responsible lens. In August, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced that he and other Pitt administrators will explore alternative investment strategies for the University’s more than $4 billion endowment. A committee on socially responsible investment said the University must balance how an investment decision would affect an identified social issue and how the decision would impact the institution’s long-term financial health.
The State Department looks at these same issues on the world stage, Treado said. “If there’s a human rights violation in the world, State Department foreign policy is associated with what’s the U.S. response. And if the U.S. response is going to be some sort of economic sanctions or encouraging businesses to avoid that country or to avoid that particular product, that all goes through the State Department.
“The more you look into it, the more complex it becomes,” she said. “Even if you have an investment stream that is not violating human rights … how are you going to show that? What’s going to be the measurement? How are you going to identify it? How are you going to monitor that going forward?”
Treado said she met with Pitt’s Chief Financial Adviser, Hari Sastry, who has a unique perspective on these issues because he came to the University from the State Department.
“He was really supportive of the idea of having a working group that would research this issue,” she said. “In no way are we making recommendations to the CFO. All I would say is we’ve been in contact with him, and he’s interested in the project, but they’re pursuing their own process (in studying socially responsible investing).”
The working group she hopes to recruit would include paired teams of a faculty member and graduate student from five separate areas: International Law, Economics, International Business, Social Work and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. The teams would use Pitt as a “great case study for the State Department in understanding how complex this is for large institutional investors like the University,” she said.
The project provides graduate students “a great applied research problem with real world implications both here in Pittsburgh and globally,” Treado said, and shows them how useful it is to work across disciplines to tackle complex problems.
The teams would look at what kinds of factors an institutional investor like Pitt needs to consider in order to create a socially responsible investing strategy — “Can we help to flesh out what are some of the issues? What are some of the measurement techniques? What are some of the identifiable steps toward a solution?” she said.
This doesn’t mean the teams will be looking at specifics of Pitt’s investments, she said. “I’m not sure how much of that is confidential and how much of that Pitt is willing to share.”
“It would be more of a process of thinking through how any institutional investor might pursue this information with the realization that we all are working at a university that is currently pursuing this,” said Treado, who hopes they can get some feedback from the team the CFO has working on Pitt’s investment strategies.
She’ll spend this semester recruiting people for the project and have them do the work next semester, when she will be splitting her time between Pitt and the State Department. She wants to “make sure that the project meets everybody’s separate goals, as well as the shared group goal.”
“I think University collaborations and interdisciplinary collaboration have this great ability to really … make progress on addressing a particular problem.”
Treado has been at Pitt since the 1990s when she was a Ph.D. student in economics, then a researcher in the Center for Industry Studies. She started teaching in the Department of Economics and GSPIA in 2009. Her specialty is Supply Chain Management.
She hopes this project will put Pitt at the forefront of thinking about the complex linkages between all the participants in the global supply chain.
“Think about the city of Pittsburgh as being on the forefront of big industrial trends. We built the huge steel mills and that was a major transformation in the way things were made,” she said, and the city now has “become a real model of how to transition from that era of big industry to a more nimble, high-tech, project-based set of industrial interactions with the global supply chain.
“I think the University of Pittsburgh has a real opportunity to become a leader on this subject. And to say, ‘We’re the home of industrial organization and what it’s going to look like in mid-century. This is what Pittsburgh does well, and we’re telling you, this is the next phase.’ Global supply chains have become much more intertwined, much more complicated. Understanding that complexity and understanding your role in that complexity is something that the world is moving toward.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.
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