The "recipe" of a pandemic-free future, refashioned according to new models of co-existence has one main common ingredient. "By showing how bad investments have driven us to the edge of collapse, we can point in the opposite direction to investments that will support an environment and sustainable future". This is what expert in faith investments, Martin Palmer sustains. Palmer, from Britain, CEO of "FaithInvest", a group that creates bridges between the religious and financial worlds, is comfortable with Laudato Si' themes. Already in 1995 he founded the NGO "Alliance of Religions and Conservation" (ARC) with Prince Philip, to help faith-based organizations to develop environmental projects. Palmer was called to be a member of the Vatican Commission established by the Pope with the goal of imagining the post-Covid world. He is firmly convinced that religions play a crucial role through their global charitable and education networks: “We tend to act as if the nation states should be grateful if we write to them with suggestions. Instead we need to set an example of good use of resources and invite the nation states to join us”.
You are part of the Vatican COVID 19 Commission, Pope Francis’ response mechanism to an unprecedented virus. What do you personally hope to learn from this experience? In what way do you think society as a whole can be inspired by the work of the Commission?
I am fascinated by the wide range of skills, knowledge and interest in the people on the Commission and this has already lead to new partnerships for my organization in the spirit of Laudato Si. The best way society can be inspired by the Commission is if the Church itself starts to put into practice the structural changes necessary to be faithful to the Pope’s vision. That will then inspire others.
Pope Francis asked the COVID 19 Commission to prepare the future instead of prepare for it. What should be the role of the Catholic Church as an institution in this endeavor?
To lead by example. In his two encyclicals Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si the Pope has laid out not just nice ideas about a better future buthas given us the tools to deconstruct the current model that has brought us to this crisis in order to build anew. Others are asking how to get going again. He is saying getting going again is to go backwards. His message is to challenge, change and create anew.
What personal lessons (if any) have you derived from the experience of the pandemic? What concrete changes do you hope to see after this crisis both personally and globally?
I have enjoyed the simplicity that the lockdown has brought to my busy world of travel, meetings etc. I have found the local care and compassion in my area – and indeed as far as I can see right around the world, to be an important reminder of the vital necessity of thriving local communities. I would hope that this continues afterwards and is a key building block in making life more sustainable by using and knowing what is local rather than just buying in from elsewhere.
Investors are not always aware of the impact their investments can have on reality (deforestation, pollution, social exploitation, etc.). In a time when attention is focused on the economic risks of the pandemic, how can you emphasize these collateral impacts?
I am the CEO of FAithInvest – a new organization in part inspired by Laudato Si – which works with major religious investment funds worldwide from every major faith. The best way to emphasis is to ask as we do, each group to go back to their roots. What do they believe about the world and our place within this? What values flow from this and then how do those values determine what they invest in. It follows the model set by Vatican II when the religious orders were asked to go back to their roots to know how to go forward into the future. The COVID crisis has simply added to this necessity.
In a time of economic recession, there is a tendency for people to be risk averse. How receptive do you think people will be to the idea of ethical finance at this time?
True people are risk averse but the risk now is that if we go back to ‘normal’ we will only increase the likelihood of collapse again. Thus the risk is in Not changing rather than in Actually changing and this is now much easier to help people understand. By showing how bad investments have driven us to the edge of collapse, we can point in the opposite direction to investments that will support an environment and sustainable future.
To what extent do you believe the Vatican COVID 19 Commission, and the Catholic Church as a whole, can have credibility when speaking of finance and the need to reconfigure economic systems?
Only through putting their money where their mouth is! In other words, until the Church reforms its own finances and sets a faith-based example, it can only ask others to accompany it on such a journey, fully appreciating that there is a long way to go before the Church will be living up to its own teachings on this.
What role can religions and spirituality play in the transition to more sustainable finance?
We are central. Without the schools, hospitals, welfare, support networks, compassion, youth work, care for the refugee and migrant, protection for the vulnerable, civil society would collapse. Therefore the faiths need to stop pretending we are not stakeholders in the planet. We tend to act as if the nation states should be grateful if we write to them with suggestions. Instead we need to set an example of good use of resources and invite the nation states to join us. The faiths run more facilities for education and welfare than any state in the world. Lets get back to the table as stakeholders not as petitioners!
Do current financial and economic institutions create the necessary conditions for sustainable finance or do you believe there have to be certain reforms in this sector?
A new model needs ot be found or created because the current model has become corrupted by the greed of the multi-nationals and of banking in general. The faiths can create between them the demand for such a new model and we are working on that now in the concept of the Finance Third Sector.