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Ford’s Roy Swan on how the Church of England is tackling its slavery legacy

Roy Swan, director of mission investments at the Ford Foundation, is helping The Church Commissioners for England set up a new impact fund to tackle its slavery legacy. He tells Top1000funds.com about the fund that will provide grants and make impact investments intended to increase access to capital for Black-led businesses.

The Church Commissioners for England, which manages the £10.3 billion assets and properties of the Church of England has established an oversight group to advise the Commissioners on their approach to deploying a landmark £100 million commitment made in response to the Church of England’s sponsorship of the transatlantic chattel slave trade.

The oversight group’s members include leading global experts from a variety of fields, including academic, advocacy, community development, investing, journalism, law, and theology from all over the world.

Roy Swan, director of mission investments at the Ford Foundation, also a member of the group, tells top1000Funds this melting pot filled with a wide range of perspectives and decades of practical knowledge, has begun to collaborate to chart a course of action that will ensure this innovative fund will leave an enduring legacy.

The focus at this early stage has been providing the Church Commissioners with a clear, impactful, and ambitious strategy to launch the Fund for Healing, Repair and Justice, HRJ,” he says.

The HRJ fund will provide grants to community-oriented NGOs, academic research on the continuing legacy of transatlantic chattel enslavement, and make impact investments intended to increase access to capital to Black-led businesses; all into perpetuity, says Swan.

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The oversight group recently released a report containing several recommendations for the fund, which included an assessment that this fund, while a historic gesture, is just a start

“The Church Commissioners should invite others, including Christian institutions and other moral authorities, those with blood on their hands and those who are inspired by noble action, to join this worthy effort,” he says.

The Church Commissioners warmly received the oversight group’s recommendations which Swan calls “encouraging,” adding:  “I know from experience that the best impact investing strategies take time to design based on rigorous, meticulous, and wide-ranging analysis.  I look forward to helping the Commissioners on the journey from plan to execution.”

 Much like the impact investing endowment he manages at the Ford Foundation, the HRJ fund is intended to be perpetual. That means it must generate a financial return of its spending plus inflation over time.

“That is a higher financial hurdle rate than other funds. But as we’ve seen at Ford, aligning an investment strategy within those parameters can not only be done, it can be done well.”

Achieving market-rate returns through impact investing is harder than with traditional investing, but Swan says that’s a challenge the team have embraced.

“Just like with traditional investing, impact investing requires a great deal of diligence and rigorous analysis. At the Ford Foundation, we’re very pleased with the returns we’ve achieved in our Mission Investments program, which is why we believe that others can also achieve success.”

Over the portfolio’s first five years, Ford’s impact investing endowment generated a 28 per cent compound annual return.

“We see the Ford Foundation impact investing strategy as a case study for other endowments and institutional investors on how to take advantage of unconventional approaches to generate conventional market-rate financial returns together with meaningful and measurable positive social impact.”

“The Church of England has made a significant, and symbolic step in the right direction with the Fund for Healing, Repair and Justice.  I have no doubt that this fund will provide a template for others because of its inspirational and aspirational objectives.  Although impact investing is harder than traditional investing, the returns are also more robust– financial and social– and lead us to a brighter and more prosperous future. That’s hard work worth doing,” he concludes.

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