While we launched the work with the belief in the significance of creating more equitable access to capital markets, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities compounded by the country’s racial reckoning in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey, dramatically amplified the urgency of this project. If nothing else, the past 6 months have revealed the system is unfortunately working as it was designed as reflected in policy and practices that create economic inequity disproportionately in communities of color.
How bad do things need to get before we aggressively make changes? The data shows us that the performance of diverse managers is just as strong as firms predominantly owned by white men. We also know that structural barriers and implicit bias mitigate opportunities for diverse firms to gain access to compete. Throughout the series of blogs and webinars, I have covered the landscape and addressed ways of taking a systemic approach to moving the needle on increasing access to capital markets for BIPOC managers.
Watch Erika’s conversation with Bert Feuss & AJ Hernandez on this issue
Now that the racism in the room is no longer hiding in plain sight, it is time to act and be accountable for shifting the policies and practices that have held an inequitable system in place for far too long.
Be intentional about transformational change for racial equity. Taking the same approaches to decision making will result in more of the same outcomes. As an advocate for racial equity, I am pleased to work in solidarity with a group of BIPOC managers to craft and share the Due Diligence 2.0 Commitment to set new norms and challenge the oft-cited criteria and risk-assessment frameworks that keeps less than 1.5% of assets with diverse firms. To achieve a change in outcomes, decision makers in the ecosystem must be willing to make changes to their assumptions and processes for identifying, evaluating, and hiring managers.
Seek out, engage, and invest with BIPOC managers. Diverse managers do exist with the ideas, networks, and capacity to deliver strong performance and expand the universe of investment opportunities. With the presence of affinity groups in the financial services industry as well as the recently-released Diverse Manager Directory from Emerging Manager Monthly listing over 100 firms, it is simply no longer acceptable to claim ignorance of where to find diverse firms.
Hold every firm accountable for advancing diversity, equity,, and inclusion in the investment management industry. As recently shared in the Wall Street Journal, Yale University with one of the largest university endowments at $31B has put the asset management industry on notice that diversity in the ranks matters to performance and future opportunity with the institution. With resources like the Diversity Metric Score released by Lenox Park, there are ways of measuring the relative impact of diversity beyond firm ownership and considering the essential components of inclusion at all levels in the industry. Without large-scale commitment to increasing the presence of racial and gender diversity as a basic expectation for generating performance, simple inertia will allow the industry to continue moving under its current conditions and widen the gap between access and opportunity.
Equitable access to capital markets for diverse-owned asset management firms requires consistent, informed, and intentional decision making that must begin now. An industry that relies on hard data can no longer ignore the numbers, and must create lasting, equitable solutions for all.
Erika Seth Davies is a Fellow in Fair Finance at the Beeck Center. Follow her on Twitter
Around the world, one billion people are unable to properly prove who they are. That’s one billion people who are potentially barred from accessing critical government, healthcare, and financial services. Moreover, one in five people can’t open a bank account due to a lack of documentation. Even for those who do have some form of identification, accessing services digitally is inefficient due to verification issues and a generally lacking digital infrastructure.
The COVID-19 pandemic spotlights and renews the urgency to solve these challenges. While many countries (including the United States) struggled to deliver social and financial assistance services to those in need, over 200 countries with some type of effective identity system were able to respond much more rapidly and effectively.
Solving digital identity challenges plays a critical role as we look to strengthen our larger digital infrastructure. The Beeck Center recently hosted an Ideas That Transform conversation to explore this topic with experts from the global development, private, and public sectors. This conversation is part of a series hosted in partnership with Flourish Ventures, which aims to catalyze insights on how we might spur digital infrastructure towards a more inclusive, people-centric financial system. While the discussion touched on specific ideas on data needs and sources, verification, assurances, and standards, there was unanimous consensus on the critical roles that privacy, trust, and inclusion play if we are to move solutions forward.
Watch the conversation on Digital IDs
There are models working globally. Vyjayanti Desai, Practice Manager for Identification for Development (ID4D) at the World Bank, pointed out that while there are many successful global models for digital identity, there is no universal solution. There are a few key differentiators across the various ID systems in place.
What’s being implemented. Countries use either a single, centralized ID system (India, Austria, Estonia) or a federated approach that relies on different institutions and inputs (U.K. and Thailand).
The data needed for verification. Governments and private institutions rely on different inputs for ID-creation based on the standards in place.
The authorizing sources for verification. Countries must rely on sources that validate identities that are created for there to be a high-level of trust.
For every country with a developed digital identity system, there are many countries that are still grappling with the above to ensure a strong ID system can be built.
“Saying no to Digital ID is like saying no to cooking with fire. It’s there, so use it.”
In the U.S., effective approaches are emerging at the city and state levels. Miguel Sangalang, Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation in the City of Los Angeles, described how his city launched Angeleno accounts to better connect residents to city services. The contactless nature of the Angeleno accounts made meeting residents’ needs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic faster and easier. Using a people-centric framework, approximately $30 million were dispersed during the pandemic when economic support was needed most. Traditional systems could have been used, but the city embraced the tools at their disposal for a safer facilitation of services. As Miguel said, “saying no to Digital ID is like saying no to cooking with fire. It’s there, so use it.” Moving forward, he views Angeleno accounts as the “digital key to LA city services”. The program has now expanded to ensure that every resident, business, and tourist can have an account, while the next step is strategizing how to scale the program.
“Digital ID is just a continuation of problems that we’ve had in the US with identity.”
Scaling in the US Requires Solving Dual-Challenges. Building a strong digital payment system infrastructure will require the public sector to effectively address both its fragmented legal identification system and its lack of digitization. Of these issues. Robin Carnahan, Data + Digital Fellow at the Beeck Center and former Secretary of State of Missouri, notes: “Digital ID is just a continuation of problems that we’ve had in the U.S. with analog identity.” The issue is less about available technology, but rather the absence of identity standardization across cities and states. Without a national ID, equal access to services becomes especially difficult. While cities (like Los Angeles) and states are turning to the private sector for identity solutions, there are some increasing successes within government. One example is login.gov, currently managed by the General Services Administration: eighteen federal agencies can now use this for government services, and it recently expanded to provide provisional services at the state and local levels during a time where digital services are essential. As Robin notes, while we can certainly use the private sector more in the short term – in the longer term, we need to figure out how to implement this in government.
“Digital ID is an evolving term. It’s not a what, it’s a how.”
Leaders are looking to the private sector. Travis Jarae, Founder + CEO of One World Identity, has worked on identity challenges across sectors, focusing on the finance industry with Deloitte, and then Google’s “know your customer” systems and the challenges to include people with no registered identities. He notes that digital identity is actually more about how people access services, rather than what services are being offered. While earlier efforts focused on building the data “pipes” (content),there has been a transformational shift to playing a data alchemist – asking what data elements we need, for what services – and combining these to provide people services at the highest level of assurance. Travis is also an advocate of private-public models, noting there are many pre- and post-COVID organizations primed for partnership with the public sector to deliver services. However, the lack of standards is becoming an increasing challenge that the private sector has not met, and are frankly looking to the government to lead. He acknowledged that there is a high-burden for the public sector to create standards, and the importance of trust and privacy. While the private sector has been able to solve some issues around trust through transaction interaction insurance and user experience, as we see in gig economy models like AirBNB, Travis noted that there is a lot of older software that breaks down trust and prevents the growth of digital identity at scale.
“An overarching goal we want to see is trust in the system and inclusion in the system.”
Trust and inclusion are fundamental to moving forward. As Vyjayanti aptly noted: “all of this comes down to managing privacy and ensuring trust.” Civil society needs to trust that the creation of a digital ID will be protected through proper laws and regulation, and that privacy will be ensured through both technical tools and “privacy by design.” For example, the identity data needed to get a dog license is quite different from what’s needed to pay your bills or access funds: the more you move towards financial and other value transactions, the more levels of assurance play a critical role. This is where the government needs to come in – particularly in regulated sectors – and all the panelists agreed on the important and much needed role for government in assurances and setting standards. The question is no longer on how the government will do this, but when. The digital economy is here and we have many models across sectors and countries showing us how to get this done. The urgency to do this is clear: governments will not be able to do public service delivery going forward unless we get this right.
Digital identity and verification has become increasingly important in our modern societies, and all of our panelists agreed on the importance of improving service delivery and access through a people-centered digital identity system that prioritizes trust, transparency, and inclusion. Specific recommendations focused on issuing government standards, leveraging existing government capabilities, and learning from international examples.
The Beeck Center is grateful to Flourish Ventures for supporting this conversation, which is part of a series of discussions this fall that aims to spur digital infrastructure toward a more inclusive, people-centric financial system.
Every month, my dad sends a portion of his income to his parents in Nepal. This transfer of money, typically sent back to a person’s home country, is known as a remittance payment. Nepal’s remittance inflows account for about a third of their GDP, and has a bigger impact on the country’s development than foreign direct investment and net official development assistance. Without realizing it, I’ve been part of one of the largest remittance economies in the world for my entire life!
My grandparents were fortunate enough to work in formal industries their whole lives, which gave them access to regular banking services and technology, making the remittance process much easier. However, in Nepal, 70% of the economically active population is involved in the informal economy, which means they face barriers to accessing key financial services. This problem is not unique to just one country – globally, unbanked and underbanked populations face obstacles when trying to access both financial and digital services.
As more of these remittance payments move electronically across the globe, three main obstacles must be addressed to include unbanked and underbanked populations: Infrastructure, Information, and Trust.
INFRASTRUCTURE: Underbanked populations are more likely to lack critical resources, such as a phone with banking capabilities, a bank account linked to their phone number, language inclusivity in mobile applications, dependable internet connections, etc. Even if the remitting population has access to the basic infrastructure (through their workplace, for example), it is very likely that the recipients of the payments will not have adequate resources to allow the person-to-person transaction to be completed. This problem is systemic globally as women and minorities around the world bear the brunt of this issue far more than other populations.
Public-private partnerships between governments and technology companies are needed in order to give the capacity to digitize remittance payments to underbanked populations. For example, India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) allows for digital remittance transactions on feature phones, not only smartphones, opening the system to a larger portion of the population. While the public sector is effective in creating initial infrastructure policies, its risk-averse nature leaves experimentation to the private sector to come up with more innovative solutions, so taking some of these risks must be incentivized. For example, Vodafone in Kenya implemented M-Pesa, a digital payments platform that followed national regulations to bring unbanked populations into the formal financial structure.
The author goes deeper into the topic of digital remittances.
INFORMATION: Even if technologies are available to ease the process of sending and receiving remittances, much of the target population is unaware of them. And if they do know the technologies exist, they likely lack the basic financial and technological literacy needed to best utilize the tools, putting remittance application usage squarely on the fault lines of the global digital divide. For anyone who has struggled to get a parent or grandparent to use a new app to chat, imagine how much harder it gets when money is involved.
Technological financial literacy education would mitigate this issue. A field study by IDinsight and Good Business Lab (GBL) in Bangalore, India, looked at how different training sessions for female garment factory workers would change digital remittance usage patterns. Ultimately, they found that both group and individual training sessions on the use of digital payment applications to send remittances were effective. When the training is conducted locally, over a long period of time, in individual communities, it has the ability to truly transform how migrant workers and their families understand remittance technologies.
TRUST: The most common method of making payments among unbanked and underbanked populations is through informal networks of trusted local leaders, business owners, and merchants. The risks of this system are obvious – there is no way to ensure that the “middle men” of the transaction actually complete the job or if they take a portion of the money for themselves. Despite that, for those accustomed to this method of remitting money, it is very difficult to trust a mobile application to do the same job, especially if the benefits are not self-evident and the process is not transparent. According to Xavier Martin Palomas of the Digital Frontiers Institute, “even though, on average, online services are less expensive than cash-to-cash services, most remittance customers seem happy with their money transfer agent.” The issue of trust builds off of the lack of information, but there are a variety of other individual-level factors that are not as easily addressed.
Sometimes, even education and information are not sufficient in building trust in these unfamiliar technologies – the use of the technology by trusted individuals, however, can signal the acceptance of digital remittances in individual communities. If the current “middle-men” of the informal remittance pathways increase their use of digital payment apps, we will get closer to reaching the target population than training and education alone.
These obstacles to the digitization of remittances do not exist in isolation: in order to create effective change, all three must be addressed simultaneously, requiring large-scale collaboration between private sector foundations and businesses, community organizations, and government institutions, along with any other actors in the space. For my grandparents and millions like them, the need is obvious and now is the time.
Shaily Acharya is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. As a Student Analyst in the Fair Finance Portfolio, Shaily explored issues of equity and inclusion in our current financial systems in order to create a more even financial playing field for all.
Shannon Blevins has often been recruited for positions outside Southwest Virginia, where she grew up and is rearing her own family. Blevins, the Associate Vice Chancellor, Economic Development & Engagement at UVA Wise, has always said no. She researches the other offers, but “I can never check the box of the heart,” she says.
Instead, she is turning UVA Wise, a small rural institution with about 2,000 students, into a nationally recognized economic development actor (last year, Forbes and Sorensen Impact Centerrecognized one of its projects for enabling opportunity fund investments.) In an interview, she listed some of the rules she lives by to collaborate with many stakeholders and government agencies active in the central region of Appalachia. Some initiatives can move slowly, and many of the players stay the same. UVA Wise works across states, through Virginia’s higher education system and with regional and private sector actors.
You can learn more about her work in our profile, UVA Wise and Entrepreneurship in Appalachian Virginia, but here are some other words of wisdom she passes on to both students and members of the community.
A ‘no’ for me does not burn a bridge. I look at it as just ‘not yet.’
Don’t hold grudges. Even if someone is late to engage with you on a project, make room for them at the table.
If you get something started, but there’s a partner that’s better suited, step aside.
You have to continuously remind yourself, you can’t be married to your programs.
Don’t have all the answers. Somebody in the room, other than you, has the answer.
Be intentional about developing the norms of the group, and “don’t ostracize folks that are territorial.”
Don’t get above your raising. No one group could do those projects on their own. It is messy work. It is messy, messy work, and it can be emotionally draining.
September 21, 2020 – By Betsy Zeidman, Cristina Alaniz and Iliriana Kaçaniku
Since America’s inception, immigrants and refugees have come to the U.S. in search of a better life. They settle with or near family and seek employment using the experience they bring from their home countries. They may access resources provided by government or social service agencies, or in the case of refugees, resettlement agencies. They receive services for a set number of weeks and success is determined by how many find a job upon completing the program. But little incentive exists to find a “quality” job, that is, one with equitable benefits and compensation, support in and out of the workplace, and growth potential. They often end up working in grocery stores or as home health aides, and are frequently overlooked by their customers and clients.
But this may be changing. The global COVID-19 pandemic has refocused our country on the value of “essential workers,” and heightened awareness of the large numbers of immigrants and refugees that compose this workforce. At the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, we see the many barriers these workers face in trying to integrate and advance in the workplace, and the long-term impact of such barriers on our society and economy as a whole. With the support of the World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund, we have explored expanding the economic integration and mobility of immigrants and refugees through financing workforce training.
Recognizing that this is a multi-faceted challenge requiring multi-faceted approaches, we recently convened two meetings of individuals, intentionally selected for their diverse expertise in workforce training, immigrant integration and finance. During the first session, we focused on development and training programs and identified a number of best practices for programs serving this population. Our second session explored ways to finance effective training programs, which we summarize here.
The workforce development field is large and scattered with many players and fragmented funding, with the path for immigrants and refugees even more complex (See Figure 1). We also have little data on many critical elements, such as how many immigrants and refugees participate in workforce training programs (as they are not tracked as a discrete group); and how much it costs to train a worker (as important ancillary costs are rarely tabulated). We do know that money for these programs comes from government (federal, state and local), philanthropic grants, the immigrants themselves, and employers seeking to upskill their workers – with some supporting the programs and some offsetting the cost to workers. These funds then get distributed to organizations through charitable grants, loans, “earn & learn” apprenticeships, public-private partnerships, and more. Together, these financing efforts are important, but a large capital gap remains, as workforce development’s demand for funds simply outweighs its supply.
In seeking options to fill that gap, discussion participants agreed that capital supporting workforce development programs should be patient and flexible; how to find and deploy such capital is the question. There were multiple options, but six key recommendations emerged.
Clarify the problem, identify the program(s) that could solve it, and then determine the most appropriate source and form of capital to cover the cost. Discussions around funding often submit to the lure of innovative financing vehicles that can become overly complex and difficult to implement, and organizations lose sight of the problem at hand – immigrants and refugees need quality jobs, and employers need trained workers. Focus on those needs first, and then figure out the best funding tool.
Structure financing to reward and incentivize measurable outcomes. If the goal is higher wage jobs, establish benchmarks for measurement, track data rigorously, and share results. Pay-for-Success (PFS) models champion this type of outcomes-based financing, and there are several workforce PFS pilots underway. Two examples include:
The Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Social Impact Bond (SIB) raised over $12 million from private investors to front the cost of expanding vocational English language lessons designed for immigrants & refugees in Boston. Launched in 2017, investors received returns early, and trainees saw increased earnings as measured by administrative wage data.
Philadelphia Works, the city’s Workforce Development Board, is piloting a slightly different SIB, one that trains workers for a single employer. The employer (in this case, Comcast) is the ultimate payor, reimbursing the non-profit based on preset targets for both employment and retention. A third party monitors and measures results. Comcast’s involvement at the outset ensures that the training supports actual jobs.
There are also publicly funded programs that tie payment to performance measures. For example, Texas State Technical College receives payments from the state based on the earnings of its students over their first five years post graduation.
Align financing with growth. These variations on the PFS models use growth as the proxy for success and help mitigate risks to the trainee. Examples include:
An Income Sharing Agreement (ISA) allows people to enroll in education programs for low or no cost, and pay tuition over time as a share of their earnings. These have traditionally been the province of students in 4-year college programs and challenged due to their high interest rates. The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) is piloting a student-centric ISA: interest rates are reasonable and no repayment is due until a student’s annual salary is at least $40,000. SDWP is the first Workforce Board to try an ISA.
The Career Impact Bond (CIB), developed by Social Finance, is similar to the ISA and the SIB, as it draws together a wide variety of stakeholders (employers, training organizations, donors and investors) to advance economic mobility among overlooked communities. The model integrates incentives and aligns risk among all parties:
the training entity fronts some of the initial costs, with repayment from investors;
high quality training for sectors in need of workers (in this case IT) maximizes job placement;
building in philanthropic support allows the CIB to finance wraparound services (linked to higher completion rates), and
student-centric terms similar to those used by SDWP increase repayment.
Revenue-Based Models: Where ISAs enable individuals to access training and pay for it once they generate income, revenue-based financing allows commercial entities to access capital and repay it once they generate income. This financing (also known as royalty financing) could serve as an alternative to debt for training organizations that support immigrants and refugees (and is of particular interest to Muslim immigrants whose tradition rejects paying interest). However an organization must have a clear plan to generate revenue, e.g., a contract to train the workforce of a stable employer.
Braid in different streams of capital – public, philanthropic and private – in two key ways:
Staging: Program needs evolve over time, so staging sources and structures of capital may make sense. Government and philanthropy support training for basic skills, such as English language learning. As workers seek more specialized training, employer support kicks in.
Blended Models: Workplace solutions increasingly appeal to impact investors and foundations seeking opportunities for mission-related investments. A blended capital fund may support a training program, where sources with low- to no-return expectations (e.g., philanthropic funds’ program-related investments) could absorb risk that private capital generally wouldn’t bear.
Research all available pools of capital. Important sources of capital for workforce training and development can sometimes be overlooked or underutilized, so supporters should be sure they are looking into all available options. A few examples include:
Government funds resting in federal, state and local programs. For example, many community colleges providing workforce training can receive funding for administrative services from SNAP E&T (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and Training). SNAP E&T also covers a student’s tuition and fees, and a portion of ancillary expenses, such as books, dependent care and transportation, as do Pell Grants. Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) channel funds to local workforce departments.
Equity to help build businesses that provide or support training, participate in purchasing cooperatives and make investments in social enterprises that provide critical support services.
Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) as useful (and underutilized) partners. They exist amid the targeted populations and know the communities’ needs. They are patient and flexible, and often provide a bridge to mainstream capital. In the recent economic crisis, they have been invaluable and are largely limited only by their size.
Keep it local. Local community partnerships can finance effective, sustainable workforce training programs. As an example, the Alamo Colleges Westside Education and Training Center is a specialty campus for workforce development of immigrants and refugees on the West Side of San Antonio, Texas. It represents a collaboration among the city, local economic development department, community college, school district, small businesses, nonprofits and funders, and offers targeted academic programs and social service services. When the last Levi’s plant closed the facility became available and the full community rallied. Government, foundations, and employers provide financial support.
In partnership with the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, the Beeck Center began exploring effective ways to finance and expand the economic integration of immigrants and refugees through workforce training a little over a year ago, when the world was a very different place. The arrival of COVID-19 clarified the importance of these efforts, and highlighted areas of opportunity, including:
We must get better data on the immigrant and refugee population. They are not simply a subset of low-income communities.
We know that these efforts work best when all stakeholders have skin in the game, so we must embed such mechanisms into partnerships of all sorts: labor-management partnerships; public-private partnerships; community collaborations, to name a few.
We know the field needs patient, flexible capital, so we must tap the ultimate patient capital, philanthropy. However, funders must not simply hand over grants. They should lean into risk mitigation and use their funds to catalyze the participation of new providers of capital.
We must determine which outcomes-based models work best, and for whom and replicate those with attention to each market’s local context.
We must consider the systemic issues that hinder immigrants and refugee workers, and advocate for incentives that support pro-worker programs.
We must remember that amid all these challenges, opportunities exist for those who remain aware. For instance, the Building Skills Partnership (BSP) recognized that before businesses could reopen after the COVID19 quarantine, they would need deep cleaning and sanitizing. Given the numbers, this would create a huge demand for workers. The Labor-Management Partnership created a program to train its janitors to meet this need.
We look forward to sharing these and additional lessons we’ve learned over the past year, and hope to help inform the broader diversity of stakeholders in the workforce development field as they move forward.
Betsy Zeidman is a Fellow in the Fair Finance team at the Beeck Center
Iliriana Kaçaniku is a Consultant in the Fair Finance team at the Beeck Center
Cristina Alaniz is a Student Analyst in the Fair Finance team with the Beeck Center.
Understanding key components that drive successful social service programs, specifically centered around workforce development training, is a theme that I have explored over the course of the last year. As a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, I focused on a project, supported by the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, to identify approaches that could drive additional capital to workforce training and development of immigrant and refugee workers.
As the world enters its eighth month of the pandemic and ongoing economic uncertainty, vulnerable communities face increasing barriers to economic prosperity and social inclusion. During this trying time, the world must not forget to continue to support these populations and equip them with the tools necessary for survival. Refugees are a group especially at risk. According to the United Nations High Refugee Commissioner (UNHCR) the current global refugee crisis has hit a record high of approximately 79.5 million forcibly displaced people. As the pandemic hinders the ability of countries to welcome refugees and provide adequate resources, digital gaps and disparities in access to healthcare will likely heighten the frustrations and needs of this population.
