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December 24, 2002
A Tribute to Chuck Matthei, Community Investing Trailblazer
    by William Baue

At a time of year when many people give thanks for their gifts, the SRI community continues to reflect on Chuck Matthei's numerous contributions to community investing.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) promotes four practices: community investment, screening, shareowner action, and good corporate governance. That community investment is included in SRI is due in large part to Chuck Matthei, a man who completely devoted his life to promoting peace, economic equity, and environmental stewardship. The founder and president of Equity Trust, Mr. Matthei passed away on October 1 in his cabin at Camp Ahimsa in Voluntown, Connecticut. He succumbed to medullary thyroid cancer and Cushing's Syndrome at the age of 54. While the social investment community has deeply mourned his death, it has also celebrated his contributions as a founding member of the modern socially responsible investing movement.

"He played an absolutely key role in advocating the community investment strategy," said Underdog Ventures President and Social Investment Forum (SIF) Chair Emeritus David Berge. "In the very earliest years of socially responsible investment, sitting around the living room of [Trillium Asset Management President and CEO] Joan Bavaria's house for the first meeting of the Social Investment Forum, Chuck was always one to beat his fist and say, 'Look, if you're developing a way of investing that's consistent with your values, it can't just be about stocks and bonds. It also has to be about using our financial resources to meet the needs of the poor.' He tried to make sure that community investment didn't get treated as philanthropy or something you do after your investment, but something that you do at the front end, as the very first part of your investment. He always pushed to make community investment a part of socially responsible investment as opposed to apart from it."

Mr. Matthei was drawn to social investing partially because of his belief in Mahatma Gandhi's notion of moral economics, which considers the ethical implications of financial decisions. He also applied with deep conviction Gandhi's practice of nonviolent action as a means for social change. When arrested for occupying the Seabrook nuclear power plant in 1977, he went 11 days without food or water.

"His moral agenda was his personal agenda," said Bishop Douglas Theuner, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, who worked on the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund that Mr. Matthei helped establish in the mid-1990s. "Chuck was a visionary and he was absolutely committed to his vision."

Mr. Matthei worked to actualize his vision of social justice and equity in the economic realm by helping to create a paradigm of community investment, the Institute for Community Economics (ICE).

"I would say that his greatest accomplishment was launching the Institute for Community Economics that established the model for the community development loan fund, which didn't exist at the time," Domini Social Investments President and CEO Amy Domini told "ICE was originally business and housing lending and then moved very forthrightly into land trust."

Mr. Matthei served as Executive Director of the Institute for Community Economics (ICE) from 1980 through 1990. He also helped found the National Association of Community Development Loan Funds (now known as the National Community Capital Association) and served as its chair from 1985 through 1990. He served on the board of the SIF from 1983 through 1988. In 1991, he founded Equity Trust, an organization that works at the intersection of the two connotations of the term "equity": financial investment and equality.

"In the community land trust work that Chuck did, it was about providing affordable housing to those that have the greatest needs, doing that in the most effective way possible, but it was also about finding mechanisms to keep that housing affordable for future generations-into perpetuity, basically," Mr. Berge told "He tried to apply his passion to every financial mechanism he could get his hands on. That was true in fundraising; it was certainly true in the loan fund movement and in the land trust movement."

Ms. Domini captured the essence of Mr. Matthei's philosophy of moral economics by relating one of his favorite anecdotes.

"Chuck was not a believer that capital should be a money-making vehicle," said Ms. Domini. "He didn't like the fact that people could buy a house and sell it at a profit when it was still the same house. He used to tell a story about being on a desert island and needing to build shelter for the winter and going to your neighbor to borrow 200 stones to build a shelter and then in the spring having your neighbor demand 220 stones back. It made no sense at all. Where would the extra 20 stones come from?"

Readers who wish to support Mr. Matthei's vision of social justice and economic equity by making a charitable donation can contact Equity Trust or the Social Investment Forum.


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