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Feb 13, 2014 | Insights

Divestment: An Investment in All of Our Future

You may remember that a couple of months back I shared a letter with you written by TSNE to our pension program provider TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association). The letter, endorsed by the members of our board of directors, pressed the financial giant to “give serious consideration to targeted divestment as an appropriate response to the ongoing genocide in Sudan.” 

The government-sponsored genocide against the black African population in the south has now claimed 400,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people.

Targeted divestment has proven an effective tool in exerting international pressure to end government-enforced Apartheid in South Africa or to shine a light on brutal human rights violations in countries like Burma.

Nonprofits and Individuals Can Make a Difference

From the response we received, a number of our TSNe-Bulletin readers agree that divestment is an important tool for stopping the genocide in Sudan and were upset to learn that their 403bs are indirectly supporting that genocide. Many of you work at nonprofit organizations that use another pension program provider than the one used by TSNE and want to know what you can do.

William Rosenfeld of the Fidelity Out of Sudan Campaign also contacted us after seeing my ED Forum article, and he suggested a number of activities that can be taken to advocate with your pension plan provider, even it is not Fidelity, to stop the Sudan genocide.

In addition, there are actions you, as an individual with or without pension or mutual funds, can take to advance the divestment movement. For more on what individuals can do, visit  Fidelity Out of Sudan. You can also visit the organizations Africa Action, the Genocide Intervention NetworkUnitarian Universalist Service Committee, and others that you can link to from these websites.

How Your Nonprofit Can Take Action

  1. Complain to Your Pension Provider – Your nonprofit’s plan administrator can request a meeting with the pension provider’s representative and express their concern over its investments. Each organization’s contact will carry considerably more weight with the plan than many individual contacts due to the concentrated nature of the feedback (speaking for many people) and the risk to the provider’s revenue from managing the 403b plan.

    • Your nonprofit can express that its employees are concerned about the pension provider and that working with it is becoming a business problem.

    • Request a response.

  2. Ask Your Pension Provider for a Fund Analysis – Your nonprofit’s plan administrator can request that your pension provider furnish an analysis of the current funds held by employees and of other fund offerings to determine which hold companies doing business with and in Sudan.

    • PetroChina and Sinopec are two Chinese oil companies that are the main targets of the Sudan divestment movement, according to the FidelityOutofSudan Campaign.

    • Your administrator can also request that your pension provider suggest Sudan-free funds that are substantially similar to the offending funds.

  3. Notify Employees – A letter can be sent to all employees about the organization’s support of divestment. The letter should indicate:

    • Which of your pension provider’s funds have investments in Sudan

    • Why they are an issue

    • How divestment can help

    • And how to join the campaign. It can provide instructions, for those that want them, on moving to Sudan-free funds.

  4. Provide Alternatives – There are many discount brokers and mutual fund providers that are not making investments in Sudan. The Socially Responsible Investing movement is the umbrella under which these funds operate.

  5. Move the 403b – The ultimate expression of dissatisfaction with your current pension plan provider is to move your nonprofit organization’s plan completely.

  6. Examine Your Investment Accounts – To the extent that your organization has any endowment or other investments made through companies like Fidelity a similar range of options is available.

  7. Review Who Provides HR, Payroll and Benefit Services – Also look at who provides your nonprofit’s payroll, benefit processing and management, or human resource services. If the company is doing business that funds genocide in Sudan, advocate for a change in their business policies. If no change is forthcoming, look at changing your vendor.

Do Something!

With the small staff and limited funding that characterize many nonprofit organizations, you already may be working overtime to do the advocacy work directly tied to your mission. Therefore, you may feel that you aren’t able to do all or even most of the actions suggested here. However, world leaders like Nelson Mandela have singled out the genocide in Sudan as a truly pressing issue for our world – one which has the potential to destabilize regions far beyond it. Therefore, I urge you and your nonprofit to get involved in ending the  Darfur genocide if you can – even in some small way. 


The Fidelity Out of Sudan Campaign is a citizen led initiative to encourage Americans to examine their personal savings and divest from companies which are helping to fund the genocide in Darfur. Despite the atrocities in Darfur, Fidelity, through its mutual funds, not only has been a major investor in oil companies operating in Sudan, but has been significantly increasing its holdings of PetroChina, one of the worst companies, and is now the largest holder on the NYSE.

Visit the organization’s website for details about their background, objectives and recent press.

In the ED Forum, TSNE’s Executive Director Jonathan Spack reflects on issues facing nonprofit organizations in and around the Boston area and across the nation. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanSpack.