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November 25, 2009

First CSR Case Competition Considers Norway's Pension Fund

Mara De Monte ’10
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Above, from left to right: Christopher Bishop, IBM; winning team, Elizabeth McCarthy ’11, Blaire Fernandez ’11, Justin Kidwell ’11, Kristin Stepaniak ’11; and Jennifer Crozier, Director, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, IBM.

On November 18, three student teams gathered at Calder Lounge in Uris Hall to compete in the final round of the First Annual Columbia Business School Corporate Social Responsibility Case Competition sponsored by IBM. The winning team of Elizabeth McCarthy ’11, Blaire Fernandez ’11, Justin Kidwell ’11 and Kristin Stepaniak ’11 were awarded a prize of $1,500.

The case competition was organized in a joint effort by the CSR P2P Group, part of the Social Enterprise Club, and the General Management Association with the support of Columbia CaseWorks. It challenged teams of first- and second-year students to apply concepts and theories to a current challenging CSR issue.

This year’s case was “The Norwegian Government Pension Fund: The Divestiture of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.” written by Andrew Ang, the Ann F. Kaplan Professor of Business. The case considered the exclusion of Wal-Mart from the Norwegian Government Pension Fund’s investment universe and the subsequent divestiture of Wal-Mart by the fund; it looks at the issues socially responsible investing raises for portfolio managers.

The student teams presented their evaluations of the fund’s disinvestment and the judges critiqued them on their innovative approaches. Several proposed solutions emerged in each 10-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session. The panel of judges for the competition included Jennifer Crozier, Director, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, IBM; Christopher Bishop, IBM; and Professor Ang.

After the students’ presentations, Ang, who has advised the government of Norway on strategic asset allocation for the past four years, expressed his point of view on the case. He has said the country has a history of ethical investing.

“Ethical considerations played an important part in running the fund,” he said. “Norway’s stance on ethical investing comes from the society and they view it as an important issue.” Ang also pointed out that it is not a “static process” but it has evolved and will continue to change in the future.

One of the main issues in the case of Wal-Mart was child labor, said Ang. In the past, the fund has excluded investments in firms that are connected to nuclear weapons and cluster bombs; it also has a history of exclusions based on humanitarian and environmental issues.

This case competition gives Columbia Business School students the unique opportunity to explore CSR topics while learning firsthand what goes into the effective implementations of corporate responsibility policies, and the challenges that companies and advocacies can face in the process. This inaugural competition was truly successful and we hope it has been just the first of many in the years to come!

Photo courtesy of Mara De Monte