I believe that stories change the world. The stories that we tell ourselves. The stories our culture feeds us. The stories that we tell our kids.
Once in a while, a new story breaks through. Sometimes it even sticks in the back of my head. It does it’s quiet work there. It unconsciously shapes me.
When I read Audacious Ignatius, the bold perseverance stuck out. I believe it could be part of why my daughter has persevered so joyfully through all the transitions and challenges of the past year — and boldly confronts the world with hope each day.
I’m pre-ordering 8 copies of this new book by my college roommate:
The reason I want you to transform your relationship with your money is two fold:
Your own liberation. For too long, I’ve been trapped by my relationship with my money. I’ve felt so inadequate because I didn’t have enough. Then when I’ve felt like I’ve had enough, I’ve felt so complicit in the violence and evil in the world because of where my money has been (my mortgage at Wells Fargo, my retirement in index and mutual funds that have Exxon, Bank of America, Mark Zuckerberg… Uber… Walmart, Duke Energy, Exelon, AT&T, Comcast — some of the biggest polluters and Trump supporters) — and some of my money is still in these places. But I’ve begun to sense a liberation because this month — for the first time in my life — more than half my money will be in values and impact aligned investments and credit unions. I’ve finally withdrawn the majority of the money I’ve had in the big banks and big multinationals and I will be able to sleep easier at night, knowing that I’m investing in some of the most talented values aligned entrepreneurs and in business entities where investor supremacy isn’t the dominant paradigm. Investors are at the table, but they share power with workers, community, and future generations. In the co-ops that I’m now invested in communities of color and workers have a voice — in some cases they’re worker-owned co-ops that have been so successful they’ve raised money and grown. This is the kind of enterprise and investment portfolio I’m excited to tell my kids about… a portfolio of investments that might help bring into being a more livable future for my grandchildren.
Co-op entrepreneurs need capital. The other reason I care about this is because I know the other side of the equation. I spent the better part of the past 12 asking more than hundred people for money. As the Co-Founder of a co-op, I’ve been raising money to grow our co-op (profitable for the past 4 years) into Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Connecticut. I was pitching an investment that pays 5% interest per year with full repayment in 10 years. I asked people that care deeply about the co-op I’ve been building and have poured themselves into it in other ways. So why didn’t they invest? They (and their financial advisors and trusted friends) didn’t have a framework for how an investment in our co-op fits into the rest of their portfolio. My hunch is that 97% of folks wouldn’t know where an investment in a co-op might fit in their portfolio — much less how to think about the due diligence associated with the investment to understand the risk and return profile for them to make an informed judgement. While I’m not raising money for my co-op right now, 6 of my very dear co-op entrepreneur colleagues (Greg, Jessica, Phil, Hays, Astrid, Molly) are looking for capital and I’d love to help them raise the money they need. In fact, I expect I’ll be spending the better part of the upcoming year or two helping them raise the money they need to actualize their visions. Some of that money I believe will come from larger institutional investors (religious orders, endowments, family offices). But I also believe that individual investors — folks like you and I — who care really deeply about this stuff are a critical piece of the puzzle in how we transform finance and investing in this country. The more you and I are willing to take bold action. The more I believe our churches, synagogues, college friends, neighborhood friends and others will hear about the amazing investment opportunities that are giving you a sense of liberation and joy.
My Journey in 8 Steps
I created an investment club. In 2016, after a good friend pitched us on a business he was building, my college friend who was in wealth management and I decided we were going to invest. I called up a bunch of friends and asked them if they wanted to invest with us. It was fun! I realized a lot of my friends also wanted to align their money with their values and our dear friend was evangelical about the regenerative business he was building. I made my first direct, private investment in a small business where I had a relationship with the owner and it felt great.
I named my feelings. I’ve felt angry, frustrated, trapped for 12 years. This started when I was 22, when I got my first 401k and realized I didn’t really have options to invest it in ways that felt like it aligned with my faith or values. I sucked it up and didn’t think much about it for the following 9 years… Then finally in 2018, I wrote about my feelings in a piece I titled: My Investing Turmoil. This was the beginning of me recognizing I had to do more than just one small investment in my friend’s business. I needed to do more if I was going to come face to face with the growing intensity of my feelings and the discomfort they brought me.
