On Wednesday, Aliana Pineiro from the Boston Impact Initiative Fund and Lucas Turner-Owens from the Boston Ujima Project discussed investment strategies for engaging residents in community investment decisions.
The presentation at the Yale Policy Lab was part of a seven-session speaker series hosted by the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale on innovative and inclusive strategies for economic development. With speakers from a diverse set of organizations — including community activist organizations, academic institutions and public housing coalitions — the series aims to facilitate conversations about community initiatives that target issues of housing, labor, racial justice and environmental policy.
According to Pineiro, the Boston Impact Initiative, a charitable investment fund that supports local entrepreneurs through a range of integrated capital tools, evaluates companies for potential investment based on criteria of economic justice, community resilience and enterprise health.
“In eastern Massachusetts, the wealth gap between white neighborhoods and black or Hispanic neighborhoods is quite large,” Pineiro said. “We are focused on investing in companies and organizations that are owned by, or give significant opportunities to, people of color.”
Pineiro emphasized that creating opportunities for employees to participate in shaping the company’s future directions, as well as facilitating employees’ shared ownership of the company, are key catalysts of economic justice. Additionally, companies’ use of local, environmentally friendly resources to produce goods or services to the community are significant indicators of positive social impact, she said.
Similarly, Turner-Owens said that the Boston Ujima Project also evaluates companies’ capacity for environmental stewardship, promotion of fair compensation and capacity to produce goods or services that serve the needs of the community.
“Every step of the way, we have to consider the impact our investments will have on the community,” Pineiro said. “From the moment we start talking to the company, to the due diligence phase, to finally, following up periodically after the investment, we are thinking about impact.”
The speakers emphasized that inclusive investing entails making investing an accessible pursuit for low-income communities, which is a key goal of both organizations. The groups accept investments not only from accredited investors — who must have an annual income of $200,000 or more — but also from nonaccredited investors, who may start investing with just $50.
Another strategy for inclusivity, according to the speakers, is to host community forums about local businesses that are free, accessible and fun. According to Turner-Owens, these community forums — which encourage more open and less structured discussions — encourage participation from every community member by shifting the atmosphere of these discussions away from the academic, austere and theoretical environment of economic development conferences.
“These discussions help us evaluate whether our potential investments are meeting the community’s needs,” Turner-Owens said.
He added that conversations with community members and clients at all levels of the company establish a crucial connection that informs decision making and enhances the efficacy of interactions with clients. These conversations facilitate trust by helping overcome the perception of organizations like the Ujima Project as “elitist technocrats,” he said. As a result, clients become more receptive to the organizations’ insights.
In addition, Turner-Owens said that sector-specific standards are important when evaluating a company’s capacity to serve the needs of the community. For example, a minimum wage of $15 can be a good standard in retail, but in more physically demanding sectors like construction, $15 is below sector standards.
Tsai CITY was founded in 2017.
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