The Role of Faith in Social Impact


For thousands of years, religious leaders have taught their followers to oppose engaging in business enterprises seen as morally irresponsible, such as alcohol, tobacco, or the slave trade. With the Torah, the five books of Moses from the Old Testament, serving as a source for the Jewish faith and the Qur’an guiding the Islamic faith, religious texts support the idea that you could engage in business and trade as long as your spirituality, morals, and relationship with God were the guiding forces behind your decision making. Many Christian religions held these values too. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist faith, once said, “Gain all you can, without hurting either yourself or your neighbor.”

Today, the religious and secular world alike are embracing social impact investing — and even collaborating — to generate social good AND yield a positive financial return.

Fast forward to the twentieth century when, in 1928, the Pioneer Fund (then called Fidelity Mutual Trust) was created. This was the first publicly offered mutual fund to make investment choices based on religious criteria, screening out alcohol and tobacco, and one of the first ever to make these decisions for any reason other than capital return. This type of fund paved the way for the earliest approaches to investing that attempted to incorporate both moral and financial motives. Since then, more and more religious leaders and organizations have recognized the spiritual, social, and financial benefit to morally sound investing.

Today, the religious and secular world alike are embracing social impact investing — and even collaborating — to generate social good AND yield a positive financial return.

Continuing Sorenson Impact’s tradition of curating conversations that dive beneath the surface, the 2019 Winter Innovation Summit will host the Faith and Impact panel, featuring some of the world’s leading experts in faith-based investing. Moderated by acclaimed religion reporter Peggy Stack, the panelists include Yaron Neudorfer, a member of the Jewish faith and co-founder of Israel’s first social investment firm, Social Finance Israel; Elder Robert C. Gay, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former Harvard University economics professor; Umar Moghul, an Islamic impact investing expert and author of a new textbook on living Islamic values and laws in the world of business; and Pat Dinneen, Senior Advisor at EMPEA, board member at Catholic Relief Services and committee lead at Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative.

The panel will focus on the role faith plays in impact investing and the good that can come from faith-based decision making. This group of experts will bring their extensive experience and diverse viewpoints to lead an inspirational, interfaith discussion centered on humanitarian aid, social justice, and community involvement on local and global levels.

Oftentimes, religious humanitarian aid is exclusive to philanthropic, donate-and-be-done or volunteer-your-time approaches. While these efforts are important, plenty of untapped potential still exists in religious communities. Many religious individuals have segmented their lives, separating religion from finances. This panel will illustrate how those two worlds can meet and strengthen each other. Spirituality can guide smart financial investing into organizations and programs that will make outsized, moral impacts in underserved communities. These programs can offer positive financial returns on investments, in addition to the help and aid they give to individuals and communities.

The world is ready for more social impact investing on all fronts. Regardless of the guiding forces behind an impact investment, be it moral, practical, emotional, or spiritual, a shift toward social investing has the capacity to change the world.

Check out the “The Role of Faith in Creating Social Impact” panel and more at the 2019 Winter Innovation Summit!

Gabe Moreno