Participatory Investment Discussion Series Session 3 Recap

Participatory Investment
July 6, 2021

This is a recap of the third session for Transform Finance’s Discussion Series on Grassroots Community Engaged Investment. Read our first recap for the first two sessions here!

Several bold movers in philanthropy have been moving towards a deeper consideration around power, asking themselves: how are we not just moving resources to the communities we serve, but letting them decide what resources are moved? This trend has deep origins in grassroots movements to keep philanthropy (alongside other institutions, mission-driven or otherwise) accountable for their actions, aware of the intrinsic hypocrisies to the industry, and aligned with grassroots priorities. The pandemic, alongside and a renewed focus on racial inequity in 2020 and beyond, has buoyed these demands, and many funders are subsequently changing their practices such as increasing payout or bringing in more community voices.

There is also a growing focus in philanthropy, over the past decade, on place-based work. Programmatic priorities of this area are aimed squarely at combating the racial wealth gap and displacement, and building thriving local economies for BIPOC and working class communities.

At the intersection of these trends is a type of investment called 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 identified the funders and investors who are supporting this work, alongside the projects that are demonstrating what it looks like on the ground. For funders, we identified the areas in which they can play a role in building out this area of work using all of the capital types at their disposal – grants, Program Related Investments, and Mission Related Investments – and developed a set of recommendations.


In the most recent session of our Discussion Series, we dug into the philanthropic roles in making GCEI more commonplace in impact investment and community development.  Featuring Nwamaka Agbo of the Kataly Foundation, Greg Johnson of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Jeff Rosen of the Solidago Foundation, the discussion detailed why now is the time for funders to deeply consider a power building approach in their work and how funders can work with grassroots organizations in deploying capital. Central to the conversation was the idea of broadening the notion of risk within philanthropy, as foundations often worry about financial risk, while there is a real non-financial risk to the communities being invested in if the project fails.


The participant discussion surfaced an engaging conversation that highlighted the real challenges in this work, but also a sense of vision around how GCEI can play a central role in a more equitable future, if adopted and implemented in new ways. Questions emerged such as:

  • What are the mechanisms of accountability that foundations have put in place to work with community partners?
  • How does philanthropy reconcile their desire for innovation and their notions of what is financially viable for investment?
  • How can GCEI projects be seen as a mechanism of de-risking for philanthropy?
  • How do we measure the impact of GCEI, both quantitative and qualitative?
  • Are 3-5 year commitments a long enough time horizon for the support this work needs?  
  • How do we move large philanthropic organizations in particular toward centering communities?

This conversation was rich and filled with learning and sharing. But funders are not the only stakeholders who are involved in making Grassroots Community Engaged Investment happen. Our upcoming sessions touch on the role of other stakeholders:

To learn more about GCEI, sign up for upcoming sessions of the Discussion Series and check out our report.

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