At the Mission Investors Exchange 2020 National Conference, foundations and other impact investors shared their plans for structural change within their own organizations and intensified the call for action toward a larger societal transformation. Noted Heron Foundation’s Dana Bezerra, “I have a growing sense of frustration that as philanthropy, as institutional investors and private foundations, when do we turn that finger back around and ask when we are willing to take on systemic change inside our own shops?”
As impact investors engage deeply in what it takes to put investment decision-making power into the hands of community members, below is a growing list of organizations at the forefront of action, including Dana Bezerra discussing Heron's strategic shift. Among these examples, several are specifically dedicated to keeping racial equity, in addition to economic equity, at the center of strategy.
In their efforts to embed economic equity more deeply into their daily practices, Heron has announced plans to move capital and deployment decision-making directly into the hands of community leaders in five to 10 geographies over time. So far, it has helped build one such local investment committee to which it will soon turn over investment authority to commit Heron’s assets without further approval or ratification by Heron staff. See Dana Bezerra announcement at the MIE 2020 Conference.
The Boston Ujima Project
The Boston Ujima Fund is a place-based investment fund, controlled by community members in the Boston area, to support businesses, real estate and infrastructure projects that would otherwise struggle to find financing. It also blends grants with other forms of capital to reduce risk for local community members to invest in the fund themselves. The organization also fosters community programs and campaigns. Click here for a summary.
The REAL People's Fund
REAL People’s Fund is a $10 million fund created by five community organizing groups, including Restore Oakland and Communities for a Better Environment, to finance entrepreneurs of color. It is a new collaboration to finance a just economy in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. In its development phase, it is governed by a consortium of local community organizing groups and is managed by Community Vision in partnership with The Runway Project
, with business advisory services from Uptima Business Bootcamp
. Community Vision, along with the Runway Project, administers the fund, but decision-making stays with the community groups.
The Fresno DRIVE Initiative
The Fresno D.R.I.V.E. Initiative (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy) is a 10-year Community Investment Plan drafted with input from a 300-person steering committee representing over 150 organizations in the Greater Fresno Region. The composition and scope of the DRIVE coalition is unprecedented, representing a diverse group of civic, community, and business leaders who undertook a four-month process to assess baseline data on Fresno’s economy, human capital, and neighborhood quality; develop a 10-year vision for inclusive economic development, including key actions and investments needed, and assess the impact of those investments. It is not known whether individual investment decisions as the plan is executed are also collectively decided by the 300-person steering committee.
The DRIVE Initiative is sponsored by the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) with support from the James Irvine Foundation. A steering committee involving over 150 organizations and 300 community leaders has been organized to guide the effort. The Initiative is also being supported by a research team that includes McKinsey & Company, Fresno State’s Central Valley Health Policy Institute, Brookings Institution, Jobs for the Future, and the Urban Institute.
The Buen Vivir Fund, by Thousand Currents
The Buen Vivir Fund seeks to promote financial models and practices that support communities’ holistic wellbeing, as opposed to focusing solely on maximizing individuals’ capital accumulation. Rather than those with the money imposing terms, the Buen Vivir Fund investment model identifies lending practices developed by grassroots groups themselves that are already proving effective on the ground. Buen Vivir Fund members then apply these practices to the level of a global investment fund.
For example, contrary to common investment practices, the Buen Vivir Fund departs from the “investor-investee" dichotomy, sending all investors, investees, or other types of participants through the same application process to join the Fund. Fund members are chosen for their commitment to an inclusive economy, and everyone upholds the same roles and responsibilities. Everyone is also expected to invest in ways that are possible for them. While some members borrow financial capital from the fund, all members come together as equals in governance and decision making. To balance power dynamics, the Fund’s Members Assembly maintains a slight majority of grassroots groups versus financial investor groups.
Seed Commons is a national network of locally-rooted, non-extractive loan funds that brings the power of big finance under community control. By taking guidance from grassroots organizations and sharing capital and resources to support local cooperative businesses, they are building the infrastructure necessary for a truly just, democratic and sustainable new economy.