Resettlement States provide refugees with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. (UNHCR) By way of this, the States adhere to the delivery of a “social inclusion framework” that creates opportunities for refugees to develop their ability to reach self-sufficiency. According to the World Bank, social inclusion barriers include not only legal systems, land and labor markets, but also attitudes, beliefs, or perceptions. This is crucial, as cultural barriers are predominant factors that may prevent immigrant and refugee communities from reaching social inclusion rapidly or at all. As resettlement and welcoming efforts are made around the world, societies begin to recognize that a social inclusion framework is multi-faceted and blends with the economic development of the State.
Unfortunately, the health of our global economy is weak and is predicted to shrink by at least 5.2% this year. U.S. unemployment continues to fluctuate and stands at 8.4%. These uncertainties decrease opportunities for vulnerable populations, as well as pose a major problem for States; a capital problem. With funding fragmented across government-funded programs and an expected uptick in demand for social services from both refugees and national citizens, how can States look to private funding to help solve the capital problem and create a sustainable social inclusion framework? As impact investors seek to use their capital to address structural barriers, can we rely on them to make blended capital (a mix of government, non-profit grants, equity investors and lenders) a more permanent solution for funding social services programs?
A Solution: The Social Impact Bond (SIB)
The Social Impact Bond (SIB), “is an innovative financing mechanism that shifts financial risk from a traditional funder — usually government — to a new investor, who provides up-front capital to scale an evidence-based social program to improve outcomes for a vulnerable population. If an independent evaluation shows that the program achieved agreed-upon outcomes, then the investment is repaid by the traditional funder. If not, the investor takes the loss.” (Urban Institute)
Over 175 SIBs exist around the world. These vehicles have largely focused on financing social welfare and employment projects and can help reduce the cost of public services for taxpayers. The U.K., home to the first SIB (2010) has the largest market exposure, followed by the U.S. As of 2015, SIBs have gradually made their way into the developing world, where they are often called “Development Impact Bonds”. The average life of a SIB is typically 2-5 years and the number of individuals served varies by motivation for project, project objective and issue area. As an example, we look to Nordic efforts, where social inclusion frameworks are well thought out and incorporate beneficiary feedback. Finland, a country who sought impact investing initiatives, designed a SIB that solves for rapid employment integration of immigrants and refugees, satisfying a key measure of its innovative social inclusion and participatory framework for arriving immigrants and refugees in Finland. This project also helps the country reduce resettlement/social expenditures.
Finland: A Case of Compassion for Inclusion of Immigrant Blue-Collar Workers
In Finland the admission limit of 750 refugees is set in consultation amongst various government agencies. The “Koto-SIB” program is an integration social impact bond structured to help with integration of immigrants who have been granted a residence permit, but are not Finnish citizens. The demand for rapid employment was evident and Finland knew that an influx of asylees and refugees would benefit from the Koto-SIB. This €10 million project attracted strategic partnerships amongst various stakeholders and diverse employment sectors, that enable immigrants to train and work in blue collar jobs. From 2015 to 2016, project evaluators explored blue collar job pathways that would prepare immigrants and refugees to enter the Finnish workforce, by designing a model that would develop an individual’s work life skills, societal and cultural capabilities. Susanna Pieponnen, a senior advisor at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, who helps oversee the Koto-SIB program, provides insights on the structure of the model, outcomes and some of the lessons learned thus far. We spoke via phone, the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Who was your target group?
Susanna Pieponnen: Our target group: unemployed immigrants between the ages of 17-63, who were ready to work, had a desire and motivation to learn Finnish and accept blue collar jobs. We aimed to target 2,000 individuals over a 3-year period beginning in 2016. The first cohort began in 2016 and currently we are in our 4th cohort.
Tell me about the feasibility and structuring of Koto-SIB. What do you think Finland did differently from other SIB models that target immigrant challenges?
The program aims to place immigrants in jobs within 4-6 months. It is designed for adults who know what type of job they want. The program helps participants learn basic language, navigate cultural settings in the workplace and material that is sector specific. So, it’s very cultural. But mostly, it is flexible.
How is success measured?
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment will commission an external evaluation after the trial. In the evaluation, the taxes paid and unemployment benefits received by those who participated in the SIB project are compared to the taxes paid and unemployment benefits received by the control group. From the State’s perspective, the trial is a success if the taxes paid by those participating in the experiment are higher and unemployment benefits they received are lower than in the control group. We believe that all parties will benefit, so this is a win-win approach for employers, immigrants, investors and society.
What are some of the lessons learned?
One mistake the government learned early on was assuming immigrants and refugees had to study for a longer period of time and go through a traditional 4-year college. When end-users were asked what they thought of blue collar jobs (ie. drivers, kitchen cooks, hospitality roles), they believed that once a bus driver, always a bus driver. Their confusion about blue collar jobs was contributing to exclusion. Culturally, the jobs were not up to par, but explaining the value of blue-collar jobs and providing them with pathways to advancement, made job placement easier. There seemed to be more understanding of how they could transition from blue-collar jobs to white-collar jobs as we delivered training and reminded them that every job is valuable.
Can the U.S. apply lessons from the Finland SIB model to solve for rapid employment of refugees in the U.S.? If so, why or why not?
The U.S. holds the largest refugee admissions in the world, but recently has welcomed the lowest numbers in its history, with less than 8,000 refugee admissions in 2020. Federal, state and local governments contract with social service delivery organizations to deliver resettlement services, such as job training, English language instruction, similar to the structure in Finland. Refugee admission processes are similar between both countries. Finland welcomes refugees under the refugee quota determined by the state budget; in the U.S., refugee admissions are determined by a presidential determination in consultation with federal and state offices. However, a significant difference amongst the two countries is the timeframe of integration for a refugee. In Finland it is a 3 year process assessed by local employment offices from the day of arrival. In the U.S., a refugee is expected to reach integration within 6-8 months and interacts with multiple service providers. With limited time for integration, the U.S. could use rapid employment advancements as a universal framework. Another key difference is that Finland has leveraged the need of rapid employment as a solution, not a problem. With fragmented funding and a dismantled resettlement program in the U.S., now is the time to revisit the existing gaps of our domestic social inclusion framework and adapt to better solutions.
The first U.S. workforce SIB, the JVS/Social Finance “Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Pay for Success Project,” is already demonstrating success, both in terms of returns to investors and impact for participants. The SIB launched in 2017, to support 2,000 adult English language learners seeking to transition to employment, higher wage jobs, and/or higher education. Centered around English language needs, the model includes a workforce development component and rapid employment. The Massachusetts PFS model targets English learners who are potentially past the 6-8 month integration period. Both SIB models serve their States’ social inclusion frameworks, however, Finland has implemented the model from initial points of resettlement and integration, whereas in the U.S., it picks up where initial resettlement efforts end. There are many commonalities between both models, so why is this not replicated beyond the state of Massachusetts and integrated to initial resettlement and social inclusion efforts?
As funding for social adjustment programs becomes scarce across all levels of government in the U.S., innovations such as the “Koto-SIB” model, may help serve as a blueprint for local U.S. state governments to advance rapid employment placement and integration of immigrant and refugee communities. The “potential” if applied, could help generate a win-win approach across governments, local communities, emerging employment sectors (e-commerce and agriculture) and investors looking to expand corporate social responsibility (CSR).
*A special thanks to Susanna Pieponnen of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in Finland and Mika Pykko of The Finish Innovation Fund Sitra, for their support and collaboration.
Cristina Alaniz was a student analyst with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University and continues to be a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service (SIS). Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/cristinalaniz Email: email@example.com
Stillman College, the historically Black college founded in 1870, has an ambassador extraordinaire: its choir, which tours across the country and often brings its audiences to tears. Its performances have changed lives.
Bob Herrema still remembers a performance of the Messiah in 1969, when he and a fellow church member organized a combined performance, with the Stillman Choir and string students from the University of Alabama. Before Herrema raised his baton, he turned to look at the audience – and saw Stillman’s Brown Chapel filled with faces of all colors. Before the performance was over, some would be in tears.
“Stillman turned out to have an impact for the rest of my life,” he says. Herrema, who is white, had arrived at the school to take the job knowing how good the music of the Black tradition was. He left knowing how easily people could connect across race through music, and how much they would be moved by the connection. For the rest of his long career as a professor and a chorus leader, most of it in Pennsylvania, he incorporated composers like Moses Hogan in the repertoire.
The choir’s power has resonated many times over the years for others, says Jocqueline Richardson, an alumna and the choir’s director. “When we sang Somebody’s Praying – when we sang that in St. Charles, a church that was in Hurricane Katrina, you understand, the members were crying.”
There are about 40 choir members; a more select group tours each year. Richardson ticks off other performances that were meaningful, including one in the church where former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is a member. The choir’s tour of churches near San Francisco included performances of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, O Freedom, and I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around, among others.
The repertoire, she believes, is key. It consists of, among many others, Handel’s Messiah and Ernani Aguiar’s Salmo 150, and spirituals arranged by William Dawson and Moses Hogan. The choir has the diction, talent and passion to move across the traditions and give each one equal weight.
Charlie Mitchell, a student in the 1970s, went on to get a PhD in music and became a music leader, now in Louisville, Kentucky. Herrema remembers him as a tall, lanky young man, with his sleeves too short. “I found him at the piano one day, saying “This is the music I want to play,” remembers Herrema, who introduced the choir to such hymns as Give Ear To My Word – a phrase Mitchell remembers to this day as foreign to his.
Watch the Stillman Choir perform at Westminster Presbyterian Church – Birmingham, Ala., February 3, 2019
Today, Mitchell, who is an organist, plays Bach in the same performances as Ulysses Kaye. At a performance in southern Indiana, he focused on the work of composers from the African diaspora, such as Ulysses Kaye, Florence Price and Fela Sowanda. A nationally known organist came up to him afterwards, and somewhat stiffly, but warmly, said the concert had been “well received.”
“I figured I’d arrived then,” says Mitchell with a laugh. “I grew up on a farm in rural Alabama. My people were farmers. The choir at Stillman and the touring we did … singing in those churches, listening to the organ, showed me what you could do with music.”
Learn more about Stillman College, and how it’s working with investment and development firms to use real estate assets to generate revenue, catalyze economic development in underserved areas, and provide workforce training for their student populations in Part 2 of our Impact in Action series, Untapped Assets: Stillman College And The Landscape Of HBCUs.
Rowan University was an early leader in online learning. In 2010, the second-tier state school in New Jersey launched a division that now enrolls 12,000 students annually. Over the past 10 years, online learning has generated more than $128 million for the university by serving both adults returning to college and younger students with more than 55 course offerings in fields such as education, health administration, business, criminal justice and public relations.
We sat down with Jeff Hand, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs, to ask him for his thoughts about how online learning is likely to evolve as the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout continue.
Hand said once a higher-education institution goes online, it’s instantly up against every other online learning company or institution. As people retool for new and different jobs that may emerge after the pandemic, he said, the market is likely to change considerably. That shift to market responsiveness can be difficult for a higher education institution, he said — but Rowan is used to it. “We’re looking to morph along with those changes,” he said.
What has been the key to Rowan’s success so far?
We were founded as a teaching school. Pedagogy and curriculum is important in everything we do. As we had to move students online this spring, we had our quality standards already in place.
You’ve said one of the drivers for Rowan to start online learning was to keep costs low for non-traditional students. How low are they?
They’re about $460 per credit hour. We took out the fees that on-campus students pay for things like the Student Union and facilities fees. (Online students are allowed to use the Student Union, but they’re not charged). It’s about two-thirds the cost of in-state, on-campus tuition by credit hour.
How many New Jersey vs. out-of-state students are there online?
On campus, about 96% of our students are from New Jersey. Online, it’s 80%. You see, you’re competing with everyone. You have to be really good.
Given the financial pressures on students, families and the university itself are likely to face next year, will the pricing change?
We have committed to keeping tuition the same. We’re looking to expand student aid, to make it available to online students. We are also in discussions with financial technology companies, to offer students a way to finance their education by agreeing to pay back the cost of tuition after they start working.
Rowan would essentially extend them credit while they’re taking classes, and get paid later?
At the South Jersey Technology Park, a garden plot is being grown with some of the tastiest (and hottest) varieties of peppers, from long hots and beaver dams to ghost peppers and the scorpion butch.
The plot is tended by students at nearby Rowan University, which helped develop the Tech Park, and by Ali Houshmand, president of Rowan. Houshmand has been growing peppers and making his own special recipe of hot sauce for years. After the sauce became popular among family and friends, Houshmand decided to create a bottled version to sell as a fundraising tool for student scholarships. Asked by the university’s marketers to describe how it tastes, Houshmand said, “It’s nasty hot.”
The entrepreneurial venture, Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce, makes three varieties: Ali’s Nasty, Nastylicious and Nastyvicious.
Houshmand collaborated with the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton to get the hot sauces to market. They’re sold through the university’s website, for $10 a jar, along with swag like t-shirts and pint glasses.
The company has earned over $130,000 in revenue that has been used for emergency scholarships for students at Rowan University who experience an unexpected financial crisis or need. With other donations, the scholarship fund has disbursed more than $3 million in assistance since its founding in 2016.
More than 65% of all Rowan undergraduates receive need-based financial aid.
“I grew up in a poor family with nine brothers and sisters. My mother and father couldn’t read,” said Houshmand in an interview, who immigrated to England from Iran just before he went to college at the University of Essex. “I’ve been through a tough time.”
Houshmand said he is committed to giving students from working class families a first-rate education at Rowan. “Give me the kid from Camden with a single mother, the one whose roof leaks when it rains. The real honor and the real accomplishment is serving that kid,” he said.
The Technology Park is also home to a technology business incubator designed to support a broad range of startups, including those led by Rowan students. Most recently, two Rowan grads set up a company which designed a new kind of reusable flexible drinking straw. In the next few years, as the economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurship – both startups and an entrepreneurial mindset at institutions – will be crucial to recovery. Rowan has already frozen its tuition for next year and is seeking ways to reduce costs further for students. “We have to recognize that a lot of our families have gone through serious financial issues,” Houshmand said. “So how can I make this easier? Increase the need-based scholarships.”
In the past six months, the U.S. has lived through the convergence of three crises: the worst pandemic in 100 years, the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, and multiple incidents of police violence that triggered unrest in many cities as society attempted to reckon with longstanding racial disparities. These events have generated chaos and insecurity; and forced us to rethink how to live and work, how to educate ourselves and our children, and how to keep our families healthy and safe. However, while everyone feels unsettled, some communities face greater disruption than others. This imbalance aggravates existing disparities and challenges the ability of our entire country to rebound.
The most affected groups include native-born communities of color and immigrants and refugees. They are more vulnerable to COVID, generally have less access to medical care and fewer resources to pay for it. The economic hits hit them the hardest. Twenty percent work in industries most affected by the downturn, and many are not eligible for the emergency funds provided by the government. Those who do have jobs fill our “essential” workforce: e.g., home health aides, janitors, grocery store employees, and bus, metro and taxi drivers. If they don’t work, their families suffer, but we suffer too. They need a way back into the workforce, and a way up from their entry-level, subsistence jobs.
With the support of the World Education Services Mariam Assefa Fund, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation has been exploring how targeted training might help immigrants and refugees integrate into the economy and build career paths. Recognizing that this is a multi-faceted challenge requiring multi-faceted approaches, we recently convened two sessions with a brain trust of experts in not only workforce training and adult education, but immigration integration and finance as well. We included employers and employees from the private sector, the social sector, and government. During the first discussion, we aimed to understand what makes a workforce development program that is high in quality, reasonable to implement and likely to generate measurable impact – providing workers with skills needed by employers; and placing workers on the road toward higher quality, higher wage jobs. The participants’ diversity of experience generated a wide-ranging discussion and some best practices emerged:
Engage key parties in designing the program. These parties include: workers, employers, training organizations, immigrant-support groups and funders. Incorporating input from everyone affected by a program increases its likelihood of success. Employers certify that the skills being taught are those for which they have jobs to fill; and it is important to include information and buy-in from the employers’ various stakeholders (e.g., management, human resources, C-Suite). Workers ensure the program will meet their needs with appropriate contextualized English language learning and life demands like child care.
Invest in trusted intermediaries and foster ongoing connections among providers and immigrant groups to generate career pathways. Many of the training organizations noted that the insular nature of immigrant support groups limited their interactions, so spots in the programs remain empty. It makes sense to work with familiar intermediaries, such as community-based organizations, immigrants’ rights groups, and churches. Additionally, in the current climate, immigrants will be much more comfortable participating in something which has been “blessed” by a known party.
Bawi Za Muang fled Burma due to severe and increasingly threatening mistreatment by the military. After struggling to survive for many years without a home, Muang and his family arrived in Des Moines, Iowa in 2013, speaking no English. They persevered, taking English classes and driving lessons, and eventually, Muang found a job with Tyson’s Food. In several of its markets (including Des Moines), Tyson’s has solved the problem of an aging workforce by hiring from local refugee populations. Muang advanced at the company, earning higher wages and eventually buying a house. Along the way, he benefitted from Tyson’s partnership with EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center), a local refugee-led organization. EMBARC attunes Tyson’s to the real needs of its immigrant employees and provides services that help employees acclimate and thrive. In 2019, EMBARC’s Legal Navigator Program helped Muang and his wife obtain citizenship.
Incentivize programs that enable immigrants and refugees to access “good” jobs, as opposed to any job. Success in the current system tends to be defined by outputs (number of program graduates, number of placements in jobs) rather than outcomes (wage growth, jobs with benefits, etc.). In addition to providing more to the workers, the immigrants will have more money to spend in the local economy and will pay higher taxes, both of which return value to society. Some new initiatives are trying to focus on outcomes, but the system also needs incentives that enable workforce organizations to support the immigrants in their path toward better jobs (e.g., funds for ongoing assistance, access to networks, etc.).
Address digital literacy and digital access. Even before the pandemic heightened the need for facility with technology, digital skills were becoming important to almost all jobs (restaurant workers need to be able to enter orders electronically, much of healthcare uses technology, etc.). Immigrants are less likely to have access to the necessary technology or be able to afford broadband, limiting their ability to access training.
Maria Chavez has been studying English since 2018. She found it difficult to make progress because she didn’t have uninterrupted periods of time to go to class. When mobile-first learning company Cell-ED launched its Million Learner Challenge offering workers in low-quality jobs free access to its curriculum, she jumped at the chance. She listens to lessons over the phone, or receives them by text or message. ”It’s so practical because the class is always there.”
Emphasizeother transferable skills such as capacity with English, and customer relations, both central to many jobs, in addition to sector-specific training. Formalize certifications, badges or other means of validating skills learned to communicate progress to employers and the broader community.
Bring the training to the workplace, including providing employees with the tools they need to participate. This ensures that the training includes the most relevant skills, and acknowledges the challenges immigrants face in trying to build training into a day that may already include more than one job, as well as family care responsibilities.
Leonor, a janitor at Water Garden business park in Santa Monica, CA, recently completed the Infectious Disease Certification Program; a partnership among the nonprofit,Building Skills Partnership, her labor union,SEIU-USWW, and her employer,Allied Universal. She was grateful that her employer and instructors were committed to investing in her education at work. “It helps to have a supervisor who is very involved in the entire process,” she says. “One thing that stood out to me was that our supervisor was taking the class like everyone else, as if he was one of our peers.” After the training, Leonor was able to explain to a building tenant at Water Garden the changes that she and her coworkers are making to help mitigate community spread.
Createapprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs. Partner with employers, trade unions or other relevant entities to develop a clear pathway to more stable employment.
Forrest Sebba was born in the Philippines and had struggled to secure steady work in the U.S. As a transgender person, he was subject to discrimination and suffered from depression. Cooking gave him joy, as it brought back memories of his grandmother. The Los Angeles Hospitality Training Academy’s Registered Culinary Apprenticeship Program, provided in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor and the State of California, taught the skills he needed, allowed him to build confidence, and introduced him to potential employers. Before completing the apprenticeship, he secured a job as a union cook with the Loews Hollywood Hotel.
Buildwraparound supports acknowledging the multiple demands on an immigrant’s life. These may include stipends to cover childcare, loaned tablets to trainees that don’t have access to computers, transportation vouchers for in-person training, and more.
There is no single solution to the challenges faced by immigrant and refugee workers (and aspiring workers). Furthermore, because of their tight community bonds, there shouldn’t be a single solution: programs must be culturally sensitive and aligned with the needs of the local community. That said, the lessons highlighted here can be applied toward building effective programs that generate opportunity for immigrants and refugees and unleash a workforce that will contribute to our wellbeing. Our second meeting with the group drilled into financing considerations.
Betsy Zeidman is a Fellow in the Fair Finance team at the Beeck Center
Cristina Alaniz is a Student Analyst in the Fair Finance team with the Beeck Center.
As COVID-19 moves through the United States, our divisions are cast into stark relief. We are separated by politics, geography, race and class. Against this backdrop, higher-education institutions can be their communities’ strongest anchors, keeping people moored to a space – physical or virtual – in which they interact and find what they share, instead of what divides them.
Next week, we launch “Impact In Action: Profiles of Higher Education,” a series exploring how three innovative higher-education institutions, Rowan University, Stillman College and University of Virginia-Wise, help produce impact-centered economic development in low-income and overlooked communities. “Everything boils down to resources,” Ali Houshmand, the president of Rowan University, told us. “Our first instinct is survival. Once we survive, we want to do better. How do we turn an institution that was reactive into one that is moving forward?”
contain ideas and context for impact investors looking for trusted partners and high-leverage opportunities in the current fraught environment. They also offer higher education decision-makers insight into their peers’ actions to support low-income and overlooked communities while establishing new partnerships that help maintain institutions’ financial bottom lines. Collectively these post-pandemic stories underscore the three lessons featured in our Assets For Impact Insights Report.
“A ‘no’ for me does not burn a bridge. I look at it as just ‘not yet.’”
“A ‘no’ for me does not burn a bridge. I look at it as just ‘not yet,’” said Shannon Blevins, Associate Vice Chancellor, Economic Development & Engagement at UVA-Wise. “Even if someone is late to engage with you on a project, make room for them at the table.”
This project began before the pandemic and, obviously, ended in a different place because of it. We set out early in the year to look at the role of higher-education institutions working in an area that has been a media lightning rod: Opportunity Zone development. Tax breaks passed in 2016, under the Trump Administration, have been used by wealthy developers to create projects that likely could have been financed in the private markets.
Yet, a deeper narrative has evolved in Opportunity Zones – one that is missed in the politicized media. Some communities are turning the legislation to its overt purpose to propel development in low-income communities. In many cases, higher education institutions are at the center of those positive developments. We are, for instance, seeing OZ projects evolve slowly, with the help of higher education institutions, in Baltimore, Kannapolis, North Carolina and Merced, California, as well as the highlands of Appalachia, the West Side of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and in Glassboro, New Jersey. The latter three are covered in this series of profiles, produced as a collaboration between Lumina Foundation and the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, with research and writing by Times of Entrepreneurship.
The Beeck Center was a leader in establishing the Guiding Principles and Reporting Framework for Opportunity Zones. These guiding principles include: community engagement, equity, transparency, measurement, and outcomes. Successfully investing requires careful attention to existing community assets, needs and priorities. Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available for all. Times of Entrepreneurship explores the way deep innovation can propel communities and individuals. For all involved, a clear approach guided by a shared set of principles and implemented through a common and flexible framework is critical.
