Cal couple steps up support for trailblazing student-led fund
The Haas Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Fund has always been a groundbreaking endeavor. Launched in 2008 by the Haas School’s Center for Responsible Business, it’s the first and largest student-led SRI fund within a leading business school and has grown to more than $2 million, boasting a six-year return of better than 50 percent. This past spring, tapping into a new UC Berkeley crowdfunding platform, the center raised more than $126,000 for the fund, surpassing its $100,000 goal.
The Haas SRI Fund was conceived by Charles F. “Charlie” Michaels, BS 78, president of Sierra Global Management. He and his wife, Doris, who earned a master’s degree at Cal in 1979, gave the initial $250,000 seed funding. That gift was supplemented with gifts from two other Cal couples: Al Johnson, BS 62, MBA 69, and his wife, Marguerite; and Larry Johnson, BS 72, and his wife, Victoria. Married 34 years, the Michaelses met at Berkeley and continue to be generous supporters of the university. This spring, they made a second gift to the Haas SRI Fund by matching all crowdfunded donations.
Charlie: It’s gratifying to have a much bigger impact in social responsibility by sponsoring the Haas SRI Fund. Haas has one of the best corporate social responsibility programs in the world.
And with all the student principals who have been involved, the impact that they can have out in the world is really big. The fund also has the potential to become even more successful. One way is for it to become a sustainable funding vehicle for the Center for Responsible Business.
Doris: I have been a literary agent for the last 20 years, and one of my specialties has been business books that have the sustainability angle to them. We are really proud that we made the initial gift and found other like-minded donors. I’m thrilled that we’ve come to this point right now and that the crowdsourcing worked so well. People are catching onto it. I love it.
Charlie: Haas students are so appreciative, so intelligent, so motivated. They have these fresh ideas. Socially responsible investing can be done many ways. It can be done by just screening out bad companies. They don’t do that. They screen in companies that they think are especially good. For the future, a very challenging objective is to show that socially responsible investing can outperform traditional investing. That’s the Holy Grail in this whole field and could have profound implications. I would like to see some way to measure and benchmark the performance of the companies that students are investing in versus traditional companies.
Doris: Once that kind of data starts coming out, it won’t be something special anymore. It will become the way companies are run. I’d also like to see this student-led fund be duplicated across the country at more universities.