Supporting BIPOC communities requires investing in BIPOC leaders
A new economy is slowly emerging, one where historically marginalized communities have self-determination and where we can build regenerative relationships with our planet and each other. Unsurprisingly, the communities carrying out this work are those most affected by the challenges of our time. Black, Indigenous and actors of color are at the forefront of these efforts, tackling climate change, systemic racism and economic inequality by building on the traditions of cooperation, mutual aid and sustainability of our communities.
We see this every day. In cities where developers are trying to gentrify black neighborhoods, black-led organizations, such as The Guild in Atlanta, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative in Oakland, and Downtown Crenshaw in Los Angeles, have mobilized to remove the market real estate and maintain community ownership. Black farmers in the South and in urban centers across the country are implementing new agricultural practices rooted in Afro-Indigenous principles, making agriculture more sustainable and fostering equitable regional food economies. Indigenous groups are winning lawsuits to assert their rights to reconfigure water management practices in the West. Finally, black and brown entrepreneurs are launching worker-owned co-ops in record numbers, bringing services to neighborhoods abandoned by corporations and disinvested by the public sector, while creating community wealth.
Collectively, the new economic models pioneered by these black and brown leaders are essential to resetting our relationships with each other and with the planet. Yet, as these alternatives take root, we must support this grassroots-led work to grow and grow, because while these projects are extremely promising, the existing systems are not designed to support these seemingly unconventional. This is because these leaders are not white, do not come from affluent communities, and do not have intergenerational wealth; the barriers they face are rooted in racism that cuts across all financial systems and sectors, from lending to philanthropy. Without access to financial and non-financial resources, black and brown movement leaders and social entrepreneurs face significant barriers that prevent them from realizing their vision and expanding their work.
What is needed is a massive focus on unlocking capital for their essential work to grow and grow.
Implicit biases and unsubstantiated narratives surrounding communities of color plague predominantly white financial institutions that unfairly view black and brown organizations as “too risky” for investing. Many realities confirm this: only 3% of venture capital funds go to black and Latino companies; 2% of philanthropic funds are invested in racial justice; Black and brown racial justice nonprofits receive 34% less funding than white-led groups; and only a fraction of the $450 billion in philanthropic capital flowing into the United States each year goes to support the efforts of people of color.
So who do the leaders of the movement turn to? If black farmers or worker-owned cooperatives need to secure vital capital, they almost always have to rely on small grants from private or government foundations, both of which require heavy paperwork to access. Meanwhile, white-led companies are boldly resourced, trusted to receive and manage massive capital injections from philanthropic institutions and impact investors, all of whom operate on assumptions about the needs of communities that do not align with the realities that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color that community builders and local organizers see and experience every day. Thus, the real risk lies not only in the lack of investment in their innovative and bold work, but also in the misallocation of resources that perpetuates cycles of harm in black and brown communities.
Now imagine what would be possible if the leaders of black and brown movements had access to the resources provided to white-led groups. What if, instead of philanthropy and finance operating from archaic and racist risk models based on the idea that money is scarce, we respond with agility to the work and needs of black and brown creators?
Often overlooked by elected officials and government leaders, one of the central goals of the Defund the Police movement is exactly that: shifting municipal funding to proactively invest in the work our communities need. We need elected officials ready to lead with visionary investments of their budgets. We need lenders willing to provide patient, bold capital. We need philanthropic funders willing to make seven, eight and nine figure multi-year grants, as well as unlock alternative investment tools. And we need innovative, scalable infrastructure that can support the flow of this new, more creative capital that can bring abundance back to where resources are truly scarce – the well-being of our communities.
Only this kind of step change will truly catalyze the transformative power of leaders of people of color to build an economy where all people and the planet thrive. While there is a growing ecosystem of players already co-creating new frameworks, such as venture capital, trust-based philanthropy and impact investing that truly has impact at the heart rather than focus on extractive financial gains, there are still billions of dollars trapped in endowments, donor-directed funds and investment funds that could be directed to this transformational work. A critical next step will be to ensure that philanthropy and finance, in partnership with the necessary infrastructure, effectively develop and sustain the leadership of Black and Indigenous peoples and all communities of color in building the regenerative economic models that we need, creating the world where all people, especially black and brown people and those who have been most affected by injustice, thrive.
is the CEO of the Kataly Foundation and the Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund. In her roles, Nwamaka works with the Kataly team to lead the day-to-day operations of the foundation while holding the community-centric strategy and vision for the Fund. With a background in community organizing, election campaigns, policy and advocacy work on issues of racial, social and environmental justice, Nwamaka is deeply committed to supporting projects that build resilient, healthy and self-determined communities rooted in shared prosperity. Prior to joining the Kataly team, Nwamaka built an independent consulting practice guided by his restorative economy framework. Nwamaka was a Fellow of the Center for Economic Democracy and the Movement Strategy Center. She proudly sits on the board of directors of Thousand Currents, Restore Oakland, Inc. and Resource Generation. To relax and unwind, Nwamaka likes to spend quiet time in her garden, enjoying sips of bourbon.
is the co-founder and co-CEO of Possibility Labs.