At the Beeck Center our goal is to capitalize on the investment and work to-date to catalyze non-traditional partnerships within our network of influential investors, community intermediaries, government officials and foundations to help scale efforts and develop guiding principles, tactics and resources to empower businesses and organizations to align their assets to respond to the immediate community needs as well as to ensure an equitable economic recovery and sustained community investment post COVID-19.
As the pandemic evolved, we felt responsible to look deeper into higher education institutions’ role as anchors in low-income communities. The pandemic and the economic recession are devastating the most vulnerable people. Institutions cannot afford to put their own futures at risk. The role they play in those selfsame communities is too important.
Thus, the focus of our profiles became how these three leading institutions innovate to find paths forward that benefit the low-income communities that rely on them. These profiles are not about trade-offs. They’re about long-term strategy even in the face of short-term pressure. The long-term strategies usually rely on partnerships that benefit low-income communities and strengthen the institutions. The institutions’ well-being is tied deeply, then, to the health of low-income communities that are part of its world.
As Cynthia Warrick, the president of Stillman College, told us: “it’s hard to turn your back on poor children.”
These institutions didn’t – and find themselves stronger because of those decisions.
For decades, foundations and donors have followed a similar approach to helping communities – evaluating, designing and funding what seem to be appropriate interventions – and achieving various levels of impact. While most would agree that the local communities themselves have critical insights on needs and challenges, as well as the expertise to build solutions, funders more often than not design solutions for communities rather than with communities. Globally, however, there are a variety of funding models that recognize the expertise of individuals and communities to design or choose the solutions they need, and empower them to do so. There are also a number of grassroots efforts in the U.S., with an increasing interest to do more. Beyond philanthropy, we see other models emerging that prioritize community, such as participatory budgeting, community designed development, and crowdfunding.
After many years of utilizing similar funding models, perhaps it’s time to try a new approach – one that invites the community to design, inform and select solutions, and provides opportunities for local investment and community wealth building. Beeck Center Executive Director Sonal Shah recently welcomed two pioneering leaders from organizations championing this new approach to our second Ideas that Transform conversation. Emphasizing the need for both community participation and community-led decision making, Dana Bezerra, President of the Heron Foundation and Lucas Turner-Owens, former fund manager of the Boston Ujima Project, challenged funders and investors to rethink and redesign their traditional approaches to investing in communities.
Nothing About Us Without Us
The idea for the Boston Ujima Project emerged from conversations among local activists, advocacy groups, impact investors, business owners and entrepreneurs, which highlighted the need for a catalytic vehicle to address the disconnect between impact and philanthropic investors, and local, grassroots community efforts. To ensure inclusive input, they hosted multiple community feedback events that provided free food, childcare, translation services and fun activities as a way to engage the community members and make it easier for them to participate. They used an asset-based lens to evaluate potential investments, and leveraged the social capital of the founders to bring in grassroots, community voices to give them guidance. As Turner-Owens emphasized, ultimately this work “has to start from a place of (asking) what is here, what needs capital, what is already loved – not the idea that you should add something new – but what might need a facelift? Once you have sized the pipeline, you can determine what kind of capital you need.”
From those early community meetings, and after a few years of planning and piloting, the Ujima Project creatively designed what is often referenced as the first democratically managed fund in the country. The local community drives four critical aspects of the fund:
Identify the investment opportunities (and community needs).
Define and prioritize the desired social and economic impacts.
Help conduct the community due diligence.
Vote on what businesses should be funded.
Perhaps most importantly, the Ujima fund is structured to incentivize community investment and wealth building by utilizing a ‘capital stacked equity’ model (designed by Ujima Fund visionary Aaron Tanaka) which prioritizes smaller dollar investors through higher rates of return and shorter terms. This is what shifting power looks like.
Walking the Talk: From Net Extractor to Net Contributor
The Heron Foundation has been a leader in pushing forward new boundaries in philanthropy by constantly embracing experimentation and risk taking. As Bezerra describes, it’s been an evolution to move from its first 20 years of more “traditional” approaches where they decided on appropriate interventions (which worked well), to its pioneering leadership in moving 100% of its assets towards mission. Along the way, they learned that investing 100% towards impact didn’t necessarily mean 100% towards mission. As they moved forward to reconnect with their mission to help communities help themselves, and speak more deeply to the communities they served, Heron had a “reckoning” moment: instead of extracting community knowledge to inform their strategies to deploy funds, why not simply hand over the money (and the power) and assist the communities in deploying the funds?
That is now the new path for Heron, and they are “all in”. This is not a program strategy – this is their wholesale strategy. But change is challenging, and Bezerra was candid in describing how these shifts have brought “two kinds of hard” to light. The first is uncovering community needs when there are power dynamics with funders and communities. Heron is spending time learning how to uncover community agency and culture and determine how best to work within it. The second is that Heron was not structured or staffed to do this work, so they are doing significant organizational development to figure this out. Their strategy shift brings a variety of changes, some driven by staff opting out of its new direction and some driven by organizational needs. As Bezerra admits, these changes are hard and painful, but necessary work to change the paradigm.
In addition to rethinking its philanthropic funding strategy. Bezerra argues that foundations need to look inwards at all of their practices – from procurement to technical assistance to advocacy to investment. Moreover, foundations should leverage their roles as both philanthropists AND investors to get the wheels of capital moving. Our current economy is broken, but our next economy has not yet materialized, so funders need to get more comfortable (and honest) in leaning in to tinker at the edges to improve things today.
Moving Forward: Calls to Action
While Bezerra and Turner-Owens noted that the work of these models is just beginning, Shah observed that in some ways these models are not new at all, but rather represent ideas whose time has come. Here are some takeaways from the conversation:
Build Trust: Funders must build relationships with their target community. Turner-Owens recommended connecting with trusted entities and networks in the communities, as well as starting with an asset lens and utilizing an expansive “we” in engaging the community.
Deploy Your Capital: Bezerra noted that foundations can do more and that they are tax-advantaged for a reason. Foundations are financial institutions that need to look beyond just their programs to opportunities across their enterprises (as philanthropists, buyers and investors) to do more.
Get in the Arena: While this work is hard, today’s challenges are too great to sit on the sidelines with the critics in the ‘cheap seats’. Stumble forward, knowing you’ll make mistakes, and be transparent. As Bezerra says, “nobody cares about your perfect story.”
Scale Down: Shah challenged everyone to rethink the focus and pressures on scaling up and instead consider how we might scale down towards what the community needs and starting where they are.
Watch the entire conversation on Shifting Power from Investors to Communities
We hope this is just the beginning of important conversations on shifting more power and capital from investors to communities. You can see the full conversation above and share your ideas or questions using the #BeeckIdeas on Twitter. Please join us September 29 for our next Ideas That Transform conversion exploring What if Colleges Designed Impact-oriented “Bridge Years”? And be sure to check #BeeckIdeas on Twitter every Tuesday at noon where we’ll share a thought prompt to foster further conversation.
Andrea McGrath leads the Fair Finance portfolio at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation
Saumya Shruti is a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s College of Liberal Arts
Shaily Acharya is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service
Small businesses are critical to the U.S. economy: Pre-COVID, they represented 99% of all U.S. firms, generated over 40% of our economic output, and accounted for some of the highest rates of job creation. However, small businesses are facing two critical challenges: recovering from our current, global pandemic, and tackling the longstanding barriers of access to capital related to systemic discrimination that works against entrepreneurs and businesses from historically overlooked and undeserved communities.
Arguing that “now is the time to re-imagine how we invest into small businesses” and drawing from their previous work together catalyzing investments for underserved communities outside of the U.S., Agnes Dasewicz and Dale Mathias launched a call for creating a new government-funded institution (a U.S. Development Corporation) that would focus on strengthening local economies and small businesses critical to our recovery.
The Beeck Center kicked-off our new Ideas that Transform series by hosting Agnes and Dale to explore this idea further along with Melissa Bradley, an expert in small and medium business growth, particularly for ‘new majority’ entrepreneurs.
How Would the U.S. Development Corporation Work?
Tackling the challenges of the current disparate ecosystem, a U.S. Development Corporation (USDC) would drive more private capital to the small businesses and communities here at home that need it the most, focusing on three critical pipelines:
Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs): The CDFI network plays a critical role directing capital to local communities; they need funds to strengthen their systems and operations, and create additional capacity for lending and investments.
Local investment funds (like Bradley’s 1863 Fund): these funds support businesses and entrepreneurs but are often only known in smaller, local circles; the USDC would look to scale these practices to better provide capital to the domestic entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Financial technology (FinTech) firms: known for delivering capital more quickly and using data and AI tools to improve credit risk assessments, the USDC would explore ways to partner with these types of companies to scale up rapid and equitable access to capital while enforcing the necessary guardrails to ensure that the financing is offered on an equitable basis to all communities.
As Dale noted, the current ecosystem of U.S. government programs supporting small businesses is highly fragmented and uncoordinated, like “having a lot of ornaments, but no Christmas tree.” The USDC would connect larger investors to CDFIs, local funds, small businesses, and entrepreneurs, playing a unique role in driving more investment capital to and through trusted intermediaries, creating a more supportive small business ecosystem.
Tackling Systemic Barriers
The recent, high profile financial commitments to support entrepreneurs and small businesses led by Black and Brown leaders, such as Netflix’s recent $100 million pledge to Black-owned banks, are encouraging, but as Melissa Bradley noted, “you cannot erase 401 years of systemic barriers with the writing of a single check.” To truly remove these barriers, there must be a commitment to difficult conversations between all types of actors in the financial field.
Even with these barriers, new majority entrepreneurs have been the most dynamic and efficient job creators in the U.S. Minority entrepreneurs created 4.7 million jobs in the last decade. Almost 2,000 women-owned businesses were launched every day in 2018 and women of color founded 64% of all new businesses. In light of the loss of jobs and economic growth caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the recovery of these businesses is critical to the revival of our economy.
The USDC can play an important role as an investor, catalyst and connector directly supporting, and providing incentives for private investors to support “new majority” businesses and those who invest in them. With a priority focus on developing and supporting ecosystems that focus on underserved entrepreneurs, USDC can drive towards systemic change in racial and gender equity in the financial space. A USDC acknowledges that local communities do have the knowledge and ability to create their own solutions that take into account their unique contexts and economic activity. Thus the USDC will work within local contexts and networks rather than advocating one-size-fits-all solutions, which has been a philosophical barrier in the past.
A Call to Action
As the ideas for a USDC continue to develop, our panelists expressed their commitment to “continue the drumbeat” on the importance of small businesses to our communities and our country, and encouraged each of us to get involved in a number of ways:
Contact your congressional representative and senator to emphasize the importance of investing in small businesses, especially those led by women and people of color, and communicate the urgent need for systemic solutions for small business support – and not just relief packages – to help revive our economy.
Reach out toAgnes to share any people or organizations interested in or doing similar work on small businesses with whom they might collaborate; Agnes and Dale are both committed to expanding their outreach and pushing this idea forward.
Collect + share data on businesses led by women and people of color, and the value of their businesses to the U.S. economy (Melissa Bradley is committed to doing this work). Data needs to drive decisions and the research on these businesses is scarce yet necessary.
Change the narrative about the potential of businesses led by women and people of color. These firms are creating millions of jobs and are critical to the health of our country and rebuilding our economy. Publishing and speaking about the importance of these entrepreneurs is key to changing the narrative (and continue to support your local businesses as consumers and investors).
This is just the beginning of the conversation and there are many more great ideas out there. Join us August 18 at noon ET, for our next Ideas That Transform event where we’ll discuss Shifting Power From Investors To Communities. And be sure to check #BeeckIdeas on Twitter every Tuesday at noon where we’ll share a thought prompt to foster conversation.
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“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” – Amy Cooper
“I’m a tenant of the building; are you?” – Tom Austin
Amid the unrest, anger and outrage at the sheer injustice of systemic racism, Amy Cooper and Tom Austin are just two examples of white people using their privilege in an attempt to control Black people who dared to exert personal agency in shared spaces. After being called out publicly, Cooper lost her job, and Austin lost his office lease. Why point out these incidents instead of the thousands of other examples? Because while both apologized and stated “I’m not a racist,” they had tremendous influence in their leadership positions in finance. There are real questions as to how these implicit biases influenced hiring, advancement, and access to capital. Their actions in these moments provide a spotlight on the points of view informing their decision making within the institutional context.
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity defines implicit bias as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.” While both Cooper and Austin were both clearly conscious of their intentions, what were the underlying biases that drove their decisions, both large and small?
In an industry overwhelmingly driven by personal networks and relationships, opaque decision-making processes, and dominated by pedigree, the personal quickly becomes (and remains) structural as a reinforcing system in which decision makers give preference to peers and managers who look like them. This then conflates and reinforces the assumption that white managers are associated with low risk and strong performance.
Among 14 consulting firms representing $1.4 trillion in assets under management, Black and Latino representation was remarkably low across participating firms at 5.7 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
Lack of representation is far from the only problem in the industry. Research shows that a homogenous workforce leads to additional issues such as:
Bias informs decision making which becomes policy and practice which results in outcomes that reinforce and perpetuate bias. All of it benefits and advantages those who are white at the expense of opportunity, access, and economic growth for Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. This is how institutional racism works. Ironically, decision makers many times think they have to choose between performance or diversity. In fact they might actually be undermining their fiduciary responsibility as highlighted in the Illumen Capital study which concluded that “…racial bias could potentially result not only in the unfair treatment of fund managers of color and their grantees, but also in leaving significant financial opportunities on the table, thus hurting the entire financial ecosystem.”
So now what?
As Ibram X. Kendi has shared in his groundbreaking book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, claiming that you’re not racist is not enough. We must move in a way that is anti-racist and operate with intention to dismantle the barriers and structures holding the system in place. Here are a few more actions asset owners can take:
Be uncomfortable. Anti-Black bias is a central feature of systemic racism, so take a minute to actually understand your bias by taking the implicit bias test. This is not a point of judgement. It is a point of awareness. If you value diversity yet every decision results in a predictable outcome of non-diverse firms collecting fees to build wealth, then we should be questioning the validity of these choices. This includes what questions are being asked? Who is invited? How are the questions being asked? What are you weighting in the answers?
Address institutional accountability through a race-informed investment policy statement. Your policy is a statement of purpose that will orient you towards equity. Then hold yourself and your decision making body accountable by using metrics and adding quarterly or annual reporting requirements to the Investment Committee/Board/staff regarding diversity. This might include the demographic composition and ownership of all firms, the number of firms with majority BIPOC ownership, how many meetings you are taking with diverse firms, and how much funding is allocated across your portfolio.
Know who you’re doing business with. Include diversity performance and metrics in your consultants’ scope of work and require regular reporting on your decision maker’s progress towards meeting these goals. Require your consultant to provide information regarding internal diversity and inclusion policies and practices as well as asset manager selection.
Change the environment, including where and how you spend your time. Attend, sponsor, and speak at diverse manager events, and invite those managers to speak at industry events in your sector.
Erika Seth Davies is a Beeck Center Fellow and Founder of the Racial Equity Asset Lab. She has extensive background in racial equity advocacy and launched the first field-wide philanthropic initiative designed to incorporate a racial equity lens in foundation endowment practice. She authored white papers promoting policies and practice in support of this approach, including Foundation Investment Management Practices: Thoughts on Alpha and Access for the Field andDiverse Managers: Philanthropy’s Next Hurdle.
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Khudaier arrived in Austin, Texas as a refugee from Iraq five years ago, with only a high school diploma in hand, leaving a wife and two daughters behind. He found work as a security guard, and drove for Uber, earning $800 a week getting people to and from the airport. When the pandemic shut down flights, and offices closed, like millions of others, he found himself out of work. Like many refugees and immigrants, English is still a challenge, and he made mistakes filing for unemployment, which kept him from having any income until the end of May. He would love to find other work, but building the skills for a different job takes time and money.
Like Khudaier, over 40 million Americans have applied for unemployment since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and the virus has hit marginalized communities well beyond their share of the population. We know African-American, Latino and Asian-American communities fall ill, and die, at significantly higher rates than white Americans; and can reasonably extrapolate to assume the death rate is high in immigrant and refugee communities as well.
Unfortunately, these communities’ impact on the country is often underrepresented. Just look at how critical they are in getting food on our table:
And that’s not the only industry. While the foreign-born comprise 17% of working civilians they represent a significant component of frontline jobs: 38% of home health aides, 25% of nursing assistants, 41% of janitors, 18% of essential retail (groceries, pharmacies and gas stations), and 34% of bus, metro and taxi drivers. This puts all these systems in precarious positions as these workers rarely have sick leave, have less access to health care, and many live and work in places with little opportunity for social distancing.
Getting our economy moving requires confident consumers willing to spend and healthy workers willing to work. This includes immigrants who are projected to represent 83% of workforce growth between now and 2050. We need these immigrants, but there are challenges to reengaging them in the workforce. Many of these predate the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S. and are similar to those plaguing native-born people of color. They arise from structural aspects of our economy, such as their over-representation in lower-paying industries. Others include language and cultural barriers. When immigrants do seek to advance, they confront obstacles to obtaining necessary training: lack of funds to cover the cost of training, lack of time off from their jobs, unreliable transportation and sporadic, often costly, childcare. Few are lucky enough to access training through their employer or union if they are part of one.
With the pandemic triggering more remote work and online learning, the barriers grow more prohibitive. Lower-income immigrants are less digitally literate than their higher-skilled counterparts, often lack access to computers and broadband connections. These factors complicate training and make integration into an increasingly digital economy challenging, perpetuating the inequity.
The country needs these immigrants to have a pathway back to work. With the support of the World Education Services Mariam Assefa Fund, we are exploring ways in which the tools of finance might facilitate such training at a greater scale. We’ve built a network of diverse experts in immigration, workforce development and finance. With COVID-19 now a part of all our lives, we are focusing on two areas necessary to enable a safe return to work by immigrants and refugees: workforce training and workplace safety.
Thinking creatively about how to pay for these efforts is even more important now. Government funds (federal, state and local) will be reduced – due to increasing costs of caring for the sick and decreasing tax revenues from the economic slowdown. Blending diverse sources of capital will be important.
While early in our exploration, we have identified some promising models:
Income-share agreements (ISAs) provide college students tuition in exchange for a share of their future earnings. The San Diego Workforce Partnership, a funder of job training programs, is piloting a new ISA to fund workforce training. They seek a stable, equitable model aligning the interests of workers, trainers, employers and investors.
Labor-management partnerships support sustainable workplaces that aim to meet the needs of all stakeholders. California-based Building Skills Partnerships connects largely immigrant janitorial workers, their union, and their employers to provide language and vocational skills. Their pioneering Green Janitor Education program set a standard for providing a growth path for this community. With the onslaught of COVID-19 and its impact on janitors, BSP is building an infectious disease training program that, if successful, can be leveraged to other sectors.
Pay for Success (PFS) programs base payments to training providers on the successful job placement of trainees. Successful efforts link clearly identified target outcomes, proven providers, data collection, cross-sectoral partnerships and catalytic capital. The first workforce training PFS, the Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement, has had early success with entry-level workers and pivoted to a virtual model with minimal loss of participants.
Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) know their markets as well as any source of capital because they remain so close to their communities. In recent years, they have moved beyond their traditional support of housing and small business to invest in workforce development. Those who received funds from the recent Paycheck Protection Program deployed those funds at a much faster rate than the larger banks.
We know the factors critical to a successful workforce training program: employer engagement to focus on most usable skills; jobs available upon completion; contextualized English language learning, and supportive wraparound services. Linking financing to programs that include such elements will help scale them and bring more immigrants and refugees into the workforce, helping all of us move through the COVID-19 crisis, even as we continue to manage it.
Betsy Zeidman is a Beeck Center Fellow where she explores ways to drive social impact at scale using lessons from behavioral economics, investments in emerging domestic markets and corporate responsibility initiatives.Follow her @BZeidman
Historic discriminatory policies and practices intentionally designed to eliminate access to economic opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) have ensured that everyone doesn’t enter a level playing field when it comes to the world of finance. Less than 1.5% of the $70 trillion handled by the asset management industry each year is overseen by BIPOC and women managers. That’s a problem.
Although it has long been touted as a system built on meritocracy and market-driven performance, access to capital markets, like all other facets of American society, is influenced by the same policies, practices and cultural representations that accumulate advantage and disadvantage along the lines of race. We haven’t “found ourselves” in this predicament. The disparities in access and opportunity are the result of intentional decision making. Dismantling the barriers that have resulted requires equal intention and naming the difficult truth of institutional and structural racism in the room. In this unprecedented moment of crisis, we have the opportunity to learn important lessons and move differently to advance a system that generates shared prosperity.
The time has come to reframe and redefine risk to challenge commonly held beliefs. We are witnessing what happens when we view risk through a binary of winning and losing, protecting and mitigating loss, but we are not weighing the risk of inaction. When we allow the status quo to remain, when we don’t change what is clearly not working, our economy and social fabric face an even greater risk of failure.
Over the coming weeks, the Equitable Access to Capital Markets project will explore the intersections and implications of placing the invisible influence of institutional racism on display through an analysis of common policies and practices, governance structures, and the role of implicit bias in generating current outcomes.
We’ll share insights and more importantly, offer solutions for owners of asset capital to transform their processes and approaches to engage overlooked and expand access to opportunity. Ideas like understanding and mitigating implicit bias in your process, why “color blind” policies and practices result in racialized outcomes and how to be more intentional, why equitable access requires a systems approach, and what are frameworks for race lens investing to shift capital. But this won’t work unless an open dialogue exists about this issue, so in July, we are partnering with Common Future for a series of conversations with people working to deliver systemic change. The longest journey begins with a single step, and we look forward to you joining us on this one.
Register now for the Hiding In Plain Sight webinar, Thursday, July 9, 3pm ET
Erika Seth Davies is a Beeck Center Fellow and Founder of the Racial Equity Asset Lab. She has extensive background in racial equity advocacy and launched the first field-wide philanthropic initiative designed to incorporate a racial equity lens in foundation endowment practice. She authored white papers promoting policies and practice in support of this approach, including Foundation Investment Management Practices: Thoughts on Alpha and Access for the Field and Diverse Managers: Philanthropy’s Next Hurdle.
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Sign up for our newsletter and get regular updates on what’s happening at the Center, news about our portfolio interests, social impact job opportunities and more!
This is part of our ‘Impact in Action’ series, co-produced with the Centre for Public Impact, highlighting innovative models and lessons for driving positive community impact through investment and development projects across America. Read the other stories from Baltimore, MD and Kannapolis, NC.
A central valley city on the rise
Merced, California is a city of many slogans. Known as the Gateway to Yosemite, Merced’s 83,000 residents are nestled just 80 miles west of the Yosemite park entrance and a two-hour drive southeast of San Francisco. Though it is located on the outskirts of these attractions, Merced is sometimes forgotten – a sentiment poignantly captured on the Chamber of Commerce website which reads, Merced. Who Knew? But, in recent years, Mayor Mike Murphy has introduced a new slogan for his city, one that reminds of past economic struggles and paints a vision for a prosperous future: Merced: A City on the Rise.
Although Merced has seen steady economic growth in the decade following the 2008 Recession, a closer look reveals a truth shared by communities in the state and across the country: not all have not benefited equally from the last decade of economic growth. This truth stands to worsen as the impacts of COVID-19 damage local economies and exacerbate pre-existing geographic and racial inequalities.