I made a Slow Money loan. Through a beautiful networking session facilitated by Slow money NC, I met a few farmers and food entrepreneurs and made my first direct $3,000, 3% interest loan in a local Black Bakery owner. Bobby was great. He repaid me each month and after a year asked for another $2,000 and after two more years paid them both off, then asked for another loan. I realized I could do more of this so I got some friends involved and we helped another Black entrepreneur raise the money she needed (and might have gotten from friends and family had she been white or if she had been raised in a family with wealth or class privilege). This second loan helped me develop an awareness of what reparations might look like. Getting to know this entrepreneur gave me an appreciation for how different life is when you don’t have the gender, skin, and class privileges that I have.
I made my first two co-op investments. Through my involvement at Start.coop I got to know 6 super talented co-op entrepreneurs who were raising money. Because I got to know them pretty well through the accelerator program, I invested in two of them. Even though I knew it was risky, I also knew there was a small chance of some upside financially. More importantly though, even if both enterprises failed, the work they were doing was yielding such important field-buidling impacts, I knew others would come along afterwards and learn from their models — bringing fair trade to wine (and farmers)…. And organizing uber and lyft drivers. Both sectors have such importance for our future. What was challenging about both these investments for me though, was that I had to be ready to really let go of the money. I couldn’t really invest very much because I knew I could lose it all. I had to be prudent and so while I could put a little bit of money in, it wasn’t nearly an alternative to more stable index funds or bond funds or mutual funds that still dominated my portfolio.
I raised money for the co-op I started. After 8+ years of building the Community Purchasing Alliance, I for the first time spent a meaningful amount of time this past year asking for money. We got registered, created a formal offering document and disclosures and started taking investments. In this process, I learned intimately about the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules, the different types of exemptions to these rules. Why most private placement investments can’t talk about themselves publicly (or really at all — except in 1on-1 conversations). It was eye-opening to how hard it is to solicit investments from non-accredited investors. And then even going through the process of getting registered, I realized the uphill battle that small organizations raising capital face.
I started helping friends and learned even more. As I started to try to help friends get investments, I learned how much privilege I had in my fundraising efforts. I realized how many things have to align to make a fundraising effort (of a co-op or for a shared ownership fund) come out successfully. I realized the art of building and cultivating relationships of trust and building credibility with investors. I learned about Donor Advised Funds (DAFs). I learned about equity and debt. I learned about co-op funds, CDFIs, Credit unions. I learned how risk averse they all are and how hard it is for them to really make meaningful investments in “high-risk” start-ups or unproven co-op business models. I started to realize I needed to invest and shift more of my own money into real estate to balance out my concentration in early stage and small co-ops and social enterprises.
I learned about Kachuwa Impact Fund and fell in love. It almost felt like love at first sight — when I heard that 60% of the Fund’s assets were held in real estate and 35% were in mature, dividend paying co-ops and environmentally focused enterprises. Kachuwa was the perfect complement to my higher-risk higher return start-ups. It was an already built, well diversified, stable set of co-ops and non-extractive real estate investments that made my heart sing. The challenge was the only place I had money that wasn’t already tied up was in my 401k and IRAs. This pushed me to figure out the beauty of the Self-Directed IRA. I had heard about these, but had been dragging my feet on them because of the fees. Then a friend told me about a low-cost Self-Directed IRA that was trying to be the Betterment (low-cost online optimized) version of an IRA… AltoIRA. I tried AltoIRA and my friend was right. Within an evening I had signed a half dozen forms trying to move my old retirement accounts from Vanguard and Fidelity and my RothIRA from ETrade over to this new AltoIRA so I could make a meaningful investment in Kachuwa. The other challenge I had to overcome was going against all my friends and family members’ words of caution that I shouldn’t concentrate to heavily in this one fund. They cautioned against having more than 10% of my portfolio in any one single investment or fund in case anything unexpected goes wrong. I believe there is wisdom there, but I was just too excited. I needed to start to sleep at night — and knowing my money was put into these enterprises and knowing the integrity of the founder and President of Kachuwa — I knew what I needed to do for my conscience and for my kids and their grandkids — and for our world.
I’m refinancing my mortgage with a credit union. The appraiser came last week and hopefully before the end of this year, I’ll close on a new mortgage with Alliant Credit Union at 3% interest for a 20 year mortgage. Moving away from Wells Fargo has long been an ideal… and with interest rates so low — and with NerdWallet directing me to Alliant as the best online credit union — I’ve found superb service, and a fully online process that I was able to start right away and get quotes write away and everything I needed to move the process forward. It isn’t the bare bottom rate, but it’s within striking distance of the best rates out there — and I know my interest payments aren’t going to enrich and exploit and extract… but rather to serve.
You ready to get started?
I created this short video today and I hope to create some more.
What questions or challenges are you wrestling with right now as you think about your next steps?
Would you be willing to share them with me? I’d love to respond to them in an upcoming video on this channel? Share in this form here:
I hope this list gives you some ideas as well as a sense of encouragement and inspiration.
Neighborhood Economics: Healing our Communities. A new economy of interdependence is emerging all around us. Faith+Finance is convening a two day virtual gathering November 17 & 18th. I’ll be speaking at a session called “Everybody an Owner” about co-ops in the “Catalyzing Creative Capital” track (other tracks: entrepreneurship, religious assets in transition & creating culture of change). I’ll be joined by Gerg Brodsky from Start.coop and Franzi from Project Equity. Here’s a no-cost registration link for the full conference or the Wednesday Nov. 17, 1:00pm ET session.
The Equitable Economy Fund (by Start.coop) is a much-needed equity fund (there are lots of great co-op loan funds out there) designed to provide capital that can accelerate the growth of cooperatively owned companies. Investments will be sourced from the Start.coop accelerator for seed-stage businesses as well as growth-stage/market-validated shared ownership businesses. Part of what makes me so excited about this fund is that I’ve spent the better part of the past couple years doing my own diligence on investments I’ve made in folks like Drivers Seat Co-op, Obran Co-op, RedHen Collective. If this at all sounds of interest, this Slide Deck is worth a quick glance. Schedule time with me here, if you’re ready to have a serious conversation about it. Chheck out the website for an overview.
Exit to Community is an effort to develop alternatives to the standard model of the startup “exit.” Rather than simply aiming for an acquisition by a more established company or a public stock offering, could startups aim to mature into ownership by their community of stakeholders? Through policy research, popular education, and partnership with interested startups, MEDLab Fellow Danny Spitzberg in collaboration with Zebras Unite are exploring pathways for making the answer a yes. Exit to Community: A Community Primer, is now available for free, digitally and in print. Nathan Schneider writes more about it here: “Exit to Community,” Noema (August 27, 2020)
Inclusive Capital Collective: A group of over 90 community fund managers and entrepreneur support organizations who have been designing and developing shared technical and financial infrastructure for aggregating and deploying capital and resources to BIPOC communities. A joint project of Common Future and Zebras Unite, and funded by the Surdna Foundation, the ICC is motivated by the need for better “plumbing” to drive capital to BIPOC entrepreneurs. Its purpose is to overcome systemic racism through the equitable access to capital. The ICC achieves this by aiding and amplifying the ingenuity of capital innovators and service providers. The ICC has just concluded a 6 month strategic road mapping process, and we invite you to join us for conversation about its next phase of implementation. November 17, 11 am – 12:30 pm Eastern (Register here); December 1, 1:30 pm – 3 pm Eastern (Register here).
Liturgy & Communion Economy. A new online collaboration between In My Backyard (a Catholic Worker House in Portland) and Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life. The free course is aimed at uncovering possibilities for a social economy of communion in our own parishes and neighborhoods. From Bert Fitzgerald, the organizer: “Opening our minds to see the Body of Christ as a living, social organism, and opening Scripture to see how its economic dimension has been lived and developed over Judeo Christian history.” (More details here.)
Armchair Tour of Co-op Ecosystems.The Industrial Commons has been convening a dynamic network of cooperative developers to visit ecosystems from Spain to Finland to Quebec, and back again. The focus has been on the early stages of these ecosystems (ie – the Mondragon of 1955, not 2020). Elements we’ve been focused on include their infrastructure (finance, education, networks), context (policy environment, economic context, regionalism), and social capital (social identity, solidarity between institutions, community connections). Stay tuned for Margaret Lund’s research paper examining best practices across these impactful cooperative ecosystems. Let me know if you’re interested in my quick take on the Mondragon visit we had and I can share a draft of a piece I’m developing.
Reflections from Fr. Arizmendi (Founder of Mondragon): Elias Crimm, Editor & Publisher of Solidarity Hall is raising funds to publish the first English-language version of Fr. Jose Maria Arizmendi’s Reflections. The Spanish language version is incredible, but there hasn’t been a quality English translation until now. Elias has hired a great worker-owned translator co-op and you can see a mockup of the book here. Might you consider a donation to help Elias close the few thousand dollar gap to be able to publish the book? He’d be happy to send you a copy… Email Elias here. Please consider a donation to this terrific project.
Zebras Unite & their culture-shiftingPivot to People. If you haven’t yet heard about this founder-led, cooperatively owned movement creating the culture, capital & community for the next economy… you’ll want to take a look. Their 2017 Zebras Fix what Unicorns Break rejects our overwhelming pursuit of Unicorns and argues we must work together like Zebras (in a heard). They’ve gathered more than 6,000 entrepreneurs, are developing alternative capital taxonomy, and are now transitioning into a multi-stakeholder co-op. I’m excited to be joining on the ground floor and hopeful for where they might lead us.
Let’s chat about our Personal Investing. Last month, I sold 80% of the money I had in the stock market AND made my biggest investment in co-ops yet. I’m convening a few friends and colleagues to discuss our own personal investing on Friday, December 4 at 12 noon ET. Most of the time will just be candid Q&A and small group discussion about the things you’ve done that have felt most aligned and where you’re feeling the furthest from where you want to be. Join us with this zoom link.
Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is perhaps one of the most tangible manifestations of the Economy of Francesco. Through the annual November collection, CCHD brings in and gives out about $10 million per year. They fund hundreds of low-income community organizing & cooperative economic development projects. Their 50th Anniversary is coming up and they’re beginning to plan regional gatherings and are asking us to help. We want to recognize CCHD as one of the US Catholic Church’s most concrete manifestations of the Economy of Francesco in our midst. More to come in 2021.
I both love and have struggled with my partnership with Metro IAF.
My close relationship with Metro IAF leaders is the primary reason we’ve had success in starting a co-op over the past 10 years. Their power is undeniable. In the past few months, Metro IAF has helped our co-op to expand to working with organizations in 6 new states for our co-op PPE purchasing efforts.
But IAF’s narrative power in capturing our collective imagination is weak.
Metro IAF, on the other hand is in the structure organizing category (see definition, here, which I think is illustrative of why this work is vital). While Metro IAF has contributed to building important alternatives, and doing on-going personal transformation, it’s their structure organizing that is their dominant mode.
My argument (building on Ayni’s) is that to be effective over the long term, we need all three thirds of this circle. And within the “Changing Dominant Institutions” third — we need all three — Mass Protest, Structure organizing & Inside Game.
More specifically, to be effective in seizing the moment we have with the set of interrelated economic, racial & other crises, we need real connective tissue between different parts of the ecology.
I believe we need a shared ownership movement that has meaningful relationships between leaders of mass protests (like Black Lives Matter, the Poor People’s Campaign (Rev. Barber picking up on Martin Luther King), Occupy Wall Street, Zebras Unite), structure organizing (like Metro IAF, Faith in Action, SEIU, WeOwnIt), inside game (like Biden Campaign folks, NCBA, New America), alternatives (like ROC USA, The Industrial Commons and other shared ownership enterprises, employee ownership and worker-owned co-ops, credit unions that live their potential…), and personal transformation groups (like leadership development from WeOwnIt, Slow Money, Liberation theology, Center for Action and Contemplation and socially-focused organizations that attend to peoples direct needs and project a vision of change rippling slowly outward as individual lives are improved). (See my yellow Felipe’s Movement Ecology map below.)
Why do we need this connective tissue?
When Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt in 2011 because of mass protests, the leaders of those mass protests weren’t connected to the leaders of structure organizing groups or alternatives or personal transformation groups. Though structure organizing groups were very interested in getting involved and supporting the leaders of the mass protests, Mark and Paul Engler write in their book This is an Uprising, the leaders clashed too much and they weren’t able to build enough trust, so that when President Mubarak did step down, there wasn’t enough connective tissue in the movement ecology to draw on the power and strength of organization that structure organizing groups had — or the power for personal transformation groups — to rebuild the constitution and a new form of governance for the country. This Egypt example is one of a couple dozen that are written about at length in This is an Uprising.
How do we create this connective tissue that’s needed?
I’m not sure, but I believe it’s in spaces like this workshop that we begin to get to know kindred spirits and identify ways we might be able to see value in each other’s work. I believe we need tangible actions that we can take together that give us a common experience, even if those actions are small. These specific experiences build trust and possibilities.
I know first hand, from my experience inside Metro IAF over the past 10 years — that it’s difficult for established organizations to see the need for this kind of connective tissue.
Metro IAF’s leadership is focused on their theory of change and it’s hard for them to see and build the trust needed to meaningful work with others from other modes. Trust is a difficult and slow asset to build. We must therefore, “Move at the Speed of Trust” as adrienne maree brown teaches in her Emergent Strategy principles (summary of her book here).
As we think about this work, I share a map of my movement ecology.
I’m eager for your feedback and coaching, and reflecting back to me what you see. I’m eager to build more connective tissue between parts of the movement.
I think this is a moment where we can make good decisions for our own institutions and build a vehicle to tackle systemic racism in our economics.
You can choose who you buy from.
Kerma Medical, a black-owned business in Virginia is offering 3-ply surgical masks for $0.53.
Carolina Textile District PPE, a person-of-color worker-owned co-op, is making and selling high quality cloth masks with medical grade antimicrobial fabric for $4.12 — or if we get enough volume for $3.86 per mask.
You can place an order here from these and other vendors.
154 organizations have come together.
We vetted 11 suppliers across 20 items. These businesses rose to the top for a variety of reasons – quality, price, terms and more.
PS – Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) is member-owned cooperative (www.cpa.coop). We help educational, religious, coop, and community institutions lower the cost of their largest contracts while being more effective with the performance they get from their vendors.
In response to our members and others, we started organizing this cooperative buying group for PPE with organizations looking to help share information, market insight, and facilitate group purchasing in this time of need, supply chain challenges, and uncertainty.
“Most of the time, people want to be seen, understood and appreciated. And if we can offer someone dignity, we give them a gift that’s difficult to find.”
This Christmas, I took the risk and wrote a few personal notes (instead of gifts).
As I wrote, I found myself surprised how difficult it can be to really see, understand and offer specific appreciation for others that we’re not used to really seeing and appreciating.
I found myself looking into a mirror and seeing how my own judgements about others — even those close to me — can cloud my ability to really understand them. As a result, I wasn’t able to readily write the letter that I most wanted to offer.
That said, I think the attempt of offering another that dignity of being seen — might still be one of the most important gifts we can offer one another.
“Are there many others talking about Catholic Social Teaching and economics and business?”
His question is valid.
I’ve felt it myself. Haven’t you?
About 9 months ago a cousin forwarded me an email about a small group he had gotten invited to with the subject line: “CST + New Economy”.
In the invite, it talked about a contemplative meditation and then each person would be invited to give a 5 minute TED Talk as a way of introducing themselves. I was ecstatic — these must be my people. I asked my cousin if he could write to the organizer and tell him that I also wanted to join the group.
After my first meeting with that group, I felt compelled to write.
More recently, I’ve realized one of the gifts I can offer is my propensity to act. I’m willing to take risks to just start something. I’m willing to call people together, facilitate a highly interactive space, and see what emerges.
So in November when I accepted to go to Italy for the Francesco Economy event in March 2020 and then I realized there were dozens of events happening all over the world but nothing being organized in the United States. I called Elizabeth and Nathan. They each had been talking about writing something or trying to pull something together.
I told them we had to put a date on the calendar. We just had to set a date. After some significant back and forth we eventually found a date and a time.
Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve gradually begun finding more and more people like me. By shamelessly emailing everybody I know who is Catholic, or who cares about Economic Justice or Catholic Social Teaching or Pope Francis… word has gradually started to spread. We’ve had group calls with 8 people multiple times and gradually a small group of people has similarly spread the word through their networks.
I’m finding that there are many people wrestling with questions of faith, our economy, and what we can do to change things. In fact, I think there are many many more than we think there are.
My hope with this gathering on December 16, and on February 19th and hopefully more throughout 2020 — is that we, collectively might begin to paint the landscape of thinkers and practitioners that feel animated by Pope Francis’ letter.
My hope is that more of us might encounter one another to find inspiration and collaborators.
My hope is that we might come together to collaboratively brainstorm and begin building pathways into a future that is more beautiful than we can imagine.
The stakes are too high. We’re heading into an unlivable future. We know that. We also know that we must be the protagonists of this transformation.
Shifting our investments to local, direct investing is really about buying “livable future insurance”.
The concept is basically that we’re dramatically under-calculating the devastating impacts of super storms, heat waves, hurricanes, & all climate related disruptions over the next 20-40 years. The interesting thing is that many of us will be drawing down our retirement savings on a similar time horizon. I think collectively we’re grossly under-calculating the risk of climate, inequality and related disruptions will have on the stock market. The 8% average annual returns of the past 90 years are not what we’re going to see going forward. Not if you believe the most recent IPCC report.
When you add on to this the reality of health care and long-term care costs, food system instability, other unexpected disruptions — the world will be fundamentally different 20-40 years from now. Whether you’re a technologist (with VR and AI), or a malthusian (finite limits of world’s resources) — the world will be different.
But what are we doing to re-think our retirement savings strategies? Our long-term investing? How are we investing for a livable future?
Here’s my proposal
Durham’s Angel Investor / Slow Money Circle
Investing in Black & Latinx Entrepreneurs
We believe the traditional advice on investing needs to be re-thought given current realities with carbon, inequality, refugees, healthcare, elder care, and mass criminalization of black and brown bodies. We need to be more thoughtful about the structures of sin and evil we are complicit in perpetuating by following status quo investment advice.
We believe the stock market is riskier than most people think, and that we need deeper economic, power, financial, & ruthlessly critical analyses to help us create a livable future for our grandkids and their grandkids.
We believe that understanding racism, all of it’s systemic, institutional, interpersonal impacts is fundamental for white folks to do the work to begin to see the ways we’re all bound up in the structures and extractive mindset that keeps us apart, disconnected from deeper work, where we’re from, and where we’re going.
We believe in the redeeming power of real, deep relationships and contemplative practice, especially based on trust, mutual respect, mutual accountability, grace, and mercy.
We need new vehicles, platforms, communities, learning groups, cohorts to do the important, hard thinking on how do we really divest and where do we reinvest? What alternatives are we building?
Capitalism tends toward the concentration and centralization of wealth and we see it all the time in various sectors and industries we’re in (for example John Oliver’s recent piece on Private Equity’s recent entrance into manufactured housing). Can we democratize these sectors, create co-ops, employee ownership structures that can scale?
What collaboratives of deep thinkers are you engaging with to build this next generation of people moving their money in strategic ways to build the power we need for a more just and livable future to be possible?
“Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Imagine a monopoly game with 8 people. Then imagine 4 of the people are forced to leave the room until all the properties are purchased. Those 4 people are invited back in and asked to keep playing. How do you think they’ll do?”
“That’s what it’s like to be black.”
Geraud Staton tells a story like this during his February 2018 Equity in Entrepreneurship talk at ReCity – an innovative co-working space in Durham. Geraud leads LaunchDurham as part of his role at the Helius Foundation, where he helps necessity-driven entrepreneurs grow their businesses and give it their best shot.
To me, this feels like some of the most meaningful work we can do if we want to get serious about racial equity.
Three years ago I met Traveon Smith, Founder of LGC Security because a charter school leader told me she wanted to give him a chance to bid on the security services their school was going to need that year. I was running a purchasing cooperative in Washington DC that helped churches and schools find high-performing local service providers. That Spring one of my projects was helping eight charter schools find a more responsive and reliable security services provider. A week after we released our Request for Proposals, Traveon from LGC sent me his bid. I decided to sit down with him and tell him a bit more about what the schools and our co-op were looking for and to get a sense of his company, his experience, and why he was so eager for this opportunity.
