Double bottom line
In the grand scheme of things, a $22m investment from a $192bn pension fund portfolio may seem like small potatoes. But not for the Comptroller of New York State, Dr Tom DiNapoli. And neither for the entrepreneurs and bridge-builders of Belfast.
For in placing two groundbreaking investments totaling $22m with start-up equity funds in Belfast, the man who controls the purse strings of the Empire State is sending out a strong message about his confidence that the Irish peace process will prosper. And with matters political stalemated at present, that’s a crucial statement.
Additionally, he’s delivering on the pledge of Irish America to keep faith with the peacemakers of the North of Ireland. Almost 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and a full 22 years since President Clinton’s first visit to Belfast, that’s an equally profound pronouncement.
Comptroller DiNapoli’s $15m investment in Belfast venture fund Crescent Capital (led by leading businessman Colin Walsh) and his more recent commitment of $7m to Kernel Capital (led by former IDA chief and West Belfast Task Force Chair Pádraic White) was cited by University of Ulster Vice-Chancellor Paddy Nixon on Monday of this week when presenting the Comptroller with an honorary doctorate. (You can read Tom’s remarks here.) The graduation ceremony took place in Derry — birthplace of the Irish civil rights movement and a city which has not yet enjoyed the economic peace dividend it was promised. Comptroller DiNapoli has a polite way of explaining his determination to seize the full potential of Derry for his one-million-plus pension fund members: “Belfast hums but Derry sings,” he likes to say. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he used his visit to Derry to meet with ambassadors for the city, including newly-elected MP Elisha McCallion, to explore how the pension fund might invest in Derry’s future.
And this is, as the Comptroller told his audience of newly-minted graduates, a win-win. New York State’s investment strategy involves a double bottom line: making a return for the fund retirees while doing good.
In Dublin the Comptroller met Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe before popping up to Belfast to check out some of the companies in which the fund has invested. At the headquarters of Deloitte in the city, he got to meet a group of business leaders, entrepreneurs and civic boosters who have been pursuing a similar double bottom line of their own — building world-class businesses while cementing the peace. (And Deloitte in Belfast is much more than a financial services firm. In fact, it employs several hundred people in innovative internet ventures while local CEO Jackie Henry is one of the city’s foremost ambassadors.)
Through its insistence that companies in which it holds stock adhere to the MacBride Principles on Fair Employment, the comptrollers of New York State and New York City ensured that an entire generation of young people could seek employment opportunities in the North of Ireland entirely on merit. By investing in young companies driving the resurgence of Belfast and Derry, the Comptroller is doubling down on his bet that the progress of the peace process is unstoppable.
Those of us in Belfast who endorse that sentiment also intend to create the circumstances in which the investment of the pension funds of the public service workers of New York State gets a handsome return — indeed, doubling their money would be no less than they deserve.