Merced’s renaissance – one forged through key private and public investments – reveals important lessons that could help communities chart a course towards renewal.
Guiding Principles for Impact in Low-Income Communities
Alongside its partners, the Beeck Center created the Opportunity Zone Reporting Impact Framework, a voluntary guideline designed to define best practices for investors and fund managers looking to invest in low-income communities through incentives such as Opportunity Zones (OZ). In the sections that follow, we explore the redevelopment projects in Merced, extracting the lessons to help communities and investors bring the five guiding principles of effective and equitable investments to life:
A city grows quieter
Merced’s story between the 1940s and 1990s is one of a hard-working community with a bustling Main Street. As with many counties in California’s central valley, Merced’s regional economy was, and is, powered by agriculture. Merced county is the fifth top producer in the state, growing 90% of California’s sweet potatoes and generating $500 million annually in almond sales alone. For fifty years, the city of Merced also revolved around a large Air Force base and its proximity to Yosemite. These assets funneled consumers downtown, where military families and park visitors were frequent diners and shoppers along Merced’s Main Street. Celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, and President John F. Kennedy would pass through town, often checking-in at the downtown Hotel Tioga. Just down the road, the 1920s art deco Manzier theater housed decades of live stage shows and indie film screenings. According to Merced’s Chamber of Commerce President Sara Cribari Hill, “30 years ago, downtown was the place to be.”
But Merced soon saw economic changes. In 1995, Castle Air Force base shut its doors, damaging local retail and real estate markets. A decade later, in the midst of the Great Recession, Merced saw one of the nation’s worst declines in housing prices. In the surrounding county, increasing globalization made the agriculture-powered economy particularly susceptible to economic downturns and trade wars.
Today, in downtown Merced, Main Street is much quieter than it once was. The Tioga – now an apartment building – as well as the Manzier theater have struggled with ownership turnover. As one resident described it, downtown became a “place in waiting.” In 2017, seven census tracts – mostly clustered in downtown Merced – were marked as Opportunity Zones. A further look into these zones reveals economic troubles.
Along certain indicators of economic health, downtown Merced has lagged California and the U.S. averages
Downtown Merced Opportunity Zone
Growth of per Capita Income
(% change in 5 years)
Net New Businesses Growth
Labor Market Engagement
Composite metric that measures employment, labor force participation, and % with bachelor degree
Minority / Women-owned Business
As a percentage of all businesses
*A commitment to measurement is one the five guiding principles of equitable and effective investments. Through tools such as Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Inclusive Growth Score, you can track the degree to which the environment, economy and community in a given census tract benefit from equitable growth.
Source: Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Inclusive Growth Score
But, if you look even closer, it’s clear that Merced has signs of promise.
An Integrated Model for Economic Revitalization
The old way of thinking
Community development projects often fail unless they are connected to the community’s economic priorities and a regional growth strategy. For example, when a 10,000 person capacity convention center opened in downtown Niagara Falls in the 1970s, the surrounding downtown infrastructure was ill-equipped to provide visitors with a cohesive one-stop-shop for dining, lodging, and entertainment. In 2002, the city replaced the convention center with a casino, and while it brought many dining and entertainment options, it remained disconnected to the community around it.
Niagara Falls has since taken steps to create a more economically integrated community, but the lesson from the area’s stagnant growth remains true: when investment strategies in under-developed communities focus on revitalizing single buildings and businesses, rather than strengthening blocks or ecosystems of activity, they often fail to unlock a community’s economic potential.
A multi-stage strategy takes shape in Merced
For years, Merced seemed destined for a similar fate. But recently, the community has begun to bounce back. In 2005, Merced became home to the latest University of California campus: UC Merced, which rests a few miles outside downtown. In the subsequent years, UC Merced has become the fastest growing public research university in the nation. “People saw Merced was growing but not fast enough to keep pace,” shares Ed Klotzbier, the Vice Chancellor UC Merced, “So we did something unprecedented.” Through an innovative public-private financing model, the university launched a $1.3 billion redevelopment effort to double UC Merced’s campus by 2020.
Though the main campus sits outside of downtown, the expansion stands to have a significant impact across the community. “We didn’t want to just be five miles outside of city proper,” Ed shares, “We also wanted to be right downtown. We wanted to let the community know that we’re here and that we’ll help create a place where our best and brightest will want to live.” Recognizing the importance of its downtown presence, the university built a three-story Downtown Center right across from City Hall.
As Mayor Mike Murphy learned, an integrated approach to revitalization requires more than a single institution. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of state investment in the form of UC Merced, and now we have a great deal of private sector investment,” says Mayor Murphy. “An important part of success is to have both public and private sector investment partners.” In 2018, construction began on a privately-funded $65 million multi-year renovation of three historic downtown landmarks: the Tioga Apartments, the Manzier Theater, and El Capitan Hotel, all of which rest within two blocks of one another.
Together, the university, the city, and private developers are creating a cohesive corridor of revitalization, reflecting elements of what community development experts call the street corner thesis. The thesis “focuses on creating a dense ecosystem of businesses, properties, and residences — mixed-income, mixed-purpose and mixed-use — at vital intersections or along historic business corridors of a community.” This multi-pronged approach reinforces the economic, social, and cultural importance of central community corridors. “Downtown is the heartbeat of our city,” reflects Mayor Murphy. “It’s everyone’s downtown. It’s where we gather as a community. It gives us a sense of place that reflects our goals, aspiration and values.”
Though construction on these development projects is not yet complete, downtown is already beginning to show signs of renewal.
The impacts of Merced’s economic renewal have begun to show positive signs in downtown Merced
Downtown Merced Opportunity Zone
Growth in Average Spending per Capita
Change in business types as percentage of total possible business types
Overall Spend Growth
Growth of spending overall
*A commitment to measuring and reporting outcomes is one the five guiding principles of equitable and effective investments.
Source: Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Inclusive Growth Score
Lessons Learned & Recommendations
The journey towards a rejuvenated Merced is far from over, but the process to-date – along with six months of research into strategies for driving positive impact through private investment – yielded some valuable lessons for unlocking inclusive growth and economic recovery.
Opportunity to Impact: An Investment Assessment*
The Centre for Public Impact – alongside its advisors at Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation – set out to better understand the process of generating positive community impact through private investment and development. The resulting tool, Opportunity to Impact, is a simple, yet rigorous guide for evaluating an investment project’s potential for positive impact. Some of the findings from this research is embedded in the section below.
Set impact objectives early
As redevelopment plans began coming to life in Merced, there was skepticism among some long-time residents. Indeed, in economically distressed communities across the nation, this trend holds. To convert skepticism into buy-in, open communication is required among public officials, developers, and investors alike.
A transparent process begins with setting clear objectives – early in the development process – for how the investment will translate into positive community impact. Investors, public officials, and residents should identify the specific impact results the investment aims to achieve – whether that includes bringing high-quality jobs, creating accessible housing options, supporting transportation connectivity, or improving lives in other lasting ways. These objectives should be set early in the process, align with a community’s economic development priorities, and address an area of clear community need. Creating a document to demonstrate a community’s economic development priorities – such as an Opportunity Zone prospectus – can be a valuable tool – for residents to showcase their needs and for investors to understand how projects fit into a broader strategy.
Refine the approach and gather feedback often
In order to achieve these impact objectives, it is critical to get feedback early on and throughout a project. A report from the Urban Land Institute featuring strategies for creating healthy urban corridors recommends establishing formal channels for communication and feedback with the community. It suggests surveying local businesses and residents to understand their needs and establishing teams to guide the redevelopment process in a particular corridor of the city. A redevelopment steering committee, for example, can play an important role in bringing voices to the table and guiding the vision for how business owners and community groups will each contribute to a vibrant neighborhood. In Merced, creating this forum would help the university community and residents weigh-in on how assets like the Manzier theater might serve their needs. In other places, a community benefits agreement has proven to be a useful mechanism of accountability between residents and developers.
Tell the story
Ultimately, unlocking a community’s economic potential revolves around communication. “Storytelling is hugely important,” reflects Merced’s Chamber of Commerce President Sara Cribari Hill. In order to convince others that Merced is indeed a city on the rise, “it’s critical to find new and interesting ways to tell our story – whether that’s through social media or through personal connections,” Sara reflects. This requires all actors to have a visible presence in the community, gaining feedback on how the downtown properties are addressing areas of community need at regular intervals in the development process.
Making a City Rise Together
The story of revitalization is never simple and never short. A deliberate effort between public officials, the state, developers, and residents must be marked by shared goals, open communication, and constant refinement. “It’s important to never lose sight of shared goals.” Mayor Murphy notes, “With that as the starting point, we can focus on how we achieve that.” Merced, as with many communities navigating the economic fall-out of a global pandemic, must continue writing its own story of renewal. But, with its commitment to collaboration, the city has the right pieces in place to once again make Merced “the place to be.”
Jen Collins is a Fellow-in-Residence for the Beeck Center. Follow her on Twitter @JenCollins24
Ryan Goss is a Senior Associate at the Centre for Public Impact, where his work focuses on helping governments and their partners improve people’s economic mobility and flourish over time. Follow him on Twitter @R_Goss1
This is part of our ‘Impact in Action’ series, co-produced with the Centre for Public Impact, highlighting innovative models and lessons for driving positive community impact through investment and development projects across America. Read the other stories from Kannapolis, NC and Merced, CA.
Below the surface of disrepair, a vision of hope
For the last two years, it would be easy to drive by the Northwood Plaza Shopping Center without noticing it. If you caught a glimpse as you passed through Northeast Baltimore, you might notice a pair of broken pay phones, one listing 45° to its side. You might notice the row of boarded-up storefronts.
You might not realize that the once segregated shopping center was the site of historic Civil Rights activism. You might not realize that a renowned academic institution is producing the next generation of leaders next door. You might not realize that there’s been a decades-long struggle to create a new vision for the complex, and that this vision is about to become reality.
Below the surface, the story of Northwood Plaza reveals important lessons about the long and often difficult process of community revitalization. As neighborhoods across the nation look to rebuild following the economic and social devastation of COVID-19, reflecting on these lessons is as important as ever.
Guiding Principles for Equitable Investments
Alongside its partners, the Beeck Center created the Opportunity Zone Impact Reporting Framework, a voluntary guideline designed to define best practices for investors and fund managers looking to invest in low-income communities through incentives such as Opportunity Zones (OZ). In the sections that follow, we explore the projects in Baltimore, extracting the lessons to help communities and investors bring the five guiding principles of effective and equitable investments to life:
To prioritize equity, it is critical to understand a community’s history
The shopping center’s deserted storefronts reveal the truth that prosperity has not been evenly spread across the city of Baltimore. Only four of Baltimore’s 200 census tracts have per-capita incomes greater than $100,000, and in these tracts, only 5% of residents are black. Yet, in Baltimore City overall, 62% of residents are black.
This disparity is rooted in a long history of systemic racism in Baltimore and across the nation. When Northwood resident Paula Purviance first attended Morgan State College in 1968, the communities in Northeast Baltimore were still in the throes of a turbulent racial integration process. “To walk along one of the main roads to campus, many students felt uncomfortable and minimized,” Ms. Purviance remembers. “As a result, students would walk to the campus by way of the rear alley of Cold Spring Lane.”
Throughout the middle of the 20th century in Northwood, as in many neighborhoods across Baltimore, white property owners used racial covenants to prevent property from being sold to or occupied by black and Jewish residents. Though the Supreme Court struck down these covenants in 1948, the language still remains in many official property records.
As the Civil Rights movement spread across the nation, Northwood Plaza Shopping Center became a hub of activism. In 1955, an interracial group of students from next door Morgan State College – what eventually became Maryland’s largest Historically Black University – were denied entry to segregated Northwood Theater. In 1963, the theater again became the site of anti-segregation protests, where hundreds of students were arrested and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.
These remaining markings of institutional racism reveal the barriers that have long prevented people of color from having a voice in, owning, or making decisions about their community in Northeast Baltimore. This reality often gives rise to skepticism in residents when investors try to upgrade community assets. “Oftentimes, there’s a natural skepticism and distrust within communities of outside or institutional investors who, either intentionally or unintentionally, disregard the best interests of the community and do more damage than good to existing residents and businesses,” notes Ben Seigel, Baltimore’s Opportunity Zone Coordinator. But with collaboration, cooperation, and accountability, Ben believes that there can be common ground.
Mistrust turns into a unified vision
While the Northwood Plaza Shopping Center eventually became integrated and overseen by new owners in the 1970s, the neighborhood still struggled with violence. In 2008, former Baltimore City Councilman Ken Harris was shot and killed outside a nightclub in the complex. In the decade following, the death of Councilman Harris lingered over the property and by 2017, Northwood Plaza had fallen into disrepair.
Before the businesses officially closed, a struggle to reimagine the shopping center was decades in the making. “There was massive mistrust of all the different stakeholders when we first started this project,” remembers Mark Renbaum of MLR Partners, the initial developer involved in re-developing the complex. “When I first got involved in the project, I thought it was going to be easy – and that everyone would embrace change necessary to redevelop Northwood into a first-class destination. But what we learned is that there are a lot of stakeholders with a lot of different visions for what they thought it could be. And all of those voices needed to be heard first before anything could get done.”
By all accounts, the over 20-years of negotiations among community leaders, Morgan State leaders, public officials, and the owners was exhausting and contentious. And yet, with patience and compromise, political interventions and financial subsidies, Northwood Plaza will soon become Northwood Commons: a new $58 million shopping center with retail and restaurant space, as well as office space for Morgan State University. At the November 2018 groundbreaking ceremony, Morgan State President Dr. David Wilson remembered the students once arrested on those grounds. “They could see this location from across the street, but they could not experience it.” 60 years later, Northwood Commons intends to become a safe and vibrant place for students and residents alike.
Theory of Change: Creating Dynamic, Livable Communities
The story of Northwood Plaza reveals the often overlooked importance of dynamic, mixed-use spaces in underserved communities. In the last half century, many community developers have focused poverty-alleviation efforts on the development of low-income rental housing. While affordable housing remains critical for millions of Americans, this approach has done little more than concentrate low-income families into smaller geographic areas farther from opportunity. The resulting concentration undermines access to good jobs, healthy food, and safe spaces with diverse commercial options. This consolidation, in part, fuels the cycle of economic inequality that leads some neighborhoods to thrive and others to flounder.
Meanwhile, some cities are experimenting with new ways of creating economically integrated neighborhoods. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo introduced the idea of a ‘15-Minute City’, suggesting that every resident should have their needs met within 15 minutes of their doorstep. This bold plan will require a sort of “anti-zoning effort” across the city to improve access to the essential functions of life, such as work, shopping, health, and culture. Similarly, East London’s Every One Every Day initiative is working to radically expand community-organized social activities, training, and business development opportunities within walking distance in one of London’s lowest-income boroughs. These cities are recognizing that “hyper-local” approaches to community development can reduce barriers to unlocking economic and social vitality.
A new space to meet community need
In Baltimore, Northwood Commons will fill some critical needs for Northwood residents and students. “This is a food desert,” says Sidney Evans, Vice President of Finance and Management at Morgan State. “I have to drive three miles to sit down and have a nice lunch with someone.” Since joining Morgan State in 2014, Sidney has participated in the negotiations to bring Northwood Commons to life. “This shopping center is going to give the community much more flexibility to fill their basic needs.”
Beyond providing food and retail options, the space aims to foster community. The forthcoming Morgan State bookstore “will create a venue for socialization,” Sidney predicts. “It will give our community a place to talk about social issues and civil rights issues, a place for older citizens to mingle with younger people and vice versa.” Northwood Commons will also contain the Morgan State public safety department, providing a feeling of safety and security to the area. Evans hopes this safe, vibrant space will help encourage Morgan students to remain in Northwood after graduation.
Effective community development projects address clear areas of community need and have investors commit to measuring outcomes over time
Evidence of community need can be found by consulting resources such as the U.S. Census Bureaus’ Data Archive, and from community engagement activities such as town hall meetings, listening tours and community needs assessments.
Collaboration is key
In many under-served communities, investors fear that creating these types of dynamic multi-use spaces will not be financially viable. Dave Bramble is the Managing Partner of MCB Real Estate, one of the developers behind the Northwood Commons deal. Dave, who grew up just miles from Northwood, has experienced the challenge of getting these projects financed, but believes that, with the right ingredients, impactful development projects can get done and generate returns.
These deals often require sizable anchor partners – like Morgan State – to invest in the growth of a surrounding community; they require patience to create a project vision that meets a critical mass of community and financial needs; and they frequently require subsidy from the state, city, or other sources. “Deals in under-invested communities do not work in a vacuum” Dave notes. “To make a non-traditional real estate project actually work, you need other types of support – in this case, investment from a public university, funds from the state in the forms of bonds and grants, infrastructure support from the city, and federal tax credits.” Either with direct public subsidies or incentives, such as those offered by Opportunity Zones, these types of deals can overcome the seemingly insurmountable financing barriers and generate returns.
Opportunity to Impact: An Investment Assessment
The Centre for Public Impact – alongside its advisors at Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation – set out to better understand the process of generating positive community impact through private investment and development. The resulting tool, Opportunity to Impact, is a simple, yet rigorous guide for evaluating an investment project’s potential for positive impact. Some of the findings from this research is embedded in the section below.
While Northwood Commons will not be completed until the end of 2020, the journey has yielded valuable learnings for those engaged in meaningful community development projects.
Engaging and defining “community” is not easy, but it is essential to a project’s success
Most people involved in community development will acknowledge the importance of engaging the community. But defining – let alone engaging – the community is rarely straightforward. There are over 20 neighborhood associations in Northeast Baltimore, each representing diverse subsets of Baltimore residents. Multiple of these organizations were directly involved in the Northwood Commons negotiations and they often had vastly different visions.
The largest disagreement centered on whether Morgan State student housing would be part of the complex’s future. These differences seemed destined for stalemate until the involvement of State Senator Joan Carter Conway. Senator Conway introduced a bill to block the student housing proposal and soon became an important broker for talks between the community organizations, the university, the owners, and developers.
Private developers and investors also have a critical role to play in this community engagement process, but do not always show up to the table. “The reality is that if you don’t need zoning, or you don’t need anything, it’s rare that developers will engage with the community,” notes Dave Bramble. But these forums provide information that is critical to a project’s success. “When you go to these community meetings and you really get to know these people, you realize that what you assumed they want or what they might be okay with is not necessarily true,” reflects Mark Renbaum. As the Northwood Commons project demonstrates, identifying, listening to, and compromising with community stakeholders can be the difference between continued inaction and project getting off the ground.
Meet some of the people involved in the Northwood Commons project.
Building a vision requires compromise, transparency, and assurances of accountability
Countless proposals for the shopping center circulated since the Northwood theater closed in 1981. At various points, ideas included a new hotel and conference center and a community-led design center. But each of these proposals failed to gain steam, for one reason or another, often forcing working groups to start over after years of negotiation.
Ultimately, building consensus and gaining buy-in required compromise and transparency among all parties. “It’s about being honest,” Dave Bramble notes. “When I say honest, I mean telling people stuff they don’t want to hear. Everyone might not get everything they want because, ultimately, the math has to work.” Sidney Evans knew Morgan State had to understand this perspective. “We understood that investors need a viable project, one that has a direct impact on the community, but also generates a fair return on the investment.” Evan adds, “as I talk to other University Presidents about these types of projects, you can’t just come up with any type of development project, it must add value to the community and to the investors. Capital just isn’t free.”
Ultimately, navigating these conversations required an honest broker: someone – or something – to ensure accountability. Together, developers and community leaders eventually drafted a Community Benefits Agreement. This contract between community groups and the developer guarantees certain amenities and mitigation of certain risks. With concrete accountability measures and a bold yet achievable plan in place, the long talks began transforming into action for Northwood.
An Honorable Path Forward
Beyond filling commercial needs or achieving returns, Northwood Commons is about pride. As Ms. Purviance remembers, “the community residents felt there was no pride in the look of the shopping center.” But she was motivated to help build a vibrant and safe community for her child. This inspired her to again become affiliated with the community association, volunteer as one of the co-chairs of the Northwood Shopping Center Task Force, and become the President of the Hillen Road Community Association. At the November 2018 groundbreaking ceremony, Ms. Purviance addressed the crowd: “This morning gives me a ray of hope, and we need that ray of hope… Each of us here today, is looking forward to what can be a grand shopping center, that will be seen as an asset to the Northeast communities and to the city as a whole.”
Jen Collins is a Fellow-in-Residence for the Beeck Center. Follow her on Twitter @JenCollins24
Ryan Goss is a Senior Associate at the Centre for Public Impact, where his work focuses on helping governments and their partners improve people’s economic mobility and flourish over time. Follow him on Twitter @R_Goss1
This is part of our ‘Impact in Action’ series, co-produced with the Centre for Public Impact, highlighting innovative models and lessons for driving positive community impact through investment and development projects across America. Read the other stories from Baltimore, MD and Merced, CA.
A community that changed in a day
Overnight, 4,340 people lost their jobs.
The closing of Cannon Mills textile factory in Kannapolis was the largest one-day layoff in North Carolina history. Entire households lost their incomes in a flash. Once the world’s largest producer of towels and sheets, Kannapolis transformed from a bustling middle-class community to a town with an uncertain future.
While the sudden nature of the 2003 closing was a shock in Kannapolis, the consequences of declining manufacturing industries had already affected communities across the southeast. Nearly two decades later, many of the towns most affected by this economic disruption continue to lay dormant and devoid of opportunity.
But something different is happening in Kannapolis: construction has begun on a $52 million baseball stadium, a $17 million streetscape renovation is near complete, and a 350-acre Research Campus now rests on the mill grounds. Private capital is working alongside public investment to rebuild Kannapolis. After decades of decline, Kannapolis’ emerging downtown brings hope of economic opportunity and renewed pride for residents.
As the economic impacts of COVID-19 spread across the nation, many communities are experiencing devastation similar to Kannapolis after its sudden mill closure: residents are out of work, downtown businesses are folding, and the promise of an economically vibrant future seems an uncertain reality. As the world transitions from crisis management to economic recovery, the lessons of Kannapolis’ transformation will be as important as ever. While the journey of recovery has been neither fast nor easy, it reveals the promise of a revitalization thesis centered on the power of partnership to turn a community around.
Guiding Principles for Equitable Investments
Alongside its partners, the Beeck Center created the Opportunity Zone Reporting Framework, a voluntary guideline designed to define best practices for investors and fund managers looking to invest in low-income communities through incentives such as Opportunity Zones (OZ). In the sections that follow, we explore the projects in Kannapolis, extracting the lessons to help communities and investors bring the five guiding principles of effective and equitable investments to life:
A model for change
In the early 1990s, downtown Durham was struggling. Like Kannapolis, Durham was hit hard by declining industry. For several decades, the historic business district lay devoid of significant investment. With rising crime rates and a downtown falling further into disrepair, the city’s future looked bleak.
Downtown Durham began to change when local officials realized the power of strategic public investments. The city pursued creative public financing measures to build a new minor league baseball stadium and fund public infrastructure. Private developers soon acquired vacant properties, created large scale redevelopment plans, and transformed factories and department stores into offices and apartments. At the same time, Duke University expanded its off-campus presence downtown. Today, Durham is seen as one of the most striking downtown turnarounds in the nation, and it was forged through bold public-private partnerships.
