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August 14, 2008

Social Platform for Socially Responsible Investors
    by Anne Moore Odell

The SRI community has a new way to share information about what companies are or aren't doing on social, environmental, and governance issues. -- People in the SRI community now have a place to share insights and experiences on the companies they interface with at Created by Intertek, a provider of CSR certification and quality services, is designed to give investors and other stakeholders a forum to rate the corporate social responsibility (CSR) of companies.

SRI Mutual Funds GuideOpenSRI postulates that the time is ripe for a Web 2.0 collaborative web platform for socially responsible investors. The organization estimates the European SRI market at more than 1,000 billion or 10-15% of all European assets. The US market in 2007 saw $2.7 trillion of assets in screen portfolios.

"One of the ideas behind the project is to make CSR methodologies more transparent, to multiply the sources of information and to use the 'wisdom of the crowd'," said Franca Morroni, managing director & co-founder of OpenSRI. "A company's reputation has a very big impact on stock prices, and the reputation is what the stakeholders think about a company, hence the idea of asking them to rate the companies. We are not a rating agency and don't intend to become one. Our job is complementary to the job currently carried out by extra-financial rating agencies," continued Morroni.

OpenSRI's role will start where the work of the classic CSR analysts usually stops. The size of CSR analyst teams, the number of companies to study, and the sheer amount of materials to cover can limit traditional analyst firms. However, by joining people interested in CSR together, OpenSRI's ability to create content is massive. Yet OpenSRI doesn't see its stakeholder rating as the final objective of the process, but rather as the starting point for dialogue between a company and its stakeholders.

Morroni told, "OpenSRI will provide stakeholders with a method to express their opinions and promote responsible behaviour for companies in a constructive and sustainable way while offering a place where people will feel at ease to discuss and tackle relevant questions. "

Any interested person or group can join the platform, including consumers, shareholders, employees, NGOs, trade unions. Once you are signed in as a member you can rate companies using a questionnaire, view companies' ratings, participate in forums, and use a special engagement space to conduct dialogues with companies. To foster transparency, the companies will also have the right to provide additional information concerning their profile rating by stakeholders.

"OpenSRI was born with the idea of a collaborative site where users spend a lot of time because they are involved in a project where every opinion has the same weight," explained Morroni. "OpenSRI stakeholders have the ability to be heard by others and by the companies. The sources are not anonymous for us, but they will be anonymous for the public as all stakeholders will have a pseudonym to protect themselves, but we will have the basic personal information at the moment of the registration."

The information and rating available on the site will be the basis to start to understand why a company has a good or a bad image, to look for solutions, and to create a real dialogue between the stakeholders and the company. The OpenSRI model will allow for an updated rating that will be made in "real time" as it is linked to daily events and information received from stakeholders. Historical summary and comparisons of performance of a company over time and in relation to other companies in the same sector will also be available.

The stakeholder rating site is freely available for use by the stakeholders involved in the rating but the OpenSRI web portal will also propose other CSR/SRI products and services dedicated to professionals. The project will be funded by the other services and products proposed to both investors and companies such as the reputation sectoral benchmarking, special access to our research database and studies, engagement service, and tailored solutions offered by OpenSRI's IT platform.

Launched at the beginning of June, OpenSRI is offering events on both coasts to explain its approach later this fall.

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