Daniel Roarty often visits remote areas to talk to people about their lives, aspirations, and hardships to gain insights into long-term global trends. On one such trip a couple of years ago, he traveled to a small village with no running water about 350 miles south of Manila in the Philippines to learn more about women’s empowerment as they got jobs in the country’s booming call-center business. Sweltering in 110-degree heat as chickens circled his chair, the money manager didn’t get the kind of response he expected.
The woman Roarty interviewed felt more empowered, but not because of the job; she credited Facebook(ticker: FB). “She could now understand what was happening around the world and talk to the men about issues,” says Roarty, who manages the $1 billion AB Sustainable Global Thematic fund (ALTFX). “It highlighted the bigger role of social media and internet access in empowering people.”
That was a plus in Facebook’s column for Roarty, who invests in companies that generate at least some revenue from products and services tackling the world’s greatest challenges, from gender equality and poverty to climate change. But last fall, he began to note yellow flags emerge about Facebook following the violent attacks at the racially charged protests in Charlottesville, Va. Company executives talked about the need to hire more people to police its content. Then data-privacy issues mounted. Worried about the obligations of social media and their effect on privacy and profitability, Roarty started selling his Facebook stake and other social-media stocks.
Roarty totes up the good and bad aspects of a company like assets and liabilities on a balance sheet—understandable in a man who started out as an accounting major at Fairfield University at the urging of his practical-minded parents. But Roarty chafed at the rigidity of the discipline and soon switched to finance, joining Goldman Sachsas an analyst covering environmental service companies. After business school at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Roarty shifted to the buy-side as an analyst at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and then managed U.S. growth funds at Rittenhouse Asset Management. In 2011, he joined Alliance Bernstein, taking the reins of the AB Sustainable Global Thematic fund in 2013.
Today, the fund focuses on three broad themes—empowerment, climate, and health care. For a road map, Roarty uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 169 targets created in 2015 to tackle the world’s most vexing problems by 2030. Though some of the goals require policy changes, he sees a role for investors in more than half. “Large public corporations employ the most people, they consume the most natural resources, they generate the most pollution, and through their lobbying efforts, are the most politically influential,” Roarty says. “If you really want to change the world, you need to go through the corporate sector. There is no other way.”