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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 leading this work are those most affected by the challenges of our times. Black, Indigenous, and people of color change-makers are at the forefront of these efforts, addressing climate change, systemic racism, and economic inequities by drawing on our communities’ traditions of cooperation, mutual aid, and sustainability.

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 stepped up to take real estate off the market and maintain community ownership. Black farmers in the South and in urban centers across the country are implementing new farming practices rooted in Afro-Indigenous principles, making agriculture more sustainable and fostering equitable regional food economies. Native groups are winning litigation to assert their rights to reconfigure water management practices in the West. Finally, Black and Brown entrepreneurs are launching worker-owned cooperatives in record numbers, bringing services to neighborhoods abandoned by corporations and disinvested in by the public sector, while building community wealth. 

Collectively, the new economic models these Black and Brown leaders are pioneering are essential to resetting our relationships with one another and with the planet. Yet, as these alternatives take root, we must support this grassroots-led work to grow and scale, because even though these projects hold incredible promise, existing systems are not designed to support these seemingly unconventional strategies. This is because these leaders are not white, do not come from well-resourced communities, and do not have intergenerational wealth; the barriers they face are rooted in the racism that cuts across all systems and financial sectors, from lending to philanthropy. Without access to financial and nonfinancial resources, Black and Brown movement leaders and social entrepreneurs face substantial roadblocks that prevent them from realizing their vision and expanding their work. 

What’s needed is a massive focus on unlocking capital for their critical work to grow and scale.

Implicit bias and unfounded narratives surrounding communities of color plague the predominantly white financial institutions that unfairly deem Black and Brown organizations as “too risky” for investment. Numerous realities bear this out: Only 3% of venture funds go to Black and Latino ventures; 2% of philanthropic funds are invested in racial justice; Black and Brown racial justice nonprofits get 34% less funding than white-led groups; and only a fraction of the $450 billion in philanthropic capital given every year in the U.S. goes to support efforts led by people of color.

So where do movement leaders turn? If Black farmers or worker-owned cooperatives need to secure vital capital, they almost always have to rely on small grants from private foundations or the government, both of which require cumbersome paperwork to access. Meanwhile, white-led ventures are resourced boldly, trusted to receive and manage massive capital infusions from philanthropic institutions and impact investors alike, all of whom are operating under assumptions about the needs of the communities that are incongruent with the realities that Black, Indigenous, and people of color community builders and grassroots organizers see and experience every day. Thus, the actual risk is not only in the lack of investment in their innovative and bold work, but also in the improper allocation of resources that perpetuate cycles of harm in Black and Brown communities. 

Now, imagine what would be possible if Black and Brown movement leaders had access to the resources supplied to white-led groups. What if, instead of philanthropy and finance operating out of antiquated and racist risk models that are built on the idea that money is scarce, we responded with agility to the work and needs of Black and Brown creators?

Often overlooked by elected officials and government leaders, a central goal of the Defund the Police movement is exactly this—shifting municipal funding to proactively invest in the work our communities need. We need elected officials willing to lead with visionary investments of their budgets. We need lenders who are willing to provide both patient and bold capital. We need philanthropic funders willing to give multiyear, seven-, eight-, and nine-figure grants, as well as unlock alternative investment tools. And we need innovative and scalable infrastructure that can support the flow of this new and more creative capital that can bring abundance back to where resources are truly scarce—our communities’ well-being.

Only this kind of sea change will truly catalyze the transformative power of people of color leaders to build an economy where all people and the planet thrive. While there is a growing ecosystem of actors already co-creating new frameworks—such as enterprise capital, trust-based philanthropy, and impact investing that truly has impact at its core rather than focusing on extractive financial gains—there are still trillions of dollars trapped in endowments, donor-advised funds, and investment funds that could be directed to this transformative work. A critical next step will be ensuring that philanthropy and finance, in partnership with the necessary infrastructure, are effectively growing and sustaining the leadership of Black and Indigenous people 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 impacted by injustice, thrive. 

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Lem White (he/they) is the co-CEO of Possibility Labs, a platform for the co-creation of a new economy where everyone—especially BIPOC and historically low-income people—and the planet can thrive. Lem co-founded Possibility Labs (with Keiko Murase) to activate flexible resources at scale by streamlining and advancing systems change through catalyzing the strategic flow of integrated capital. Previously, Lem was deputy director of strategy at Movement Strategy Center, chief growth officer at Refound, and marketing and communications Director at North Star Fund, as well as consulting with East Bay Community Foundation, Change Philanthropy, and Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), among others. Lem holds a B.A. in philosophy from San Diego State University and pursued his graduate studies in philosophy at The New School.  
Nwamaka Agbo is the CEO of the Kataly Foundation and Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund. In her roles, Nwamaka collaborates with the Kataly team to lead the foundation’s day-to-day operations while holding the community-centered strategy and vision for the Fund. With a background in community organizing, electoral campaigns, policy, and advocacy work on racial, social, and environmental justice issues, 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 her framework on Restorative Economics. Nwamaka has served as a fellow for the Center for Economic Democracy and the Movement Strategy Center. She proudly serves on the board of Thousand Currents, Restore Oakland, Inc., and Resource Generation. To relax and unwind, Nwamaka enjoys spending quiet time in her backyard, savoring sips of bourbon.
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