Mission-driven investments have attempted to ameliorate the lack of capital in underinvested communities, in particular communities of color. Up until recently, these interventions have not centered community voices or sought to shift power to communities. In doing so, they have left impact on the table. This is finally changing, due both to a wave of efforts by communities to deploy capital on their own terms, and the reckoning by philanthropic funders and investors with issues of power imbalances, made particularly salient in the context of the racial justice uprising.
Transform Finance set out to make the case to investors for centering community voices and documenting the projects that signal a shift in governance away from traditional investors. Two years of research resulted in a first attempt at defining Grassroots Community Engaged Investment (GCEI) - a set of processes and practices for investing with meaningful input, decision-making power, and/or ownership from grassroots stakeholders.
Our recent report and case studies on GCEI elicited significant interest on the part of all stakeholders involved, from funders to financial intermediaries and grassroots groups. There is an opportunity now to activate more actors and push Grassroots Community Engaged Investment into the mainstream.
As a step in that direction, Transform Finance launched a seven-part discussion series meant to stimulate next steps with the needs of the field in mind.
The first Discussion Series event took a step back to ground practitioners in the why and what of community power and an overview of GCEI practices. Aditi Vaidya of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation set the stage by introducing the notion of community power as “the ability of communities most impacted by structural inequities to develop, sustain, and grow an organized base of people who act together through democratic structures to set agendas, shift public discourse, influence decision-makers, and cultivate ongoing relationships of mutual accountability to change systems and advance health.”
SESSION 1: ADDING A POWER BUILDING LENS TO INVESTMENT
The second session in the Discussion Series focused on the nuts and bolts of models of shared governance over investments, hearing from project leaders about how they developed their governance structures and how those structures enabled them to meet the goals of the communities they serve.
The presentation highlighted Voice and Vote as key features of GCEI projects: Who is heard? Who decides? Having Voice and Vote both contributes to the success of projects by fostering buy-in and building on the community’s knowledge, and, most fundamentally, creates agency and power in communities. We reviewed a variety of models including community assemblies, working groups and community tables, governing boards, and decentralized decision-making methodologies, looking at their pros and cons and reviewing examples of each. Representatives from GCEI projects such as Kensington Corridor Trust, Co-Op Capital, Boston Ujima Project, and SPARCC brought their direct experiences into the discussion and helped the participants understand GCEI governance in practice.
SESSION 2: THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF SHARING INVESTMENT GOVERNANCE
The participant discussion in the first two sessions surfaced questions such as:
- Because of the tension of timeline between implementing GCEI and traditional community investment, what expectations of time and resources need to be set when engaging with communities in a thoughtful way?
- How do GCEI projects define who is and is not a part of a community? How can you appropriately weigh community voice within a framework of accessibility?
- How does a project decide among the alternative models of governance? can we navigate the fear that most philanthropic boards and corporate philanthropy executives have around losing control to communities?
- What alternative governance models did you consider and why did you land on this one?
- What is one lesson you learned on voice/vote that you want to share with others on the same journey?
- What do you see as the most useful or important role for philanthropic funders and investors in supporting experimentation around governance?
Transform Finance will be addressing such questions in the forthcoming sessions:
- Session #3: Funding a Movement - How Philanthropy Can Support GCEI Through Grants and Investments featuring guest speakers Nwamaka Agbo (Kataly Foundation), Greg Johnson (Rockefeller Foundation) and Jeff Rosen (Solidago Foundation)
- Session #4: Taking Control of the Economy Through GCEI featuring representatives from Co-Op Capital, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, Kensington Corridor Trust and the Ujima Fund
To learn more about GCEI, sign up for upcoming sessions of the Discussion Series and check out our report.