While the city has undoubtedly rebounded, Durham still struggles with challenges such as poverty, affordable housing, and racial inequality. These persistent issues remind us of the often overlooked need to ensure economic growth is equitable, particularly for a community’s most marginalized residents. While challenges remain, elements of Durham’s decades-long growth reveal the potential when private and public dollars work together to spur change, an approach that offers promise for places like Kannapolis.
The Small Cities Thesis
A revitalization experiment
The economic value of small and mid-sized cities is often overlooked1While there is no single definition of a small and mid-size community, here we are referring to cities or towns with a population of about 50,000 to 250,000 people on the outskirts of larger regional economic hubs. These might also be called “tertiary” cities nationally. . As a recent report explains, many of these communities struggle to create “pull” factors that overcome the “push” factors that drive prospective residents, employers, and investors elsewhere, such as obsolete infrastructure, an over-reliance on traditional industry, and a limited human capital base. The reality is that, for some communities, the severity of these challenges means wholesale revitalization is out of reach absent some sort of radical disruption.
But in other communities, there is economic growth waiting to burst. A group of investors, developers, and government partners have been working on a new experiment to unlock the potential of these places, what they call the “small cities thesis.” The thesis advances the idea that long-term private and public capital can work alongside each other to spur sustainable economic growth and generate risk-adjusted returns to investors in small cities that have otherwise been left behind.
Shekar Narasimhan, one of the investors driving this experiment, notes “there are places where the ingredients for success have always been there, but all they need is a spark.” This spark is often initiated by local leaders who build a vision, take a risk to launch investment downtown, and bring along partners to achieve that vision. The thesis suggests that this spark can unlock growth in cities with certain characteristics:
Community Identification Characteristics
The thesis aims to unlock the economic potential of small cities that have:
Seen a decline in population density but have a downtown infrastructure in place
When a major employer closes its doors or relocates to the suburbs, once densely populated downtowns often become under-utilized and dilapidated. Instead of displacing existing residents, the thesis expands on the existing infrastructure and aims to fill gaps with people and investment.
Community-minded developer(s) or a public entity that owns, and is willing to transform, a critical mass of distressed assets
Launching a unified vision for revitalization is nearly impossible when a large share of a downtown’s distressed property has disparate owners. But when a city, state, or team of developers own these assets, it’s possible to overcome the inertia that often prevents projects from getting off the ground.
Community assets that lend themselves to growth
Community assets such as transportation options (e.g. rail and highway access) and anchor institutions (e.g. universities, hospitals, and government bodies) are critical to ensuring a place can benefit from and contribute to the growth of its surrounding region.
Strong local leadership and a plan for growth
Achieving a bold vision for growth requires leadership and investment from local public officials and residents. Without it, private investment is likely to be ineffective.
Investors with a commitment to a long-term vision
Investors must be willing to uproot the short-term investment mindset and work with local partners towards a long-term vision for rejuvenation. This requires patient capital and long-term investment.
Focusing investments in the downtown corridor aims to positively impact the community. In many small cities, downtown is the lifeblood of the community: a place for jobs, a venue for entrepreneurs, a space for convening, and a hub for transportation. If re-modeled with resident input, a vibrant downtown can inspire pride, improve quality of life, and fuel access to economic opportunity. When deciding where to locate and attract talent, employers increasingly look for vibrant and walkable downtowns. For the Kannapolis residents still struggling with the aftermath of layoffs, the stability of their future is tied to attracting employers offering equitable job opportunities.
Bringing the experiment to life
To test this thesis, a group of private and non-profit partners launched the Remergent Fund, a qualified Opportunity Zone (OZ) Fund that will invest in emerging main streets and local entrepreneurs in small cities in the Southeast. Beginning in their backyard markets of North Carolina and Virginia, Rivermont Capital, Enterprise Community Partners, and Beekman Advisors capitalized enough funds to invest in five cities, but ultimately aim to spur dynamic growth and track outcomes in 10 cities within the next 15 years.
Incentives that reward long-term investment, such as Opportunity Zones, are an important ingredient to the Fund’s prospective success. Based on the turnaround stories of communities like Durham, the partners behind the Fund estimate it can take 15 years to see signs of recovery after decades of decline. Because investors must keep their holdings in Opportunity Zone funds for 10 years to maximize their tax advantage, OZs are a critical tool to attract and scale the long-term capital that’s needed to revitalize many communities across the nation.
Commitment to measurement and outcomes
Measuring progress towards positive outcomes are essential for equitable and effective OZ investments. To understand whether the Remergent Fund, and others like it, unlock dynamic growth in the next 10 years, it’s important to track quantitative metrics such as those listed in the IRIS + Catalogue or as captured on platforms such as City Builder by CitiBank. Additionally, qualitative metrics, such as resident testimonials, will help investors better understand their impact in OZs.
Transformation becomes reality in Kannapolis
Years before the Remergent Fund or Opportunity Zones, Kannapolis city leaders were already forging a new future for their city. Mike Legg took over as Kannapolis City Manager in 2004, just a year after the closing of Cannon Mills. Having lived in the town since 1995, Mike witnessed the plant’s steady decline but did not expect it to disappear in a single day. “It was a body blow to the community,” Mike reflected. “The social impacts were devastating.”
Soon after its closing, the mills’ owner, David Murdock, partnered with the state and the University of North Carolina to convert part of the plant into the North Carolina Research Campus, a 350-acre laboratory designed to contribute to the region’s growing life sciences sector. The city realized that for the Research Campus to become an anchor that sparks community growth, Kannapolis needed a revitalized downtown.
Through active engagement with residents, the city realized that the community was eager to see the historic downtown occupied and vibrant once again. In 2015, the City Council negotiated the purchase of most of its downtown from Murdock. “As far as I know, no city our size or larger has bought its entire downtown,” says Mike. With this purchase, the city’s downtown revitalization strategy was underway.
Kannapolis also benefited from its proximity to Charlotte, one of the nation’s fastest growing regions and home to expanding finance, banking, and research industries. While this proximity brought jobs to Kannapolis, many of the residents most affected by the plant closure do not have college degrees and worry about the availability of job opportunities. But there are, however, some signs for optimism. In response to concerns, the local community college system is expanding training options for residents and some companies have announced plans to open up shop in Kannapolis. Amazon, for example, will open a distribution plant that will initially offer 600 jobs and another 600 jobs in the years to come.
While steadfast local leadership and some external factors have fueled Kannapolis’ transformation to-date, the community needed commitment from the private sector to reach its full potential. Recognizing this, the Remergent Fund – powered by the Opportunity Zone incentive – backed a $58 million residential development in the heart of downtown. With nearly 300 housing units and a 420 car parking deck, the space will cater to downtown’s growing demands.
While Kannapolis’ journey is far from over, the effort so far has yielded valuable lessons for how strong public-private partnerships can inject new life into a community:
Opportunity to Impact: An Investment Assessment*
The Centre for Public Impact – alongside its advisors at Georgetown’s Beeck Center – set out to better understand the process of generating positive community impact through private investment and development. The resulting tool, Opportunity to Impact, is a simple, yet rigorous guide for evaluating an investment project’s potential for positive impact. Some of the findings from this research is embedded in the section below.
Revitalization is hard, but it is worth it
The path from decline to vibrancy is long, difficult, and often un-guaranteed. Raising capital to jump-start this process has been challenging for the Remergent Fund. “We focus on communities that are significantly under-performing relative to their market potential, but no one wants to assume the risk if they’re surrounded by boarded up buildings,” notes Andrew Holton, Managing Principal of Rivermont Capital. Until recently, convincing large institutional investors to buy into this mission was particularly challenging. But given their scale, institutional investors are essential to actualizing the small cities thesis around the nation. “The Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group is proud to be part of the revitalization story in Kannapolis, in close partnership with the City and other partners like Enterprise [Community Investment],” says Margaret Anadu, Goldman Sachs Partner and head of the Urban Investment Group. “We believe that with sustained private and public sector investment, combined with a clear vision, communities like Kannapolis are poised to reach their potential and see widely shared economic growth. We are honored to be a partner in this important project.”
On the government side, Mike has learned the importance of translating a vision to generate buy-in from his many stakeholders (e.g. residents, the City Council, community leaders). This requires skill and grit. Though these efforts are not easy, Kannapolis’ and Durham’s stories reveal the potential of perseverance.
Strong public-private-partnerships are built on transparency and communication
Peter Flotz is the developer overseeing Kannapolis’ downtown revitalization projects. He credits downtown’s success, in large part, to a transparent relationship with the city government. “We didn’t wait until the flames were licking at the roof to say we smelled smoke. We told Mike everything,” Peter shared. This type of relationship does not always exist between local governments and developers. “I’ve worked with hundreds of developers over the years and I’ve never experienced anything like this,” says Mike. “We realized that we were never going to get this to work unless we had frank and honest conversations with each other.”
It’s also important to have an open relationship and regularly engage with the public. In a 2018 PBS interview, Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant candidly responded to the residents who hoped that their city’s new downtown would look like the old downtown. The Mayor remarked, “the reality is that it is not going to be like it used to be. It’s going to be something totally different … but it is going to have lots of jobs, it’s going to have lots of activity.” Managing expectations among the many people with vested interest in a community requires openness and honesty.
Some may argue that the stories of Durham and Kannapolis are anomalies. How many communities have a Duke University or a single owner willing to sell downtown back to a city?
While each community faces unique circumstances, the small cities thesis aims to prove that creating vibrant downtowns in places with the ingredients for renewal does not have to be anomalous. As small cities grapple with the devastation of COVID-19, they will need sparks to ignite an equitable recovery. While a spark can come in many forms, a deliberate partnership among residents, government, and the private sector is what transforms a spark into a vibrant and inclusive city center.
Jen Collins is a Fellow-in-Residence for the Beeck Center. Follow her on Twitter @JenCollins24
Ryan Goss is a Senior Associate at the Centre for Public Impact, where his work focuses on helping governments and their partners improve people’s economic mobility and flourish over time. Follow him on Twitter @R_Goss1
What a difference six months can make. Last October, the Beeck Center’s Investor Council, a group of influential fund managers, investors and developers committed to creating positive impact in low-income communities, met and talked about the promise in Opportunity Zones. When they met again a few weeks ago, the mission hadn’t changed but the conversation centered on a new challenge.
Thanks to COVID-19, business is being interrupted, there is great uncertainty in the markets, and the need for access to capital in underinvested neighborhoods has never been greater. This pandemic is highlighting the imbalance of strength and power as it’s negative effects are being disproportionately felt in low-income and underinvested communities. Furthermore, it is underscoring the need for sustained investment with a focus on innovation by maximizing assets and leveraging relationships to positively impact social outcomes.
Capitalizing on the investment and work to-date in OZ’s at the community level is an ideal conduit for immediate implementation of creative ideas for urgent, location-based community needs. Thankfully, the Investor Council has an attitude of innovation as well as their commitment to help vulnerable communities. Members were eager to share and showcase their ideas with each other for how to put assets they already have – physical, financial, and interpersonal – to work.
Originally, the meeting was scheduled for Baltimore’s Hotel Revival, a property owned by one of the Council members. But while the crisis turned this event into a virtual meeting, appropriately, the hotel itself has been busy listening to the community, and working to meet its needs. They’ve opened the kitchen so local chefs can use it as a base for food prep and takeout orders. Rooms that would have gone unused are now offered free of charge to first responders and health care workers who need to stay close to downtown. And on Easter Sunday, staff put together Easter baskets for folks in the neighborhood.
Interview with Hotel Revival General Manager Donte Johnson on CNN, April 12, 2020
Members agreed that while this crisis is significant, the opportunity to deliver positive impact on communities is still there and necessary more than ever before. This crisis has further exposed the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on vulnerable and low income communities and will increase the call for more sustained investments in communities of need across the country. With millions of Americans in all communities living one health incident away from financial disaster, we cannot avoid the inequities in our systems any longer.
People need to work together and collaborate with new networks to find solutions, look at how the future of work will change, and adjust projects to meet that future. Opportunities will exist in this new economy, whether in affordable housing, broadband access, or short-term financing requests for businesses making pivots, and investors and developers should consider those as they plan for a post-COVID-19 world.
I recently penned an Op-Ed for The Hill outlining how local businesses will drive the economic recovery, and I wrote, “While the crisis our nation confronts is challenging, it is also a powerful opportunity for visionary leadership to prevail and for local businesses to reimagine community impact.”
That’s why I’m excited to announce our latest effort – Assets for Impact. Inspired by Council members like Think Food Group and LISC, we’re collecting stories from across the business community on how they’re using what they have for a new purpose. Then using the Beeck Center’s network of networks, we’ll spread these ideas across the country and around the world for others to put into action wherever they are.
If you have a story to share, please visit our site and add it to our growing collection. Use the hashtag #Assets4Impact on social media and inspire others to build the community we want and deserve. We’ve seen how people can come together in crisis, let’s continue to work together for when we return to whatever future normal looks like.
Jen Collins is a Fellow-in Residence at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter@JenCollins24
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What will it take for impact investing to get big quickly, and can new corporate forms be a path to generating that kind of scale? Ever since the term “impact investing” was coined more than a decade ago, many practitioners expressed a desire to scale this approach in order to create more positive outcomes for people and the planet. As Fellows at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and the Yale School of Management, respectively, we are examining the potential for philanthropic equity to enable social enterprises, of all kinds, to scale. Last week, Andrea moderated, and Lisa participated in a panel at the Yale Philanthropy Conference, entitled The Practice of Philanthropic Equity and Equitable Finance showcasing the idea of creating a new corporate form for social ventures.
“A new corporate form, which is neither non-profit or for-profit, could enable social ventures that combine revenue models and a charitable purpose to raise equity.”
We are intrigued by the idea that a new corporate form, which is neither non-profit nor for-profit, could enable social ventures that combine revenue models and a charitable purpose to raise equity. A new tax advantaged type of corporation could provide the subsidy needed to solve big social and environmental problems that do not have pure market solutions. While tax-exempt bonds serve this purpose in the debt markets for mission-driven endeavors related to education, housing and healthcare, there is no parallel in the equity markets.
Non-profits are restricted in building their net asset base or equity (assets less liabilities) because of tax accounting implications of unrelated business income and the dearth of grants dedicated to this purpose. Most foundations prefer to provide project-specific grants and, in rare cases, operating support. Net asset grants are an extremely scarce commodity. A new corporate form codified in the tax code could provide a way for social ventures with proven revenue models and measurable social or environmental benefits to build a long-term net asset base, rather than rely solely on debt.
There are four key reasons why equity is critical to scale social ventures:
1) Growth: In order to grow, organizations need capital to fund upfront investment in people, equipment and research. This type of capital is ideally in the form of equity, not debt, as modeled by venture capital.
2) Flexibility: Having equity as a form of capital enables flexibility in repayment since repayment is subject to available cash flow and liquidity events, like the sale of a business or assets. Dividends and exits are always cash flow contingent. In contrast, debt has fixed payments and required interest. Failure to match cash flow closely to debt structures can create unnecessary financial risk in a business and lead to constrained growth or business failure.
3) Sustainability: Equity enables organizations to weather unanticipated downturns. Non-profits often build reserves to prepare for future unexpected difficulties but typically only the largest non-profits with extensive fundraising capacity (e.g., universities and hospitals) are able to build substantial reserves. Yet even these organizations are often constrained by boards that believe every penny raised should be dedicated to the mission and not set aside for a rainy day. Reserves of even 3 – 6 months of operating expenses are rare in the non-profit sector.
4) Risk Taking: Without an equity base, social ventures have no incentive to take risk. With thin financial cushions, one wrong decision could mean the end of an organization. The ability to raise equity would create more willingness on the part of social ventures to take the risks inherent in innovation which requires managing through failure to achieve success. The problems the social sector is attempting to solve are enormous and their solutions require creativity, which by definition requires risk taking.
For these reasons, raising equity for social ventures is critical. And where there is a clear business model that generates cash flow, it is reasonable that social ventures should be able to raise equity without the constraints of traditional capital markets, which require high returns and emphasis on shareholder maximization. Even with the recent pronouncement by the Business Roundtable that corporations should not solely focus on shareholder primacy, but rather should consider all stakeholders — we know that in the end, investors will drive what companies do. We need a new legal form of corporation which is neither for-profit or non-profit, but that allows for revenue generation and a tax advantage in exchange for charitable purpose.
At the Beeck Center, we are working on policy recommendations that will build upon the models that have gone before including B-Corporations, Equity Equivalent investments (EQ2) and C3 structures that allow organizations to meet the objectives of a range of stakeholders. Our proposal envisions a corporate form where taxes on dividend income and capital gains to investors would be reduced, and where taxes paid by the social ventures would be less than the effective corporate income tax rate. The relatively recent passage of Opportunity Zones legislation is just one example of how the tax code can be used to create real impact in the hands of mission-aligned investors.
Lisa is drafting a policy brief for publication in late spring, which we intend to share with the policy teams of all presidential candidates in advance of the Democratic and Republican conventions. Join us in thinking through the design of a legal model which works for social ventures and mission-driven investors. In order to reach scale in impact investing, we need to think beyond the ordinary and innovate on policy ideas outside of the box. We believe that creating a new corporate form codified in tax law is a start, please reach out to us with ideas and suggestions.
Lisa Hall is a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, and leads the Fair Finance portfolio. She has dedicated her 25-year career to economic justice, social impact and community development. Using the tools of impact investing and philanthropy, she has served in executive roles across multiple sectors in the United States and abroad. Follow her on Twitter @LisaGreenHall
Andrea Levere is President Emerita of Prosperity Now (formerly CFED), a private nonprofit organization with the mission of ensuring that everyone can gain financial stability, build wealth and achieve prosperity. In 2013, President Obama appointed Ms. Levere to the National Cooperative Bank’s (NCB) Board of Directors, and she is the Chair of ROC USA, a national social venture that converts manufactured home parks into resident owned cooperatives. She was the Chair of the Community Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, was a member of the FDIC’s Committee on Economic Inclusion, and was on Morgan Stanley’s Community Development Advisory Board. Follow her on Twitter @alevere
Communities have voices, narratives, and histories that are powerful and steadfast. Way too often, we choose to ignore the voices of historically overlooked communities, perpetuating inequities throughout generations. Despite these challenges, communities persist and resist as I have witnessed and experienced throughout my life. This is why engaging with Georgetown TEDx’s Persist and Resist event was so important to me. It highlighted the resilience of many communities and experiences through the voices of inspiring speakers who were willing to share stories intimately tied to pressing themes of our time. Watching and listening to each speaker’s honesty, words, pain, and strength was a reminder that fortified the importance of each of their calls to transform the world.
The talks throughout the day had a general theme: it is not enough to just be aware of or aligned with a cause. We must act now, continue to learn, and truly partner alongside each other because whether we acknowledge it or not, the pain spread affects all. In my story, I wanted to highlight communities’ resilience and power as strong foundations that continue to raise generations upon generations. The intentional, hard work of community-building that has been a key mechanism of survival within our experience and identities. The amazing power of comunidad and the humanity that propels it. The people who form part of such a transformative learning space and share that wisdom with others. Thank you for all you are.
I am grateful to the people in my communities, from El Salvador, to Columbia Heights, to Hyattsville, who have shaped my journey. Through them we have learned the importance of seeing each other and taking action to create lasting change. Muchísimas gracias por lo que son y toda la fuerza y el corazón que le ofrecen al mundo.
Diana Acosta is the Beeck Center’s Program Associate in Fair Finance. She is a graduate of Harvard University, and is involved with a number of youth development and mentoring programs in the DC area.
February 11, 2020
Measurement can be messy, especially in the impact space! As we’re witnessing an explosion in efforts to deliver social change, we’re also experiencing how difficult it is to track performance toward these worthy and lofty social goals.
Beeck Center leader Nate Wong moderated a discussion with leading impact measurement expert Alnoor Ebrahim andMiriam’s Kitchen CEO Scott Schenkelberg on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at Georgetown University based on the release of Ebrahim’s new book, “Measuring Social Change: Performance and Accountability in a Complex World.” The rich conversation covered both theory and practice, recognizing how difficult it is to translate strategy to reality. This conversation was part of the Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership class taught by Professor Kathy Kretman.
Three key takeaways are:
To start, we need to actually confront our assumptions of what are “good” metrics. While there’s a strong emphasis on long-term outcomes, “there are certain kinds of outputs where short term outputs make a great deal of sense (video),” Alnoor exhorted the audience in response to Nate’s question. Think about ambulances. Service delivery times are incredibly important – they are a matter of life and death… literally. So it’s more of a question around what do these metrics help drive? It’s more about strategy, performance, and accountability.
To measure social change, it first starts with the organization’s strategy and their theory of change. Organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen can shift strategies, in this case from a niche to an ecosystem strategy, but it takes a very different type of approach and skills. It requires radical collaboration. Miriam put a bold mission forth to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C., which dramatically reconceptualized how they operated. Instead of focusing on meals and programs, they needed to orchestrate the over 100 other players around joint goals and coordinated action. “I was skeptical at first (video),” Miriam’s Kitchen CEO Scott Schenkelberg admitted. “We were really good at delivering outputs, think of our meals for the homeless and holding onto our select sphere of influence. Going out there and saying that we can end chronic homlessness, that’s a big scary statement… When I say that we are going to end chronic homelessness, we better end it, or else it’s a really big failure. People said it’s going to take time Scott; here are the things that we need to do, Let’s explore this process by which we can do it so.”
The measurement strategy is only as good as the system that it sits within. As Ebrahim points out (video), “The funder ecosystem is highly fragmented, and there is a challenge for funders to be doing more in terms of collaborative fundraising, so there’s sufficient pools of resources to sufficient pools of executing organizations to address social problems at some sort of scale.” Making this move will entail shifting funders to articulate coordinated theories of change with a shared sense of objective measures. It will also take incentives for coordination and collaboration among implementers.
Ebrahim is a professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, whose current research addresses two core dilemmas of accountability facing social enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies: How should they measure and improve their performance? How should they address competing demands for accountability from diverse stakeholders?
This is one of the many events that the Beeck Center hosts throughout the year, everything from workshops to open houses to author events like this one. They are an excellent opportunity to bring together members of the student and broader social impact communities for spirited conversations on important issues. Previous guests include Ann Mei Chang, author of “Lean Impact,” and Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”
Join us on March 31 for our next author event, as Henry Ramos discusses his new book, “Democracy and the Next American Economy.”
We asked ourselves what we might see in the year ahead in the social impact space, here’s what we see in our crystal balls.
Impact at Scale Means Accelerating Movements
Today, scaling impact is too often conflated with scaling programs or organizations. No single program or organization, no matter how great it may be, can truly solve the complex social ills vexing the world. Rather it will take a coordinated effort across numerous sectors– from social ventures to policymakers to local social service providers.
In 2020 and beyond, we’ll observe a sea change as funders and impact organizations alike tackle intractable social problems through a coordinated ecosystem lens rather than scaling pointed solutions in silos. Donor collaboratives like the Tipping Point Fund (a $12.5M coalition of nine foundations and family offices) and radical coordination like Imperative 21 (a business-led coalition of 72,000 businesses across 80 countries) will continue to increase as more investment in field building is needed to sustain the impact we want to see long-term. We believe grassroot efforts need to reach institutions where change can be more widely adopted and ultimately create the intended positive impact for all.
