Webinar Update

Over the past few months we've organized a webinar, and it's finally happening today. Here's a bit of the background:
We decided in January to organize a webinar to talk about personal divestment as a way of generating momentum for the initiative and demonstrating that the community is excited about taking divestment seriously. The slowest part was finding an 'expert' who was credible enough to offer something of value to the Williams community and willing to help. After watching some videos from the California Divestment Forum, I was impressed by the broad expertise of Shilpa Andalkar, and emailed her to talk, and we hit it off. With an expert on board we set about making a date and then starting on recruitment. The first few emails weren't resulting in very many RSVPs, so I started calling members of our group and asking for help making phone calls. The tried-and-true organizing method of talking to people directly has definitely helped here, and huge thanks to all of you that have put in time on the phone - even if it didn't feel like much of a impact at the time, we're up to 35 RSVPs and if even 1/2 of those people join the call we'll be close to our original attendance goal. 
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How I divested from fossil fuels

As of July of 2013, I can confidently say that none of my money is invested in companies who's core business plan is to extract fossil fuels to burn them. I was motivated to take this small, personal action when I realized that, even though it was scary, personal divestment was probably the most significant step I could take to push back on climate change, and it didn't even impact my lifestyle or take that much time.

If anything, talking about personal divestment is more difficult than actually doing it. We don't normally talk about our finances with strangers. 'A little bit of money' to one person is 'a huge amount of money' to another. And I'm not in any kind of position to actually give financial advice. I can just share my story and a few things I learned along the way.

The money I have, which seems like a lot to me, sits in a fund at Merryl Lynch, and until July, it consisted of specific stocks my grandparents had given me, and index funds. And aside from feeling really grateful that it's there, I don't really think about it. So, the first thing I did was go through the list of individual stocks (only about 6 names). Those were clear enough that I didn't have to cross-check them against the list of the top 200 fossil fuel companies. The stocks in my list aren't the most ethical companies in the world, at least their entire corporate value isn't derived from extracting as much global warming producing carbon as possible.

The index funds were more difficult to figure out what to do. An index fund, like a mutual fund, is a collection of individual stocks repackaged as a single name. Unlike a mutual fund, index funds are not assembled by a person, but instead include a proportional amount of every stock in a given area. So if you own the S&P 500 index fund, you literally own every single company that is on the S&P 500. As you might imagine, this includes companies dedicated to finding and digging up prehistoric carbon.

Now that I found something that I wanted to change, I called the account manager to discuss options. It went something like this:

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An update on the campaign

The year 2014 feels like a good one for divestment! Since launching this campaign a few months ago, we've been focused on one core task: listening. Listening to the Williams community (alumni, alumni representatives, faculty, members of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, and senior administration) to get their reactions to the growing call to divest the Williams endowment from fossil fuel companies. 

One of the stand-out lessons -- and a welcome surprise to some of us -- is that many people are more concerned about whether divestment is the most effective form of climate action, rather than just asking how it will affect the bottom line. This has been inspiring for me, personally, because it shows a real commitment within the Williams community to addressing climate change 

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Our first letter

Over the summer, several alumni thought about divestment and reinvestment and the steps to take to get there. We did research, thought through outreach, and put together this website and other tools for people to learn and follow along.

The public campaign is starting with a letter. The Communications Team put together an initial draft and several volunteers poured time into revisions, making sure that this letter presents a strong case for divestment and reinvestment. When the smoke cleared, after around 30 hours of volunteer time, a solid letter emerged. We hope you'll share it with Ephs you know. Here it is:

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Kicking things off

Let's get things rolling!  After a summer of talking about how to launch an alumni effort to work with the college to reinvest, we're picking up the pace. This website is the online home of the campaign, dedicated to building support for this initiative, sharing information, and working with the trustees to place Williams in a leadership role.  

This is a work in progress by a volunteer team, so bear with us. Want to help? Signup on the volunteer form -- feel free to leave feedback on the contact page.

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