Seeking dialogue on investment responsibility
Alison Colwell, who recently joined Stanford to lead the new Investment Responsibility Stakeholder Relations program, brings global experience and a passion for bringing people together.
Alison Colwell joined Stanford in January as director of Investment Responsibility Stakeholder Relations (IRSR) – a new role focused on enhancing Stanford’s ability to manage, and engage with the campus community on, issues of investment responsibility.
Her position, which reports to the President’s Office, serves as a central point of contact for the Stanford community on questions related to responsible investment of the university’s endowment. The position also supports the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL), a 12-member committee of students, faculty, staff and alumni that provides advice to the Board of Trustees on investment responsibility issues.
Colwell brings to Stanford more than 10 years of sustainability experience globally and in the United States, including roles with the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, United Nations and International Development Research Centre. She most recently worked as an associate director at BSR, a global nonprofit sustainability consultancy, leading human rights, stakeholder engagement and community development projects. She has undergraduate degrees in business and international development from Queen’s University, Canada, and a graduate degree in public policy and administration from Carleton University, Canada.
Colwell shared with Stanford Report some perspectives on her new role.
What are the responsibilities of your role for Stanford?
It is an exciting new role with many components. Essentially, I can group my responsibilities into four areas.
The first is facilitating stakeholder processes around investment responsibility, as the staff person for the well-established APIRL and the Trustees’ Special Committee on Investment Responsibility. The second is integrating the Stanford community’s voices and expertise into those processes, along with external research on issues being considered in those processes. The third is engaging with the Stanford community, conducting research and speaking with experts to identify emerging trends related to investment responsibility. And the fourth is acting as a liaison between the Office of the President and the Stanford community on these issues, and coordinating with the Stanford Management Company, which is the entity that manages Stanford’s endowment. All aspects of my role are related to community engagement and dialogue.
Outside of my official role, I have already had the opportunity to mentor a few students about careers in sustainability. And I have been enjoying the opportunity to hear some of the great speakers who come to Stanford, including one of my human rights heroes, Bryan Stevenson.
What is the work of the IRSR program focused on right now?
I am working very closely with the APIRL, which is actively reviewing a request from Fossil Free Stanford to divest from oil and gas companies. Climate change is an important and very complex issue that requires research and investigation. The APIRL is investing the time to do so and has accessed expertise within the Stanford community to understand the issues thoroughly.
I’m also starting to meet more broadly with students, faculty and staff to hear their ideas and perspectives. I’ve been so impressed by the people I have met! They are smart, thoughtful, passionate and committed to both Stanford and global issues beyond Stanford. I am also learning the systems and processes at Stanford, will soon begin planning the APIRL annual town hall and am generally working on how best to structure the operations of the Investment Responsibility Stakeholder Relations program on an ongoing basis. I would love insights from the Stanford community on how best I can be a resource and enable two-way dialogue.
What interested you in this role at Stanford?
Community input has long been a part of Stanford’s approach to investment responsibility. The creation of my role exemplifies Stanford’s commitment to dialogue and stakeholder engagement. Part of why I was interested in this position is because I believe Stanford has been a leader in this area – and in on-campus sustainability, as well. I was extremely impressed by the huge investment Stanford made in its campus energy system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As a human rights and stakeholder engagement specialist, I have had the privilege of working on sustainability with communities, companies, governments and universities all over the world. I have worked on a wide range of issues, including labor rights in factories, sustainable community development near large-scale mining projects, human rights for Haitian migrant laborers in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic and human trafficking in the travel and tourism industry. I have seen the challenges communities face to find dignified work, to provide for their families, to access health, education, water and energy. I also have seen the participatory solutions developed by these communities with companies, governments and universities. I often have served as a facilitator and enabler – listening to and incorporating diverse voices, finding common ground and inspiring collaborative solutions.
I hope to apply these experiences to my stakeholder relations role here. Stanford’s brilliant and passionate people are contributing to solving some of the toughest global challenges. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community.
How are you hoping to engage with the campus community, and what is the best way for people to be in touch with you?
I’m a resource for everyone in the campus community with questions and concerns about these topics. At a minimum, I can be a first stop to help get questions answered. I have already had a few great conversations with students and am looking forward to many more.
I can be reached by email anytime at IRstakeholders@stanford.edu or by phone at (650) 723-2318. And please come introduce yourself at the APIRL town hall when it is scheduled later this year – information about it will be on our website.