For the Beeck Center, that means playing the necessary role as a “grasstop” player, linking grassroot and institutional efforts poised for action, and putting our efforts toward the messy infrastructure work that can accelerate and sustain positive social impact movements.
– Nate Wong, Interim Executive Director
Thoughts from Outside the Center
CEOs Will be Judged Both as Commercial Leaders and as Social Architects
It is clear the current dynamic business environment, combined with evolving social, economic, and political realities, the role of the CEO is transforming faster than many had expected for both public and private concerns. Specifically, CEOs are realizing the need to take more active and/or vocal roles around stakeholder issues such as healthcare, education and retraining, climate change, affordable housing and the like. The most effective and most successful CEOs for the near future will need to be both strong commercial leaders as well as courageous social architects to ensure that the community of stakeholders they serve is as engaged and productive as possible.
Students Want a More Hands-On Approach to their Education
Experiential Learning will continue to play an increasingly prominent role in higher education, with further blending of the curricular and co-curricular in equipping students for careers in social impact.
The Beeck Center will continue to break down silos at Georgetown, accelerating collaboration across campus as we’ll work with different schools and student groups to better educate students for social impact leadership.
– Matt Fortier, Director, Sustainable Student Impact
Thoughts from Outside the Center
Rising Student Voice Will Prompt a Paradigm Shift among Professors
Today, students enter business school increasingly aware and concerned about the critical issues of our day. Faculty – charged with equipping these students with the context and skills to make responsible business decisions – will face louder questions about how the concepts they are teaching relate to issues like climate change and inequality. These collective student voices will be hard to ignore, forcing faculty to make a conscious choice between teaching the seemingly discrete theories and models in the same siloed manner or exploring these challenging questions by looking at business concepts through a broader, more multi-faceted lens.
A Demand for Results Means a Need for Tools to Measure Impact
We launched our Fair Finance initiative last year with the goal of righting the rules for shared prosperity, and we expect to see more partners engaged in our efforts as the year progresses.
Impact management practices and processes will converge as companies and investors increasingly look not only for measurable results, but for standard guidelines, commonly accepted tools and aligned frameworks to achieve positive and sustainable impact in communities.
If unemployment stays low, awareness of the need and opportunity to employ refugees and immigrants will increase.
The legislation that created Opportunity Zones (OZs) has only been in place for a short time, and as early movers begin to develop projects, more positive narratives about OZs will continue to emerge.
For us at the Beeck Center, we’ll bring together more of the key stakeholders in these areas as we convene our OZ Investor Council and complete a landscape analysis of workforce training opportunities for refugees and immigrants.
– Lisa Hall, Director, Fair Finance
Thoughts from Outside the Center
Move Beyond Gender to Include Broader Diversity
Gender equality and the inclusion of women on boards and founding teams has been a big theme over the past year and will continue to be an important agenda item.
However, as more investors recognize that diversity translates into more representative, better informed teams, we’re likely to see a bigger drive to redefine diversity beyond gender alone.
When it comes to diversity, there is still a lot of work to do and we shouldn’t limit this scope to gender alone.
Public Sector Workforce Grows Its Digital Skillset
In 2020 and beyond, data and technology will continue to drive the way our society builds systems and delivers services and we will need a workforce in the public interest and public sector—not just the private sector—that is equipped with the hard skills and policy expertise to leverage the tools of data and digital to deliver better outcomes. We need technologists in government to buy smarter so we don’t keep spending taxpayers dollars on software and products that vendors can’t or won’t deliver. We need technical skills at the policy making table in the public interest community and in government so major initiatives consider data opportunities and risks as well as tech implications in their design and also plan for rollout and implementation from the start.
At the Beeck Center, I predict we will continue identifying ways that society can invest in the public interest technology community to ensure a workforce that meets our needs, and investing in projects and partnerships to drive forward the changing future we want to see.
– Cori Zarek, Director, Data + Digital
Thoughts from Outside the Center
Companies Will Expand CSR to Include CDR
More and more companies will embed data responsibility principles into the way they do business — and embrace corporate data responsibility, or CDR. The acronym may be new, but in a digital world, it’s the logical next step for companies committed to meeting their responsibilities to individuals, one another and society as a whole. For the Center for Inclusive Growth that means leveraging Mastercard expertise, data, technology and philanthropy to help ensure the digital economy happens for people, not to them.
– Shamina Singh, Founder and President, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, EVP, Sustainability, Mastercard, and member, Beeck Center Advisory Board, 20 Predictions for Business & Society
In addition to our thoughts, here’s some of the predictions we’re seeing from outside our offices:
When we asked the members of the Beeck Center Opportunity Zones Investor Council to share the first words that came to mind when talking about the OZ landscape, their responses were illuminating on both the promise and challenges OZs face. An influential group of first-mover fund managers, investors and developers who have moved over $200 billion in capital during their careers, the Council met in late October at the Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, NY to discuss their impactful work, share ideas, and catalyze more action towards delivering positive social outcomes for communities and investors in Opportunity Zones.
Most of the public narrative around OZs has focused on the tax benefits for investors, but the diverse Council (which includes 14 people of color and 7 women) is looking at the much bigger picture and taking into account the 35 million people living in the 8,766 designated zones. According to the Economic Innovation Group, for the majority of OZs, the economic picture is tragic:
Opportunity Zones have an average poverty rate of nearly 30 percent, and an average median family income that is 37% lower than the American average. Black Americans are significantly over-represented in zones, representing twice as large of the zone population as they do the national population.
The work of the Beeck Center is to support the original intention of the legislation, to drive positive social outcomes in these neighborhoods, improving the lives of the people who live and work in those communities today. By bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders, we create a grasstops approach between fast-moving grassroots ideas and slower-changing institutions, increasing the probability of generating impact at scale.
Unlocking the Promise and Potential in OZs
Beeck Center Investor Council members David Gross and former NFL player Derrick Morgan kicked off the Council meeting by sharing how they are driving impact in communities. Both influencers are deepening their efforts in impact investing through OZs. Both have powerful, personal motivation to make a real difference in underserved neighborhoods.
The meeting was grounded in three pillars: inspiration, impact, and influence. The Beeck Center acts as a field builder in driving impact across the country and invited organizations that are developing impact tools to connect projects to investors across the nation. The Center is also informing the creation of a process tool to help operationalize the OZ Impact Reporting Framework. Given the national narrative and flurry of legislative activity, these points stood out among the many topics of discussion:
1. Some OZs are problematic and need tweaks.
The Opportunity Zone designation process was a quick, unfunded mandate to the state governors – many who have changed over since zone designation. The Beeck Center was so concerned about the zone designation process, Fair Finance Lead Lisa Hall actually penned guiding principles to aid the governors in thinking through their zone designation strategy.
The Council recognizes that there are outliers and will be supportive of a thoughtful, forward-looking process to sunset high-income OZs. The national narrative is loud about the existence of wrongfully-designated zones, but we should not let that taint the reality that when OZ legislation is operationalized thoughtfully and with impact intentionality, it can lead us towards a more equitable society. This is the work OZIC members do every day, unlocking the promise and potential that lives in these neighborhoods.
2. This is not a gentrification program.
Recent news and local narratives – especially on the coasts – suggest that investment in OZs accelerates gentrification. When people use the word gentrification, they most often mean forced migration and/or displacement. The research shows that less than 4% of OZs are at risk of gentrification. Regardless of the data, Council members believe that any behavior that causes displacement is bad and should be avoided at all costs.
OZ legislation is a capital gains tax incentive. Currently there are no impact, data or transparency requirements. This reality has made the work of the Beeck Center in driving positive impact important. It’s why we co-authored the OZ Impact Reporting Framework with the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York earlier this year. The Impact Framework calls for five guiding principles: community engagement, transparency, equity, outcomes and measurement.
3. Impact is happening. Patience is needed.
Opportunity Zone legislation was designed to spur capital investment and economic development in underinvested neighborhoods. To that end, the legislation requires “substantial improvement” in order to qualify for the tax benefit. This requirement means that the investor needs to double its basis in the Opportunity Zone, a provision that made real estate development first movers in the market. At this time, we know of more than 400 initiatives committed to the OZ Impact Reporting Framework, and Council members have over 30 OZ projects underway nationwide.
The thing is, developmenttakes time – and a lot of it, especially in certain locations. David Bramble, Managing Partner of MCB Real Estate and Beeck Center Investor Council member, said it’s taken over four years just to get permits for some of his projects. The Washington State Department of Commerce Opportunity Zones Working Group recently observed, “Success will require attention, patience, resources and public/private partnerships to support local efforts,” sentiments the Council agrees with wholeheartedly.
Nearly two years have passed since the OZ legislation was enacted and the regulations are still not finished. The regulatory clarity needed for real OZ business investment was set only a few months ago. We are seeing inspiring activity in these neighborhoods, but we need time to see new capital flow in meaningful ways.
Renewed Commitment to Action
With new reporting and self-assessment tools in the works, and a host of new ideas in their pockets, the Council wrapped up two days of conversations with a renewed commitment to action.
“There is a lot of work going on in the area. The work should have been happening anyway, but OZ legislation was the catalyst toward this.”
“We will take a more intentional role in gathering the cultural influence, adding the cultural component to the grasstops model.”
“We are learning how to do deals that bring in as many stakeholders as possible, and collaborative behavior is really important.”
The Opportunity Zones legislation is a new tool for investors to spark development and growth in communities across the country. While OZs are new, people have been working and investing in these types of communities for decades. What’s different now is how the discussion of OZs has sparked interest from new players in the space. This group represents institutional powerhouses (Goldman Sachs), non-profits (LISC), established developers (MCB Real Estate), and non-traditional investors like Derrick Morgan, bringing added energy and asking new questions to deliver results.
To the Beeck Center, one of the most valuable things about OZ legislation is the conversation swell around it. It is bringing many new players to the world of impact. The Beeck Center sets tables so that those with deep impact knowledge can teach and collaborate with new players. OZ legislation is not the answer to every problem that exists within community development, but it provides space for smart people to converse who wouldn’t interact otherwise. Innovation comes from conversations like these, and the economic reality in OZs is illustrative of a need for major change. It’s going to require collaborative behavior. And time.
“I’ve only been cooking for myself and my husband for over 10 years since my sons moved to Canada. It really amazed me when the team first came to me and said that I can work as a chef to showcase our local cuisine and pastry.” Madam Xie told me when I was helping clean up after lunch during my tourism geography fieldtrip in Candong Village, Kaiping City.
Majoring in Tourism Planning as an undergrad, I had plenty of experience working with local communities and government on tourism planning and renovation projects. I found myself interested in connecting with local people and hearing their stories. The case that motivated me the most to pursue community development is my field trip and volunteer experience in a heritage tourism village – Cangdong Village in Kaiping City, China.
The village itself was almost empty before the renovation project happened, with about 50 elder residents who didn’t want to move overseas with younger generations – Madam Xie is one of them since her husband is the village head. Led by a professor at a local university, a group of architecture students came to the village and engaged residents to renovate the historic buildings. They rebuilt an ancestral temple and other public areas based on residents’ oral history and current needs. Residents were encouraged to work as chefs, handicraft makers and most commonly, storytellers, to share the village history to tourists and the younger generation.
The renovated village attracted over 400 overseas Chinese during the 2017 Chinese New Year and helped to build connections between multiple generations. When compared with another heritage village in the same city, Cangdong Village surpassed expectations in the sense of keeping a living memory of the village and building connections between people and community. Other heritage villages in comparison were managed by a tourism company and barely profited by charging an entrance fee.
I joined the Beeck Center with the expectation to learn similar cases in the local-level development program. I hope to start my own local-level development program back home after graduation. I used to be confused about the different paths that I could take. Between small scale, instant influence such as the renovation project that I participated in, and the longer-term, systematic level change that can provide broader influence. like what the Beeck Center is trying to achieve through Fair Finance, Data + Digital, and Student Engagement initiatives.
My experience at the Beeck Center changed my views on social impact to a great extent. The Beeck Center has a unique approach to scaling impact – acting as a grasstop organization that accelerates change through collaborations with ecosystem players. Local-level, instant changes can be encouraging and create a sense of fulfillment when the programs work, but they can also be discouraging if I’m feeling self-contented or meet some uncontrollable contextual changes.
Take my work here in Opportunity Zones as an example, I might deep dive into a project for several years to achieve significant impact in one O-Zone, but there are over 8,700 of them facing different challenges across the country. Therefore, a small-scale approach might not be the most effective way when dealing with big social problems. On the other hand, back into reality, not all local voices could be heard or taken into account in decision making. Therefore, there is a real need for holistic change since the system hasn’t fully discovered the value of its people and enabled them to reach their potentials.
Systematic changes always take time, and it is discouraging to see people criticizing Opportunity Zones making the “ultra-rich even richer while those in need end up worse-off. From my perspective, this is the trade-off between type 1 error and type 2 error in statistics. If too much effort and restrictions are put to limit the types of investors and investment in O-Zones, there is a larger probability that people who would have benefited from some investment – either getting a job or living in a mixed-income community – would no longer be able to get that positive outcome. Thankfully, I hear and see impact investing stories happening both inside and outside the OZ landscape. With the present level of data collection and impact evaluation tools, I think it would be much easier to make an evidence-based conclusion on the impact of OZ in the near future and make timely adjustment if needed. We also need policymakers to think about the unintended consequences and possible solutions while moving on these issues. That helps me keep faith in what I’m doing, and excited for what’s to come.
Tongxin Zhu is a student analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, studying Public Policy at Georgetown University. Connect with her on Twitter/email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Beeck Center creates space and opportunity for uncomfortable conversations, while seeking and creating bold solutions. The Fair Finance Initiative is an ambitious program that aims to right the rules, both written and unwritten, currently in place for investment of capital in low-income, disenfranchised, and underserved communities.
Over the next two to three years, the Fair Finance Initiative is focusing on the following programs:
Reimagining Community Investing for the 21st Century
We are focused on a future for community and sustainable investing that is rooted in the lessons of the past, but which results in systems change driven by policies that do not simply tinker around the edges. The Beeck Center is soliciting, examining and designing policy solutions on a federal and local level to deliver positive social outcomes in communities that have been historically overlooked and underestimated by traditional investors. Potential policy recommendations include the creation and capitalization of a new form of tax-exempt community institutions, deconstruction of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the consolidation of programs focused on community development under a new agency. The initial stages of this work are being generously supported by Incite whose mission is to build movements by transforming big ideas into big deals.
To uncover bold new ideas we must first understand the past. This timeline, created by the Beeck Center, charts key programs and significant developments in “A History of Community Investing in the United States.” Created by Student Analyst Kriti Sapra through the Knight Lab.
Driving Impact in Opportunity Zones
The bipartisan passage ofOpportunity Zones legislation has led to multi-stakeholder conversations around community investing. The Beeck Center is supporting the original intent of the legislation by driving positive social outcomes in Opportunity Zones. Since February 2018, the Beeck Center has led national efforts to incorporate impact objectives into investment strategies for Opportunity Funds. We are using the conversation swell around OZs to collaborate with investors and test new models of community investment.
Opportunity Zones are an ideal conduit for exploration of creative ideas for location-based community investing in the United States. Earlier this year, In partnership with U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, we produced theGuiding Principles and Impact Reporting Framework for Opportunity Zones in addition to creating an Opportunity Zone Investor Council. We are grateful for the generous support of the 15 Council Members, a powerful group of investors, developers and fund managers that are setting a new standard for impact.
The U.S. population is rapidly diversifying. As has been the case since the founding of the country, much of this diversity comes from immigrants and refugees—currently over 44 million people, nearly half of whom are of working age. It benefits everyone to integrate these new arrivals into society and tap their expertise, energy and earning potential.
Yet, we currently have a systemic problem. Many individuals are unemployed or under-employed, At the same time, the U.S. anticipates a shortfall of 1.9 million workers by 2024 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Bringing immigrants and refugees into the workforce will enable them to use their skills, support their families, and contribute to the U.S. economy. This integration would represent significant impact at scale.
The Mariam Assefa Fund, a new initiative of World Education Services (WES), seeks to reduce the barriers that prevent immigrants and refugees from finding meaningful employment in the U.S. Thanks to a generous grant from WES, the Beeck Center is exploring ways to finance training and workforce development for these workers. We are reviewing the current landscape of workforce development financing, and will consider the history and applicability of other innovative financing programs that target outcomes with a social element (e.g., Pay for Performance contracting, or Loan Guarantees). We’ll engage a diverse group of stakeholders and experts including investors (both traditional and impact), policymakers, corporations, community leaders, academics (from both national universities and community colleges), and representatives from the immigrant and refugee communities, to identify the most promising (and most scalable) approaches to financing economic integration. Throughout, we will involve our students and seek collaboration with other centers and individuals at Georgetown.
Creating prosperity for all, means including all communities in the nation’s economic growth. With the vast majority of net new jobs coming from new business startups, the people, policies and finance governing the field of entrepreneurship matters. Today, 92% of the decision makers behind the venture capital that drives most high-growth startups are men and less than 3% are investors of color. These investors provide 2.2% of that capital to female founders and only 1% to entrepreneurs of color. How we tell these stories is as important as the numbers themselves.
The world’s business news media was created more than 150 years ago. Today, even leading publications still view the world through this mindset, focusing on institutions, hierarchies and narrow, extractive views of what’s valuable. Many stories and important trends are left out when this world view is applied to journalism.
Times of Entrepreneurship is a new business publication that upends the old model. Times of Entrepreneurship highlights communities and individuals, regardless of race, place, class and gender. Its innovative reporting structure puts journalists in secondary U.S. markets, but gives them global beats in Money, Food, Climate, Security and Health, with two-cross-cutting channels, Women-Owned and Migrant-Owned Businesses. It covers innovation and trends in entrepreneurship and among leading investors. Our journalistic lens seeks different and new ways to measure value and to document the dynamic, entrepreneurial systems that shape institutions as they evolve — hopefully toward a more equitable and sustainable future.
The concept of capitalism presumes perfect information and equal opportunity. The reality of capital markets is that information and opportunities are distributed unevenly. ”Free market” absolutism has left behind millions of Americans over the past 10 years and created prosperity for a small number of Americans. At the Beeck Center we create opportunities that help shrink the racial and gender wealth gaps.
Initiatives like the Racial Equity Assets Lab (REAL), and the recent study sponsored by Knight Foundation are sparking discussions around the disparity in capital allocation to fund managers of color and women-led fund managers in spite of financial performance that matches the performance of white men. We collaborate with others to identify practical solutions to addressing barriers for these fund managers, through further research in conjunction with existing ecosystem players. Potential program activities include the creation and dissemination of video content to highlight market inequities and promote solutions, like the global directory of women in venture capital. We are also conducting a landscape survey of initiatives underway to bolster the ecosystem for fund managers of color and women-led fund managers. We are grateful for the generous support of Surdna Foundation, the seed funder of this work.
Through these projects, the Beeck Center contributes to the momentum of an existing flywheel for change in capital markets. We are connecting the dots between many disparate efforts around finance as a tool for prosperity including impact investing, community development finance, corporate social responsibility, and conscious capitalism. In our vision, prosperity is shared among many rather than hoarded by a few. Please join us in pushing the wealthiest nation in the world to provide equal access and a fair shot at sound economic and financial opportunity for all.
Finance is a dominant driver of innovation and economic growth in the United States and abroad. However, debate remains whether finance and capitalism can be a force for good. Recentnews around Opportunity Zones highlights the skepticism which insists that financial investment in marginalized communities cannot achieve positive results for both investors and the community.
At the Beeck Center, we believe that finance can deliver social and environmental outcomes in service to the common good, that it is a fundamental tool for solving intractable social problems like poverty and wealth inequality, and we are committed to using financial tools to create impact at scale.
Impact at scale means redesigning current systems, and the courage to think, behave and collaborate differently. Investing for outcomes also means shifting incentives and addressing systemic inequities to achieve lasting change. As we seek to shift systems so that they work for all stakeholders, we are embarking upon a new initiative known as Fair Finance, which aims to right the rules of the game for shared prosperity. For us, attacking these systems isn’t just a job, it’s a personal commitment driven by our life experiences.
All too often the policies that shape the flow of capital enable an elite group of those who are already extremely comfortable to be more comfortable. This new Beeck Center initiative envisions a world where the tools of finance are intentionally directed towards improving all of society and equalizing access to opportunity. We’ll examine and deconstruct the financial systems that perpetuate inequity and a profit-only mindset, while promoting programs and tools that harness the power of capitalism to create positive social impact.
At the Beeck Center we confront the powerful constituencies that promote and preserve the myth of opportunity or the “American Dream,” which ignores systemic and persistent barriers to financial and economic success like racism and sexism. We draw upon global examples to identify scalable solutions for the United States that address these challenges. We’ll also directly address obstacles to opportunity and market access that hinder economic growth in many U.S. communities. Over the past 35 years, prosperity has been limited to a small percentage of the U.S. population. Access and opportunity have not been evenly distributed, despite rational thinking that talent and potential are evenly distributed in rural and urban areas; among whites, African-American, Latinx, and Asian communities; between tribal lands; and across religious groups and ethnicities.
One example of growing inequity is the dramatic change in CEO compensation as compared to other employees throughout recent decades as illustrated by the above chart produced by Economic Policy Institute.
The Opportunity at Hand
Technology, social innovation, and impact investing are driving exponential change around the world, and increasingly business leaders are recognizing that long term financial sustainability is inextricably linked to social and environmental sustainability. Ideas that once seemed impossible are now within reach, enabled by the digital age and the ability to communicate and transact rapidly. Dynamic leaders like Rodney Foxworth of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, Stacy Abrams and others from across the private, public and non-profit sectors are making bold, audacious recommendations for change while tackling challenging economic, political and environmental realities. Increasingly, individuals are examining their lifestyles and demanding social impact in every area of their lives, including purchases, investments, and other choices.
The failure of investors to tap the capacity of communities of color prevents the country from maximizing its full potential. A recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition shows the barricades that minority entrepreneurs face when looking to expand their business. As reported by the Washington Post,
“The organization sent teams of white, black and Hispanic “mystery shoppers” who acted as prospective borrowers to evaluate customer service interactions with the banks’ small business lending representative at 60 Los Angeles area banks. The testers had nearly identical business profiles and strong credit histories, with black and Hispanic testers possessing slightly better incomes, assets and credit scores than their white counterparts.
In almost every measure, white testers received superior customer service, the study found. Bank representatives asked white prospective borrowers fewer questions about eligibility and provided them more information about loan products.”
When minorities talk to loan officers, they don’t always get the full picture of what’s involved, which can discourage their application. Credit NCRC
These experiences highlight the need for more capital in communities that are often underestimated and overlooked but are critical to the future economic growth of the United States.
The Fair Finance team is looking forward to the official launch of our initiative this fall focused on changing or righting the rules and systems which drive financing in ways that create shared prosperity for all communities. This summer Senior Fellow, Lisa Hall had the chance to speak with Deval Patrick, head of the Bain Double Impact Fund, about how to make the economy work for all citizens at the Singularity University Global Summit in San Francisco.
