Common Future
Published in

Common Future

Respect the Experts.

Challenging investment paradigms by looking to community leaders

Left to right: Rodney Foxworth (BALLE), Emily Kawano (Wellspring Cooperative Corporation), Harold Pettigrew (Washington Area Community Investment Fund), and Crystal German (Prosperity Labs) at a BALLE Local Economy Fellowship immersion | Image by Harper Bishop (PUSH Buffalo)

A common refrain in the impact world is “those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” At BALLE, we remind ourselves that those most directly impacted by injustice have the greatest insight into opportunities for change.

The leaders who we’ve been privileged to work with through the BALLE Fellowship live in and work alongside the communities they serve. They’ve tirelessly fought on behalf of their communities for years, oftentimes decades.

It’s time we look to their expertise.

We’ve made it our work to seek out leaders who represent the diversity of marginalized communities. These communities have been targets of public disinvestment, systematic redlining, and legal loopholes, leaving many to question the hard truths of trying to save local economies.

Fortunately, our people are doing just that (and doing it well).

Over the past 10 years, BALLE has been investing in community leaders and their work through the Local Economy Fellowship. Take José Corona, Director of Equity & Strategic Partnerships under Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a 2016 BALLE Fellow and BALLE Board Member.

José creates, coordinates, and facilitates public/private/philanthropic partnerships that foster equitable opportunities and benefits for the people of Oakland. He previously served as CEO of Inner City Advisors, overseeing a portfolio of companies that created over 5,000 jobs and $150 million in wealth for local residents.

José believes his ties to the Oakland community are key to learning what folks need.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that people are not seeking handouts; they are seeking opportunities and a level playing field to access those opportunities. We must recognize that some communities, namely Black and Brown families, are still being left behind. So, we — the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors — must be intentional in naming this and unapologetic about investing resources that will facilitate long-term wealth-building opportunities.”

Tim Lampkin has had similar experiences in the Mississippi Delta. As a 2018 BALLE Fellow and co-founder and CEO of Higher Purpose Co., a nonprofit economic justice agency building community wealth with Black residents across Mississippi, Tim recognizes the importance of building trust between funders and communities. He explains:

“We can bring all kinds of resources into the Mississippi Delta and we can start all kinds of programs to eradicate poverty; but the most difficult challenge is shifting mindsets. For the most part it’s because a community’s collective trust, morale and confidence is negatively impacted when change agents come into the community to help but don’t really do it with and for the community.”

We’ve built a network of people like Tim and José from rural towns to urban neighborhoods across North America. These are leaders who know what is needed; they are guided by friends, neighbors, and lived experience.

Despite this, philanthropic and investment dollars are limited. To mitigate rural poverty and disenfranchisement, for example, the Alabama Black Belt and the Mississippi Delta benefited from just $41 per person in foundation funding between 2010 and 2014, compared to $451 per person nationally and $995 per person in New York state.

On these funding inequities, Tim adds: “When you create certain mechanisms that only give funding and resources to organizations that look the part, the same people are getting help, and the same people that didn’t receive help in the first place are continuing to be overlooked. Foundations should be supporting organizations that are led by local people of color and African Americans who work with their communities. It is essential that there is representation, trust, and transparency.”

Left to right: Tim Lampkin, BALLE Fellow, Higher Purpose Co., image by Ivory Cancer; José Corona, BALLE board member and Fellow, City of Oakland

It is not uncommon for funders to admit in private that they simply do not fund rural work. One of the key mechanisms that is used to divert funding away from rural areas is what we call “devaluing small.” Funders often seek out the multiplier effecta guarantee that funds will stretch far and enable leaders to pursue a grand vision of scale.

There is a clear disconnect between big philanthropy and community leaders. Beyond this, money flowing to overvalued startups losing billions of dollars each year proves that the investing industry desperately needs better alternatives.

At BALLE we are flipping the paradigm and challenging the notion of what it means to be investable. Our goal is to shed light on an entire sector of viable economy-building investments.

Sean Campbell is one of BALLE’s Social Entrepreneurs in Residence (SEIR), a Rhodes Scholar with 15 years of experience in investment management. On investing in community partners, he notes:

“Institutional investors need expert local partners to make their investments successful, and community leaders are great partners because they know their hometowns best. They understand what investments will work in their communities and can, for example, identify the best locations for retail and housing and determine fair rental rates.”

On assessing investments, he adds: “Investors’ traditional underwriting methods (such as focusing on comparable transactions) unfortunately often don’t work outside places that are already prosperous or gentrified. Investors must be more creative about how we think about risk and return, but that creativity will be rewarded with access to a diverse portfolio of great investment opportunities and partners.”

It’s time to think out of the box. When it comes to community investment, we believe that deep relationships are the best due diligence.

To right injustices, we must engage, listen, and channel capital to the folks who know best. It’s just smart investing.




The place for leaders (re)-building the economy.

Recommended from Medium

Trend Breaks in Trend-Following Strategies

Wikidata for winners (in Economics)

Advanced Money Hacks II: Real Estate for nothing

Real Clear Markets: The Cost of Investing Is Going Down, So Why Are Market Data Fees Rising?


The Delusion of the Fast Lane III: Pyramid Schemes

ANALYSIS: Farmers Need Trade, Not Aid

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Common Future

Common Future

The place for leaders (re)-building the economy.

More from Medium

“I’m Supposed to Feel Disappointed, but I’m So Proud Of Them”

Thoughts On The Boy And The Beast

Evolution and impact (so far) of the Responsible Tech Collective

A small group of people collaborating in a workshop and sharing ideas on sticky notes

The Role of Time in Faith + Democracy Work