It turns out LGC was selected by one school that summer. Then another that Fall, and three more that Spring. By 2017, Traveon had landed more than $2 million per year in security contracts from charter schools and was about to win a bid to serve Howard University. His team had grown from 3 to more than 100 full-time staff.
The way I helped Traveon and LGC wasn’t to give them a handout, it was simply to help better understand the needs of the clients he wanted to serve. I gave him insight about how they thought about their schools and what I head learned was most important to them. Then he did the rest. He won their businesses. He’s had to work extremely hard to earn their renewals and referrals and it still isn’t easy. But now he has a business. He’s built some wealth for his family and is offering good employment for more than 100 people that look like him.
When I think about the twenty public and private-sector leaders I’ve met with in Durham over the past few months, I’ve heard racial equity come up over and over again. But when I ask about what action they’re taking or organizing as a collective, it feels like there is less happening than we’d like.
I want to propose a locally-focused purchasing cooperative owned by and led by Durham leaders. The cooperative would be a collaboration between non-profits, faith institutions, education leaders, property owners, and our largest anchor institutions: universities, health care, and public sector. The focus of the co-op would be three-fold:
(1) Help community institutions (i.e. churches, small business, non-profits and any others) save money and be more intentional on contracting for facilities, construction, and professional services.
(2) Build spaces for large buyers to meet, discuss, and hear trusted peers talk about good experiences with local, minority- and women-owned firms. The purpose being to help spread the word about newer and smaller firms that are hungry to grow.
(3) Support entrepreneurs in coming together to hear about the landscape of upcoming projects, build trust with peers, perhaps new collaborations, and discuss shared challenges. The purpose would be to direct folks to existing resources and identify gaps.
We recognize Durham and our region is undergoing incredible growth. Construction firms consistently tell me how hungry they are for more skilled workforce.
My hope is that by building a collective vehicle that organizes more of our purchasing, we connect more of the dollars we spend with high-performing businesses owned by people of color.
In the past 4 years, I grew a buying co-op of community institutions that collaborated on utility bills and saved $100,000 to what is today a group of 75 that now shifts $16,000,000 per year and intentionally contracts together with 57% of their spend now going to minority owned businesses.
Working with Durham and other area leaders I believe we can be more intentional with our purchasing and contracting and over the course of a few years shift more than $1,000,000,000 to minority-owned firms.
My aim is to start small, begin with where we’re at today, but gradually build a vehicle for each of us to become more intentional in making our purchasing a force multiplier for change.
Together with my co-founder, Merald Holloway, I have been gradually building the basis for a buying co-op here in Durham & beyond.
On Thursday at 6pm, Merald and I will join some really remarkable entrepreneurs:
Geraud Staton (Helius Foundation) – watch the first 2 minutes of this video and you’ll be blown away by the inequity in black business ownership in Durham, where we once were and where we are today. Geraud’s one of the most pioneering contributors to this space.
Keith Daniels and Tom Droege (Resilient Ventures) – a mix between an angel and VC fund, aimed specifically at helping black entrepreneurs in Durham, NC, and beyond.
Rob Sheilds & Zenzele Barnes from ReCity Network (see previous roundtable events here), will be hosting and facilitating an interactive community conversation that I hope will re-invigorate our imagination of what we can be doing together to really move the needle.
Might you be able to join us on Thursday and ask a hard question, that deepens our collective thinking on this?
I’m inviting you for two reasons:
(1) I think you have something to contribute & believe the conversation can help us imagine more about what kinds of partnerships and collaborations are possible.
(2) Geraud, Keith, Tom, Rob, Zenzele, and Merald are grounded in the reality we live in, but are taking big leaps to do the hard tangible work to push us forward.
I’ve been inspired by their grounded-ness, audacity, and hope this conversation can help move us collectively in the right direction.
In 2018, our coop aggregated $16 M in contracts. 60% went to minority owned businesses. Here’s my invite to you… let’s come together to actualize the flourishing of ALL entrepreneurs in our community by implementing anti-racist spending decisions at our community institutions.