Beeck Center’s Lisa Hall interviews Deval Patrick at the Singularity University Global Summit. (Interview starts at 1:48:20)
We’re also pleased to have several Fellows with distinguished careers and expertise in impact investing, sustainable investing, and real estate on our team including Jen Collins, Betsy Zeidman, and Mark Newberg. We are launching several new projects in the coming months including efforts to expand our Opportunity Zone Framework and Opportunity Zone Investor Council as well as an initiative around innovative approaches to workforce training for refugees and immigrants. We are also joined on the team by a veteran journalist, Elizabeth MacBride who is creating a new social enterprise, testing the proposition that good journalism can help drive inclusive entrepreneurship and innovation. Elizabeth also wrote this Forbes article over the summer which features one of our summer intern’s Kriti Sapra and offers advice to young women about how to manage their careers and motherhood.
The goal of our work on Fair Finance is to examine and deconstruct the financial systems that perpetuate in-equity in our society. Building upon our past work around results-based financing, impact investing, and performance-based funding, as well as our data for social good work, the Beeck Center is now embarking upon a bold initiative to examine and change the rules of the game for financing outcomes.
Finance is a fundamental tool for solving intractable social problems like poverty and wealth inequality.
At the Beeck Center we seek to confront the powerful constituencies that promote and preserve the myth of opportunity or the “American Dream;” which ignores systemic and persistent barriers to financial and economic success. We seek to identify scalable solutions that address these challenges. We also intend to directly address barriers to opportunity and market access. Some of the results we will deliver through this initiative include a survey of efforts to increase the number and scale of diverse managers, case studies highlighting successful impact in Opportunity Zones, and convening around workforce training for refugees and immigrants. We will also be producing digital content providing context for the history community investing in US along with recommendations for bold new policy ideas that match the demographics and challenges of the 21st century.
As we build out the Fair Finance initiative we are seeking your ideas and want to collaborate with likely and unlikely partners. Please reach out to us with your bold ideas and thoughts on new policies that are needed in a time when we are facing unprecedented social and environmental challenges.
Also come hear our ideas at upcoming events including the GU Women in Impact Investing Conference at Healy Hall’s Gaston Auditorium on the Georgetown campus, co-sponsored by the Beeck Center, on September 26 from 6-8:30 pm (Register), where Lisa Hall will join a panel discussing All About Impact Measurement.
On August 6, 2019, the Beeck Center’s Fair Finance team and a Georgetown Law professor toured seven projects in Opportunity Zones in Baltimore City. These projects included vacant lots, refurbished rowhomes, and newly developed mixed income apartment buildings. At the conclusion of the tour, the Hotel Revival in Baltimore hosted a community dinner with Opportunity Zones Investor Council members, local faith leaders, and community organizers where Beeck Center Student Analyst Donovan Taylor presented his personal story and why social impact is invaluable to him.
The following is a transcript of Donovan’s speech.
When I was 12 years old, my mom used to wake my sister and me up at 9 am to take us to church in East Baltimore. On Hillen Road, Lake Montebello was surrounded by beautiful single-family homes and lush grass. Driving down Harford Road toward North Avenue, things were a little different. There were brick row houses, concrete, and check cashing expresses. As my mom turned onto North Caroline St, the neighborhood was inundated with abandoned buildings, liquor stores, and potholes. The tension in the air was palpable. This community is juxtaposed with Harbor East’s cobblestone streets, extravagant fountains, upscale restaurants, and Whole Foods less than a mile away. How could anyone find purpose or joy in a world plagued by so much inequity and suffering? Baltimore is struggling to survive. In 2017, 342 people were killed in this city compared to 290 in NYC, a city with nearly 14 times the population. The issue of gun violence affects many families personally, including my own. In May 2014, my uncle was shot in the face and killed instantly, and the police still don’t know who’s responsible.
Since 5th grade, I attended a summer program for talented Baltimore youth called Bridges at St. Paul’s School. St.Paul’s is a prestigious private school in the Baltimore suburbs with a huge campus that was once a slave plantation. I remember being absolutely amazed that students could drink from water fountains and had central air in their classrooms. Baltimore City Public Schools are struggling to meet the needs of the next generation of students, including providing a comfortable learning environment. In the winter of 2018, Baltimore made national news as a photo of preschool kids in heavy coats in their classroom went viral online, exposing just how poor conditions are in some Baltimore City schools because the city fails to provide adequate heating. If you’ve been exposed to gun violence, you must figure out ways to cope and heal from this trauma. If you don’t have access to healthy food, you will deal with an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, and heart attack. If your zone schools are underfunded, you have limited opportunities for upward mobility. In some of these communities, people are dealing with all these issues. Some people from outside of Baltimore can sit in their prestigious office and write these communities off as “rat infected, rodent infested mess(es)” that no-one wants to live in. But, Tupac lived in Baltimore for a part of his life and I believe it was in these communities he got the inspiration to exclaim “long live the rose that grew from the concrete.” My grandfather calls us “God’s miracle people” because even though we’ve been through so much, we always find joy and the will to press forward.
This is a critical point in our society. Our generation has seen the impact of fear and hatred on a global scale. We’ve seen a few people amass great wealth and power, while some parents abroad are forced to feed their children dirt patties. Today, we have an opportunity to change the world for the better. We can choose to see the value of these communities and equip them with the tools to recover from decades of apathy and exclusion.
Impact investing is a relatively new perspective on investment through which social and environmental outcomes are just as important as financial returns. In the US, impact investors manage over $255 billion in assets. Opportunity Zones are a federal tax incentive that allows investors to defer taxes by investing their capital gains in low-income communities. Through the combination of impact investing and opportunity zones, with a clear focus on community empowerment, the narrative can be changed. The next generation deserves to live in a world free from the pain and trauma of today’s youth. The children of Sandtown should live in a community that they are proud of and afforded the same opportunities as those from Roland Park. Your passion and dedication to investing in Baltimore Opportunity Zones will lead to real change in communities that are desperate to be heard and healed. It is important to exemplify the adage “nothing about us, without us” and actively seek to understand community need. There are invaluable insights that residents can offer in this work that are equal to those of ivy-league educated professionals. To continue with the words of Tupac, these community members, these roses, are grounded in the reality of their lived experiences. Therefore, it will take the collaborative efforts of all to create a more equitable society. That rose in the concrete should live without fear that a stray bullet will kill it. That rose should have access to the best food, housing, and education available. That rose deserves the highest respect for embodying resilience and surviving the impossible. Eventually, that rose will no longer struggle from the weight of systematic injustice and the concrete will no longer exist.
Donovan Taylor is a Student Analyst supporting the Fair Finance team, and this fall will return to Georgetown University, where he will be a senior majoring in International Business and Management. Follow him on Twitter @donovantaylor01.
Here at The Beeck Center, we’ve convened the Opportunity Zone Investor Council (OZIC), a group of first mover fund managers, investors and developers working in Opportunity Zones across the country. The council aims to think, act and collaborate differently as one of the most important community development movements in a half-century takes shape.
OZIC will work to drive positive outcomes in underinvested neighborhoods and to create and test new models of community investment, aided by newOpportunity Zone tax breaks.Launched with 15 members, the Council includes: Access Ventures, Arctaris Capital Management, Beekman Advisors, Blueprint Local, Capital Impact Partners, Enterprise Community Investment, Goldman Sachs, Heritage Equity Partners, Lela Goren Group, LISC, MCB Real Estate, Obsidian Investment Partners, Our Opportunity, and Think Food Group.
The council is a platform to learn and collaborate with peer investors, to incubate new ideas and to exchange best practices. At the Beeck Center, we are focused on outcomes, data, and fair and ethical financial practices. This makes our center the ideal place to host the council. Members will have access to tools, experts and the collaborative thinking that helps drive social impact and innovation.
At its first meeting in late June, Council members discussed practical ways to adhere to the OZ Impact Reporting Framework guiding principles: community engagement, equity, transparency, measurement, and outcomes. The next meeting is planned for October.
As they begin the collaborative work of real estate and business investments, OZIC members reported a handful of common concerns in the over 8,700 distressed census tracts that qualify for Opportunity Zone tax breaks. There’s no lack of capital, but finding real projects that meet the risk/return profiles sought by impact investors is emerging as a top concern.
OZIC members share a fundamental optimism about the future and the possibility for Opportunity Zones to change the game of community investment. Among the developments, OZIC members expect to see:
Innovative structures and ways to combine Opportunity Zone benefits with other community tools and programs
Models for community engagement that work across geographies and across sectors
New approaches to impact investing, as Opportunity Zones draw real estate developers and investors who are new to community investment and impact investing.
New methods of describing the process of impact investment, and new measures of impact and outcomes.
We are pleased to provide the platform for distinguished investors and developers to gather. We’re looking forward to the first announcements of Opportunity Zone deals that drive positive outcomes in underinvested American neighborhoods.
Earlier this year, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, delivered a message that rattled the financial world – “society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues” and if companies want to continue to receive investment from BlackRock they will need “a clear embodiment of your company’s purpose in your business model and corporate strategy.” This is the world’s largest asset management company — $6.5 trillion! — saying it sees the future. And that the companies of the future will be those that very intentionally embed social impact into their business operations.
These companies of the future will capture and keep the market because their CEOs and brands will be very clearly identified with a social value proposition and a social contract with their employees, their consumers and society writ large. Back to Larry Fink – “purpose is not a mere tagline or marketing campaign; it is a company’s fundamental reason for being – what it does every day to create value for its stakeholders. Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them.”
So, for all you CEOs who claim profit is your purpose, I don’t see you winning the long game. You need a “Plan B”. “Plan B “is a benefit plan, a clearly articulated strategy through which your company will aim to drive social returns alongside financial ones. There are a host of innovative companies moving beyond traditional CSR programs and integrating the idea of corporate social impact directly into their business operations. And this change is paying dividends.
For those interested in devising a Plan B, consider a 4-step approach:
Step 1: Know the Playing Field. There are a variety of ways corporates can enter the social impact field. I like to think of it as a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are companies that operate a traditional CSR unit; it is typically a corporate foundation that provides grant funding to a variety of good causes that may or may not be well related to the business line of the company. I’m not going to name you; you know who you are. On the other end of the spectrum are Benefit Corporations and Certified B Corporations (B Corps); B Corps are companies that meet the highest standards of verified social impact performance, transparency and accountability to balance profit and purpose. Patagonia, Natura,Laureate Education and Method are well-known B Corps; Cipla, Elvis & Kresse, Triodos Bank, and New Belgium Brewing and are less well-known, ought-to-be-known, examples of this class.
Between those ends of the spectrum, there are a number of different ways corporate CEO’s can enter the playing the field with a commitment to put the power of business to work in driving social impact at scale. Consider these options, as you seek to put your team on, and move up, the field:
Do no harm. Recognizing your company’s impact on people and the planet and actively doing something about managing any negative impact is a solid get-on-the-playing field move. For example, Microsoft, Adidas and Sony partnered with the United Nations on a commitment and campaign to urge other companies to measure their climate footprint, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and offset the remainder of their remissions. Or how about the power move (no pun intended) by Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods on his first day on the job issuing a blog committing to manage the dual challenge of meeting the needs of an increased demand for energy (Exxon Mobil’s business) while also mitigating climate change (he advocates for a uniform price of carbon applied consistently over the economy)?
Be a statesman. With diminished faith in politics and government, people are increasingly looking to CEOs to take public stances on major social policy issues and to use their power to shape the context for social impact. Customers increasingly want to understand the social impact of the products they buy and trust the person at the helm of the company they buy from. And employees want to work at companies with social values. Take a page from Dick’s Sporting Goods, the country’s largest sporting goods retailer, with 850 stores across the country. CEO Edward Stack took a stand on assault rifle bans after the Parkland shooting and Dick’s not only stopped carrying assault rifles but also changed its minimum age for all gun sales to twenty-one. While earnings took a hit, it’s unclear what proportion was related to the policy change and Dick’s is blowing out its baseball line in response. Or a page from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff who, after discovering his female employees were paid less than their male counterparts, spent $6 million to close the gender-equity pay gap. And, most recently, the CEOs of seven women’s health companies who spoke out against the wave of state anti-abortion bills and challenged corporate America to join their campaign.
Invest in people and place. Each year, we have more proof points that embedding social impact into the business model drives profits. More evidence that consumers are willing to align their purchasing power with their social missions. Higher brand loyalty and employee retention rates in purpose-driven companies. Continued pressure by the Millennial workforce expecting their employers to advance society. And more attention paid to investing in underleveraged communities. Intentionality around investing in your workforce and the communities in which you work and serve become essential plays along the social impact spectrum. Costco, Ben & Jerry’s, and In-N-Out are among a group of companies that pay their workers a living wage while debunking the myth that it hurts their bottom line. Levi Strauss’ Worker Wellbeing initiative provides financial literacy, health and education benefits to its factory workers around the world. And Whole Foods, as part of Detroit’s Future Cities Initiative, took a leap of faith putting a store in midtown, a green food desert, employed Detroiters and exceeded its two-year revenue projections in the first three months. And Northrop Grumman, recognizing the benefits of a more diverse, local employee base, partnered with the National Security Agency in launching the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) program at the University of Maryland. Fifty-three percent of enrolled students are women and forty percent are students of color. The program has benefitted UMD with retention rates over ninety percent, and built the depth and breadth of cybersecurity professionals Northrop Grumman needs to grow their business.
Innovate across the supply chain. Business performance and public opinion have driven most companies to understand and invest in strong, sustainable supply chain management. Not doing so puts most companies at great risk and doing it well will increasingly be required by customers, investors and regulators. MVPs can be found on the annual Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 list. Nike – once known more for its sweatshop practices – now makes the list regularly after seeing that an embedded workers’ rights impact strategy was a driver of productivity and profits. Mars is one of the longest playing teams committed to sustainable supply chain management – well before it became either a social movement or a business imperative. And Walmart deserves a shout-out for its intentionality to diversifying its supply chain through its Supplier Diversity Program that ensures that minority, woman, veteran, and LGBT-owned companies have equal access to supplier partnerships.
Acquire, merge with or invest in a benefit company. Acquisitions and mergers can onboard ideas and develop relationships in new spaces, paving the way for fuller integration of social impact into your core business operations. Campbell Soup Company acquired Bolthouse Farms, Plum Organics, Kelsen Group and Garden Fresh Gourmet, marking a shift in focus to ingredient transparency, healthier low-cost offerings and organic baby food. This values-based partnership proved to be a profitable one, with the largely untapped organic baby food market rapidly expanding. Danone’s strategy has led it to acquire companies in multiple new countries and markets, better aligning their products with their markets. In particular, Danone’s purchase of WhiteWave made Danone the world’s biggest producer of organic foods while also injecting plant-based nutrition products into to its other four global categories. “DanoneWave” went on to become the biggest public benefit corporation in the U.S.
If M&A is too far down the field, you could also consider creating a corporate fund that invests in social enterprises. This strategy can onboard new ideas, talent, and product lines. And can more strategically align your corporate giving with your business operations while also getting returns on that investment (yes, you can get financial returns through impact investing!). Patagonia’s Tin Shed Ventures leads the pack and is one of many components of Patagonia’s fully embedded social impact strategy. Shell Ventures, established in 1996, is one of the first corporate venture funds in the oil and gas industry. And if an on-balance sheet, operated-by-the corporation fund is a bridge too far, consider investing in a third-party fund. JPMorgan has used this tool in NatureVest (alongside the Nature Conservancy) and more recently in its Entrepreneurs of Color Fund.
Step 3:Claim your turf. Decide what social impact strategy is right for your company; declare it publicly; measure it; and report it to your stakeholders just as you do your financial returns. The use of the term stakeholder here is important. It represents an intentional shift from a shareholder primacy approach that maximizes short-term profit and returns to an accountability structure that is responsive to a broader group of those who can affect or be affected by the achievement of the company’s objectives. CEOs become accountable not only to their shareholders but also to their employees, consumers and society writ large. My only real counsel here is to make it authentic. It’s too easy to see through PR gimmicks and insincere attempts.
Step 4: Go for extra points. The real gamechanger play is to fully embrace and one-hundred percent embed a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy into your business operation. Everything I would want to say is better articulated by Ryan Honeyman and Dr. Tiffany Jana in the B Corp Handbook Second Edition, summed up with this quote: “What I have learned over the past few years is that there is no such thing as a conversation about DEI and a separate conversation about business as a force for good. They are the same conversation. Siloing DEI into something separate is one of the main barriers facing our movement to create a more equitable society.“ It should be required reading for all CEOs. And if you want a ‘Hail Mary,” how about leading the charge to have corporates pay fair a tax burden, and stop the burden’s fall on individuals – this just could be the greatest gift to improving everyday people’s lives at a grand scale; revenue back into the system to invest in schools, healthcare and new business formation.
We are at an inflection point where the stakes are high to reimagine how capitalism and democracy work for everyone. Milton Friedman’s notion that the only social responsibility of business is to maximize profit is increasingly rejected by many, including investors, philanthropists, business leaders, policymakers, and perhaps most notably Millennials, who will represent the future workforce and consumers. People want to buy from, work for, invest in, and donate to companies that identify as social enterprises. Corporate CEOs stand poised to seize the greatest opportunity of their lifetime to deliver both greater financial returns and social returns at scale that could, quite literally, make the world a better, more equitable place.
May 22, 2019 | Lisa Hall and Jen Collins
This week more than 300 individuals from across the country gathered in Newark, NJ, to talk about investing in Opportunity Zones. The impressive day-long agenda included remarks from a New Jersey state senator and U.S. presidential candidate, three mayors, the governor of New Jersey, professional athletes, hip hop icons, and some of the wealthiest impact investors in the world along with a host of influencers and stakeholders from the traditional and impact investing communities.
We left, however, wondering when there would be less talk and more doing, along the lines of Antony Bugg Levine’s recent blog on how to break the logjam in impact investing. We also realize that long term impact and real outcomes take time and that the most successful investments in Opportunity Zones will involve unlikely partners and unusual alliances. We believe as Stephen Covey describes in his book on the topic, that relationships move at the speed of trust and that the corollary is also true — social change moves at the speed of relationships.
Much of the conversation at the 2019 Forbes Opportunity Zones Summit: Investing for Impact was self-congratulatory, centered on the great programs and new investment funds that have been launched in the past year since the passage of the Opportunity Zone legislation at the tail end of 2017. As most in the field of impact investing know by now, the legislation is designed to drive investment into low income neighborhoods through a deferral of taxes on capital gains. But as referenced many times during the event, Opportunity Zones are still in the warm up phase. Building upon the baseball analogy, we are not even in the first inning.
Convenings are crucial to spreading information and educating stakeholders about the benefits and challenges of this new tax incentive. In 2018, Beeck Center organized a number of meetings on Opportunity Zones including a convening with real estate investors, a forum on impact management to move towards a shared impact framework, and a training for community development agencies from all over the country. We are clearly big believers in the power of bringing people together to discuss and learn about important issues, like investment in communities that have not historically had access to capital.
As convenings go, the Forbes event was a good one. Many people noted a palpable buzz in the air and excitement around plans for revitalizing poor communities. Having attended our fair share of OZ convenings this year, we also noted with enthusiasm that the composition of panels reflected the inclusion that the industry often aspires to but more often than not, fails to achieve. The organizers, Forbes and the Economic Innovation Group, delivered on their intention to have an extremely diverse and inclusive audience. We found ourselves at every turn meeting social entrepreneurs like Vince Harris of Hoozip and community leaders from the local Newark community development scene like Aisha Glover of Newark Alliance, alongside billionaires like long time Newark booster Ray Chambers, and Sean Parker of Facebook and Spotify fame, all seeking to leverage the incentive.
Nonetheless, nearly 18 months have passed since the legislation was enacted and there are still far too few deals that have closed. Most of the organizations represented on stage have not yet closed on investments in Opportunity Zones. Prudential is a notable exception to this reality. In January, Prudential Financial’s Impact Investments group invested in a mixed-use, New Markets Tax Credit project known as Yard 56 in Baltimore, MD which will involve the development of more than 2.2. million square feet of real estate. Prudential is of course, not the only investor to have closed a deal in an Opportunity Zone, but transactions of any size remain few and far between, despite the announcement of dozens of new investment funds that are currently raising capital to invest in Opportunity Zones.
So we ask ourselves — what will it take to convert conversations into more action and actual investments? What will it take to create more doers? We suggest the following as a few ways for investors to start:
Commit to impact. The enthusiasm around Opportunity Zones has led to numerous stakeholder conversations about the impact that investors can and will have in Opportunity Zones. The Beeck Center in collaboration with the US Impact Investing Alliance has published a set of principles and a reporting framework for impact which can be applied to investing in Opportunity Zones. We have already seen adoption by foundations like Kresge who has incorporated these principles in their covenants for two deals for which they will provide guarantees. The State of California has also referenced the guidelines in their proposal which has now been introduced to conform their state capital gains treatment with the federal incentive. The Sorenson Impact Center also shared their adoption of the framework in their announcement of The Catalysts: Top Opportunity Zone Visionaries which will highlight the work of impact-oriented stakeholders.
Identify and leverage ecosystem activities already underway. There are many national and local initiatives helping to identify investment opportunities in Opportunity Zones. Examples include the Governance Project, which has created a Municipal Tool Kit to help mayors attract investment to their towns and cities. Accelerator America and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth announced a partnership at the Forbes Opportunity Zone Summit, which will support 50 cities in their efforts to attract Opportunity Zone investments. And on a local level, Opportunity Alabama is a stand alone non-profit focused on Opportunity Zones and paving the way for investors to evaluate potential investments statewide.
Commit to standards with others who are aligned. It is critical for industry leaders to come together and set standards for impact and the field of impact investing. There are several groups that have already come together on a regular basis like the coalition formed by Economic Innovation Group and the working group initiated by Novogradac & Company, LLP. At the Beeck Center, we are bringing together a small group of investors who are exploring how they can adopt our Principles and Impact Framework. The Opportunity Zones Investor Council will also explore ways to drive impact, cultivate unlikely partnerships, and lift up best practices. Stay tuned for more details about this effort which will launch over the summer.
Engage and partner with a diverse set of community stakeholders. Financially successful investments in Opportunity Zones will benefit from engagement with unlikely partners. Community engagement was mentioned countless times during the Forbes Opportunity Zone Summit. Since February 2018 Beeck Center has been hosting a working group of community development practitioners who are committed to generating positive net impact in Opportunity Zones. The group includes LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) and Enterprise Community Partners, both of which have extensive, longstanding relationships and investment experience in low-income communities through their work in Low Income Housing Tax Credits and grantmaking in communities across the nation. Furthermore, many community development stakeholders who have operated in and invested in Opportunity Zones for decades — anchor institutions like churches, universities and hospitals. Some of the most critical partners for investors may end up being Community Development Financial Institutions which have provided loans to businesses and real estate projects since 1993 and before. These trusted financial intermediaries have also successfully managed partnerships for New Markets Tax Credits in low income communities.
We believe there is no tradeoff in creating impact and generating a decent return in Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zone legislation is a rare bipartisan idea in current divisive atmosphere on Capitol Hill. But community investing is still a world of both/and — not either/or. There does not need to be a tradeoff between creating impact and generating strong financial returns. Collaborative behavior will win. It’s time for capital to get off the sidelines. It’s time to stop talking and start doing.
by Alyssa Alfonso and Afras Sial
What was your first impression of Utah? What were you thinking on the way to WIS?
Alyssa: As I caught my breath in the Salt Lake City airport before heading to the University of Utah campus for the summit, I was nervous, excited, and a bit unsure of what the week would have in store. A foot of snow was in the forecast, which I had a feeling my work-appropriate flats squeezed into my carry-on were not equipped to handle. Similarly, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for three days of nonstop networking, panels, and ultimately creating a proposal to solve college affordability and the student loan debt crisis. An introvert at heart still learning how to share my narrative, the idea of giving my spiel to a “real professional” at a mission-driven organization made my feet go cold. But soon after arriving at the welcome dinner with each of the other 20 student delegates from social impact centers based in universities around the country, I felt much more reassured. A mix of undergraduates and graduate students, it was comforting to be surrounded by students who were all engaged in and passionate about the social impact space.
Afras: Arriving in Utah, although I was returning to my home state, I found myself in a different state of mind. Rather than returning home for a winter or summer break, I had come to represent the Beeck Center in the Student Coalition for Social Impact as part of the Winter Innovation Summit (WIS). WIS describes itself as “the premier cross-industry event in social impact, innovation, and investing,” gathering “policymakers, funders, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs to explore the future of social innovation across the globe.” From our dinner on the first night, I could already see how WIS was realizing this vision as I met diverse students from across the country who shared a commitment to leaving the world better, but each in their own unique way. The next day, the summit began with a keynote by Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California. His story of choosing to return to his struggling hometown after “making it” in more elite circles set a reflective mood for the summit, challenging me to recenter my goals on impact, even if they were not nestled in buzzword-laced sphere of social impact.
What experiences prepared you for this moment?
Afras: Without my experiences with the Beeck Center, I would not have had the vocabulary or perspective to digest the discussions and challenges we encountered at WIS. As a student analyst, I learned about the impact investing space, early childhood development programs, and public-private partnerships, all of which featured prominently throughout the summit. Later as a GU Impacts Fellow at the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta, I experienced a more grassroots approach to social impact. That experience enabled me to think more critically during the summit about how policy innovations, like income-share agreements in higher education, affect individuals beyond the data. Nevertheless, the data remains important, which I learned while studying impact evaluation systems as a student researcher at the Sorenson Impact Center, an opportunity the Beeck Center was instrumental in helping me access. Now as a student of economics, I was pleased to hear from panelists on topics ranging from AI to housing affordability and health innovation how the empirical methods we learn and practice are being implemented in real-time (as opposed to multi-year academic endeavors) to achieve better outcomes.
Alyssa: As a junior, I had the opportunity to work with Harlem Commonwealth Council on their annual Impact Report, where I partnered with a team of graduate students to identify a range of measurable factors to correlate with impact. I also had the opportunity to work with Federal City Council as a GU Impacts fellow in summer 2018. Federal City Council worked in a variety of project areas, all centered around helping growth benefit all residents of the District, not just a select few. In writing a grant to pilot an Accessory Dwelling Unit program and working group to increase the amount of affordable housing in DC, building curriculum for students with community-based nonprofits, and attending meetings with BIDs and executive agencies, I was exposed to a huge variety of players and ways to get involved in mission-driven work. As I engaged in conversations with other students and young professionals from social impact organizations like the Lumina Foundation, Third Sector Capital Partners, and the Urban Innovation Fund, I was almost surprised at how much how much my work as a fellow informed my participation in conversations and what I was able to contribute.
What surprised you most about the WIS?
Alyssa: What most surprised me about the Summit was the network of connections I was able to form in just three short days of panels, keynotes, and skiing. While chatting with a student delegate over lunch on the first day, I coincidentally ran into a woman I had the opportunity to work with as a GU Impacts Fellow last summer – at the time of writing this blog, we’re planning to get coffee next week to talk more about her work and how she found her way into the social impact space. When another student delegate heard I was interested in affordable housing, she immediately put me in touch with her peer at Berkeley. We hopped on the phone together and spent over an hour talking about the importance of housing as a social issue that encompasses questions of mobility, equity, and the wealth gap in our country. Engaging in organic conversations like these made me feel much more comfortable sharing my own narrative as well as asking questions about their work. Now that the summit has concluded, I feel confident that I can not only continue but also initiate these conversations.I’m grateful that I was able to build on my previous experience at the WIS Summit to further conversations and my understanding of social impact. In the end, a summit is just a series of questions and conversations. We’re glad these conversations were ones we won’t soon forget.
Afras: One of our final experiences with the Student Coalition for Social Impact at WIS was its first-ever Impact Hackathon on college affordability and student debt. After five hours, our solution was still a bit rough. As a group of twenty-one students, we struggled to maintain consensus and seam together all the solution’s disparate components. However, at the end of it all, even if our solution does not generate impact itself, I know I will not forget the impact of the stories shared by our peers. As we worked to hone in on our issue, we heard from inspiring students like Alex, one of the few to leave foster care and complete an advanced degree, and Huda, who would not give up on the fight to increase student access to mental health resources.
November 8, 2018 | The Beeck Center
The Beeck Center recently convened 40 leading real estate investors and developers to Georgetown for a dialogue on Opportunity Zones, established under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to drive private capital into 8,700 designated low-income census tracts. Some analysts are predicting that more than $6 trillion in capital is eligible for investment in underserved communities. Annie Donovan, Director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund at the U.S. Department of Treasury, shared remarks at the event.
The 2017 Act offers investors deferrals on capital gains invested in the nation’s most distressed areas — with the potential for full tax forgiveness on additional gains realized through Qualified Opportunity Funds. These funds must hold 90% of their assets in Opportunity Zones, including stock, partnership interests, and business property, encouraging investors to deploy capital strategically while also creating robust social infrastructure in capital-starved, under-resourced communities. With a median household income of $33,345, a poverty rate of 31.75%, and unemployment rate of 13.41%, opportunity zones stand to benefit immensely from newly mobilized equity.
Despite these provisions, however, many of the policy’s elements remained in flux until October 19, when the U.S. Department of Treasury issued its first round of regulatory guidelines and announced a 60–day comment period for stakeholder input. Attendees shared their perspectives on the guidelines, opening up a productive cross-sector exchange on vital matters of policy, regulation, and compliance.
With its sustained focus on innovative and scalable approaches to complex social challenges, the Beeck Center has long anticipated the need for a cross-sector approach to investing in underserved areas, seeking to ensure that this new legislation is used as a tool for community development and not solely for financial gain. The Center, with initial support from the Kresge Foundation, regularly convenes an expert group of community development practitioners to explore how Opportunity Zones can serve a double bottom line. This working group has grown to include over 40 organizations from across the country.
More recently, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, The Center and the Kresge Foundation reviewed nearly 150 letters of inquiry submitted by Opportunity Fund managers. And together with the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance and the New York Federal Reserve, the Center convened a roundtable of community development investors, researchers, and practitioners in July to discuss the future of Opportunity Zones and the importance of inclusive economic policies.
The real estate convening, supported by the Ford Foundation, furthered that conversation, providing a platform for discussions about potential shared frameworks for meaningful impact and leading-edge policies and practices that can keep people and communities at the heart of place-based investment strategies. This work builds upon the efforts of CDFIs, trusted partners with a record of proven impact in underserved communities.
Significantly, while the 2017 Act allows investors to benefit from Opportunity Zones through tax breaks and competitive returns, it in no way protects community stakeholders from gentrification, displacement, and other consequences that can accompany place-based investment.
The Beeck Center, in collaboration with the working group it leads, has drafted a list of guiding principles for Opportunity Fund investments:
Investors should request that fund managers integrate the needs of local communities into the formation and implementation of the Opportunity Funds.
Opportunity Fund investments should seek to be additive and generate equitable community benefits.
Investors should monitor, measure and track progress against impact objectives, allowing for continuous improvement.
Opportunity Funds should be transparent and held accountable, with processes and practices that remain fair and clear.
Fund managers and developers at this convening offered their own insights into these principles, emphasizing the need to balance support for community-centered investment strategies with fiduciary responsibility to maximize the value of their assets and returns to investors.
Here at the Beeck Center, we believe that economies that are truly inclusive can create sustainable growth across society, affording equitable opportunities through financial innovation. And as protectionist policies at home and abroad destabilize markets and perpetuate injustices that have marginalized historically underserved communities, inclusive practices can help us change course decisively — driving down inequality and ensuring widespread economic and financial well-being.
We believe that the best policies put people first, and that putting people first begins with bringing people together— especially folks who might not cross paths very often, like the investors, developers, and government representatives we welcomed to campus for this dialogue. It’s why a centerpiece of our work is investing in leaders from the public, private, and the social sectors; convening them to explore the most wicked problems we face today; and creating the multi-sector infrastructure we need to deliver positive outcomes across society, particularly for our most vulnerable populations.
We drive impact, rather than implementation, at scale because we see the change around us as a reminder — that well-intentioned initiatives out of touch with everyday life are inevitably out of reach for the people they’re meant to serve. And we challenge ourselves and our partners to rethink the fundamental assumptions that introduce and perpetuate structural injustice, leveraging our work across policy innovation and impact investing to move our thinking forward and more meaningfully serve our communities.
Opportunity Zones offer a great deal of promise to that end, and it’s up to all of us to ensure that everyone stands to gain.
This post is part of our Student Summer Series, which highlights the perspectives of students working at the Beeck Center as they engage and explore ways to scale social impact.
August 15, 2018 | By Eunice Jeong, Student Analyst, Georgetown University Class of 2020
As educational centers serving students as well as larger communities and cities, universities hold great potential for advancing important discussions on modern social problems and the potential for strategies such as socially-conscious investing to help address these issues. Large schools around the world, often with endowments upwards of $1 billion, hold a unique position in the eyes of communities and the media. These schools are developing the next generation of social impact leaders – government officials, educators, and social entrepreneurs – and they have a significant opportunity to shape the future of socially-conscious investing. Through their own investment of endowment funds and the courses they offer to students and executives, universities can lead by example to promote impact investing and build the capacity of the next generation of leaders to do the same.
This summer, Cambridge University confirmed its divestment from companies in the fossil fuel sector as part of its new commitment to using part of its £3 billion endowment to address climate change. The Cambridge University Endowment Fund (CUEF) investment plan includes a comprehensive review of environmental impact funds, education for university leaders on the topic, the creation of a university Centre for a Carbon Neutral Future as a center for sustainable energy research and related policy discussions, and a commitment to complete carbon neutrality on campus by 2050.
Closer to home, Georgetown University’s board of directors announced in June 2015 that the university will no longer invest its endowment in companies whose principal business is mining coal for energy production. They came to the decision after mounting pressure from student and community groups such as GU Fossil Free, which set up pickets on campus demanding accountability from the Georgetown board and presented its proposal in multiple meetings with the board of directors and President DeGioia. In addition to this divestment, the university is committed to evaluating topics related to socially responsible investments and endowment management. While Georgetown’s financial disaffiliation from coal companies is not yet as extensive as Cambridge’s commitment to actively investing in sustainable energy options, divestment itself is an important first step in impact investing on a campus scale.
Socially-conscious investing is starting to catch on in similar ways in other schools as well. Many consider socially responsible decisions to be part of a university’s obligation to its students and larger community. As students and staff demand that school directors and advisory boards tackle relevant social issues, university commitments to impact investing are starting to become more common. Efforts in campus impact investing can be seen in the boards of other large universities across the country, such as Harvard, Brown, and Boston University. For Georgetown, addressing fossil fuel companies’ effect on climate change problems can be considered to be part of the Jesuit mission of the school – in an official statement, DeGioia remarked, “As a Catholic and Jesuit university, we are called to powerfully engage the world, human culture, and the environment – bringing to bear the intellectual and spiritual resources that our community is built upon…The work of understanding and responding to the demands of climate change is urgent and complex. It requires our most serious attention.”
In addition to promoting impact investing with their own endowments, schools can also provide opportunities for their students to learn about impact investing and tools to apply in their careers. This year, the University of Cape Town will launch its first course on impact investment for lawyers through its Graduate School of Business. The course will be convened by the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Program convener Susan de Witt remarked, “Impact investment is growing at a rapid pace, both globally and in [South Africa], and as more international funding becomes available with demands for better social and environmental as well as financial returns, there will be a need for legal expertise to craft the kind of agreements and deals that will ensure these outcomes are realised.” Other universities should consider implementing similar programs so that students can learn to implement social impact investing practices in their future careers. This program is similar to other established programs such as the Social Impact MBA program at Boston University aimed to teach business management with a social impact mindset, aimed toward students interested in the nonprofit and social sector.
How else can schools promote impact investing for students outside the classroom? Socially conscious investing efforts can come directly from the student body in the form of student organizations like the Wharton Social Venture Fund – similar projects exist at the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Students interested in learning about the subject can create or join clubs like Net Impact, a student organization based off the national nonprofit which aims to support business-minded students in pursuing social and environmental impact causes. The organization has chapters in universities across the country. Schools can also host conferences and speaker events featuring impact investing experts and give students the opportunity to learn and network with leaders in the field.
Looking forward, university-sponsored impact investing, whether it’s directly through endowment investments, or indirectly through student education, has significant potential to make a difference in communities and in the next generation of leaders. Schools looking to follow in the footsteps of Cambridge, Georgetown, Wharton, and Cape Town must carefully analyze their priorities and the needs of the surrounding community so that the investments that they produce lead to real returns and social impact. In this way, universities today are in a position to leverage their significant power to create lasting social finance solutions and build the capacity of future leaders.
This post is part of our Student Summer Series, which highlights the perspectives of students working at the Beeck Center as they engage and explore ways to scale social impact.
July 30, 2018 | By Caprice Catalano, Student Analyst, Georgetown University Class of 2020
Impact investing is a hot and trending topic. In fact, during the past year, the estimated value of the impact investing sector has doubled, with assets under management rising to $228 billion. So, what exactly is impact investing?
Before joining the Beeck Center as a summer student analyst, I was asking myself the same question. I was surprised to discover how little I knew about impact investing, given the massive amount of assets held in this sector and my undergraduate studies in finance in the business school. Over the past two years, I have been immersed in learning about stocks, bonds, and other financial investments. I learned to seek investments that provide the most “bang for your buck,” but I failed to consider the fact that an investment can do a whole lot more than generate profit.
In addition to profit, financial investments have the power to achieve positive social and environmental impact. Impact investments are investments made in companies, organizations, and funds with this multi-faceted intention in mind. The Beeck Center has helped me realize the full potential of investments by providing me opportunities to participate in conversations on impact investing, such as at Alley’s Impact Investing Panel Discussion and Demo Night.
At this event, I engaged with individuals who live and breathe impact investing. The panel discussion consisted of venture capitalists who invest money into startups that produce positive social and environmental impact, along with strong financial returns. I also had the chance to speak with multiple social entrepreneurs. Unlike most business executives who use social impact to gain good publicity, social entrepreneurs consider catalyzing social change from the outset.
In the panel discussion, the venture capitalists provided great insights into the impact investing field. They commented on the upsurge in impact investing funds and the motivation behind it. Several panelists attributed the rise in funds to consumers’ desire for businesses to become more accountable, transparent, and action-oriented towards social problems.
The panelists moved on to challenge one of the major criticisms facing the impact investing field, which is the concern that impact funds do not generate robust returns. Hallie Noble, the head of Village Capital’s U.S. FinTech Practice, contested this criticism with the fact that 50 percent of venture funds do not even make their investment back. How can we disparage impact funds for not providing robust returns when essentially no venture capital makes a robust return?
An interesting conversation on identifying and measuring impact also emerged among panelists. One way that Village Capital strives to generate impact is by eliminating the bias present in venture capital funding access. The firm invests in entrepreneurs who might otherwise be overlooked by traditional early-stage investors. Venture capital cannot be restricted to white, male entrepreneurs from the Bay Area. These funds must be accessible to all entrepreneurs – with no prejudice against gender, race, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.
I had the pleasure of meeting a social entrepreneur who is directly challenging this funding bias. In 2015, Fonta Gilliam founded Sou Sou, a financial technology company, with the goal of helping female borrowers build their credit score, cash collateral, and financial acumen. The app is open to all users, but it was specifically designed with women and minorities in mind due to the harsh realities they face in obtaining finances. Women are two times more likely to be denied a loan at a bank and are four times less likely to receive venture capital funds. In 2017, only 2% of venture capital funds were given to women, with women of color receiving less than 1%. Gilliam, a woman of color herself, is defying these statistics and her app is working to inspire more women to break through this tough barrier.
Not only was Gilliam’s technology designed for women, but it was inspired by women. Sou Sou, both the name and the company itself, stems from the word, “susu.” Susu refers to an informal savings and loan tradition pioneered by women in West Africa. In this tradition, families and friends lent money to each other when receiving money from a bank was infeasible. Although this tradition began in West Africa, it is used all over the world under a variety of names.
Fonta Gilliam is just one of many individuals utilizing business to tackle social problems. Her work and pursuits demonstrate the importance in companies, investors, and consumers coming together to find investments that can unleash social change. Together, we must push businesses to shift from operating under a single bottom line to operating under a triple bottom line – one that considers the planet and people in addition to profit.
In the short span of two months at the Beeck Center, my knowledge on impact investing has risen exponentially. I greatly encourage other finance-driven students or financial service professionals to seek out opportunities to learn about and engage in this fast-growing and important sector. Learn a way to get an even better and more meaningful bang for your buck.
Proposed Guiding Principles for Opportunity Zones to Fuel an Inclusive Economy and Drive Social Impact
March 13, 2018 | By Lisa Hall, Senior Fellow
What if economic tax incentives designed to improve the place you call home don’t consider your needs? What if tax benefits, instead, focus on high-end projects that don’t require a federal tax subsidy to be successful, creating a new economic reality that feels far from the home you know. Opportunity Zones are a brand-new mechanism established by Congress, designed to drive private capital into distressed areas through deferred taxes on capital gains in the United States. How can these Zones and the Opportunity Funds which will invest in them be carefully constructed with the people who are living in underserved communities at the heart of decisions?
Place based strategies are commonly employed by community development practitioners and policymakers to achieve social impact. Opportunity Zones have the potential to enhance and bolster existing place based strategies that currently benefit low-income communities, including Promise Zones, New Markets Tax Credits and Choice Neighborhoods. Opportunity Zones also have the potential to do harm, as Ada Looney contends in his recent Brookings post. And Opportunity Zones, as emphasized in the recent article by Rachel M. Cohen in the Intercept, can sometimes have unintended consequences.
Consistent with our belief that economic policies should be implemented in a way that considers and serves the people in the communities affected, the Beeck Center for Social Impact at Georgetown University, in partnership with the Kresge Foundation, convened an expert group of community development practitioners to explore how Opportunity Zones can drive capital to communities in a way that truly benefits the individuals and families that currently live and work there. We asked ourselves a simple question: How can Opportunity Zones be used as a tool for community development and not solely a tool for financial gains.
In response to this question, we drafted proposed guiding principles for the designation of Opportunity Zones. The principles are intended to serve as a starting place to help guide the designation process and, ultimately, the creation of Opportunity Funds that can best serve the people currently living and working in these areas, which by definition in the statute, must be low-income census tracts. The following principles are presented as a straw-person for discussion. These principles are not meant to be prescriptive; but rather to engage conversation and embrace the opportunity for social impact. We invite feedback by sending an e-mail to me at email@example.com. Comments will be collected and shared with the working group.
Proposed Guiding Principles for Opportunity Zones to Fuel an Inclusive Economy and Drive Social Impact
1. Recognizing that Opportunity Zones will deliver publicly funded tax incentives and subsidy to communities across the US, the state selection process should include as a key objective, the goal of delivering public benefit to a range of stakeholders, not limited solely to private investors, but also benefitting current residents of low-income communities, community development organizations, community service organizations, and social enterprises.
2. Where possible, Opportunity Zones, should be selected in combination with state tax incentives and allocations by states for other government programs that directly benefit low-income households and communities, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits. Benefits generated in Opportunity Zones should be additive to existing efforts and not cannibalize existing or prospective community development investments like those motivated by the Community Reinvestment Act.
3. Impact objectives for Opportunity Zones should be established and tracked, including but not limited to goals for raising the standard of living for current residents. Examples include output goals like number of new businesses created, living wage jobs created and affordable housing units. Outcome goals, like increased median household income and improvement in health statistics should also be considered.
4. States should adopt methodologies for selecting Opportunity Zones that are consistent with effective evaluation standards and best practices for research design to facilitate ongoing monitoring of zones, leveraging evaluation resources available from academic institutions.
5. The selection process for Opportunity Zones should consider the capacity of neighborhoods to absorb private capital and existing infrastructure needed to enable investments in businesses as well as real estate. States should seek to integrate investments generated by the tax benefit to complement and leverage existing and prospective economic activities in designated Opportunity Zones.
6. Opportunity Zones should be selected with consideration given to environmental issues. States should encourage or mandate that businesses located in Opportunity Zones adhere to environmental best practices.
7. Efforts should be made to ensure that current residents of Opportunity Zones are able to remain in neighborhoods or can benefit from rising property values. Examples include state and local tax abatements for low-income homeowners.
8. A balance of rural and urban neighborhoods should be selected to diversify investment activity and to ensure that rural areas are eligible for investment. Opportunity Zones should be selected in a geographically targeted manner so there can be a sufficient investment of resources in each Opportunity Zones.
9. States should identify and support community development intermediaries, like CDFIs and community banks, that can provide debt financing to support businesses and real estate that will benefit from equity investments from Opportunity Funds.
10. In addition to prohibited business activities like gambling and liquor stores, states should discourage the creation of new businesses in Opportunity Zones which disadvantage low-income communities like payday lenders.
Speed is of the essence to put these principles into practice. Several groups including the Economic Innovation Group and The US Impact Investing Alliance have been advocating for and helping to craft what was originally known as the Investing in Opportunity Act. And many in the community development field and impact investing world have embraced the concept of Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds, successfully incorporated with bi-partisan support into the Tax Cuts and Job Acts passed at the end of 2017. State governments and territories have also embraced the new legislation and are already selecting Opportunity Zones, to comply with the legislative requirement that Governors designate low-income census tracts prior to a March 21, 2018 deadline. Some states have hit the ground running, launching websites to solicit input and comments on the designation process. Local and national non profit organizations including Enterprise Community Partners, Council on Development Finance Agencies, and LISC are supporting efforts to raise awareness about the program, providing resources and analysis of the legislation, and by engaging community development organizations in the state by state designation processes.
We believe this new tax benefit creates an opportunity to improve low-income communities in underserved rural and urban areas by attracting more private capital to finance small businesses, community services and social enterprises. But, if Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds are designed in ways that solely benefit activities and projects that do not need subsidy to succeed, including high end, real estate based projects, then the legislation will not meet its potential for delivering meaningful impact. Opportunity Zones can and should create living wage jobs, improve community assets, and help build wealth for people in places that have not yet recovered from the global recession.
Lisa Hall is a Senior Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, which engages global leaders to drive social change at scale. She has dedicated her 25-year career to economic and social justice, impact investing and community development. Lisa has served in executive roles across multiple sectors in the United States and abroad, including time as CEO at Calvert Impact Capital and Managing Director at Anthos Asset Management. Her area of focus at the Beeck Center is the inclusive economy, exploring how social innovation and access to opportunity can drive prosperity for all communities. She is active on Twitter @lisagreenhall
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