Why Philanthropy Needs to Support Leaders of BIPOC Startup Ecosystems

Just Economy Conference – May 7, 2021

Black, Latinx and Indigenous founders receive less than 10% of venture capital funding combined. One bright spot: entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) like incubators and accelerators are playing an ever-growing role in supporting, funding and sustaining innovators of color. But these ESOs are chronically under-appreciated, under-supported, underestimated and underfunded. rESOurce, co-led by Village Capital and The Black Innovation Alliance, is a nationwide project to support ESOs led by and focused on founders of color. This panel will share what we’re seeing on the ground from the ecosystem leaders who are working to build a new and more inclusive economy that empowers founders of color.


  • Allie Burns, CEO, Village Capital
  • Kelly Burton, Executive Director, Black Innovation Alliance
  • Charli Cooksey, Founder & CEO, WEPOWER


NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.

Burns 01:41 

Hello, everybody, I’m Allie Burns, CEO of village capital. And I’m just honored and delighted to be here today with two incredible leaders to talk about the importance of startup ecosystems led by black indigenous and people of color leadership and the ways that philanthropy can and should continue to support those ecosystems. So I’m going to set the stage a little bit and then have my fellow panelists introduce each other, and then we’ll jump into a conversation. As stated in the comment section, you please do feel free to add your questions for the panelists at any time. I’ll keep an eye on the chat and and love those questions over as appropriate. But just to set the stage a little bit, to share some context on what we’re talking about today. And many of you may have seen the figures, that got a lot of attention last year that when we look at where venture capital is going, a very, very, very small and embarrassing percentage of venture capital less than 5%, if you look at the most positive data goes to startups led by bipoc by black indigenous people of color led companies. And that is just not acceptable. We’re just missing a huge opportunity. Frankly, if we are not investing in diverse leaders, we do have a bright spot, though, in all of this. Entrepreneur support organizations, incubators, accelerators, other entrepreneur programming, are playing an ever growing role in supporting funding and sustaining innovative innovators of color. One exciting data point that shows the importance of these ecosystem leaders is that one in three black founders with a million dollars plus in venture capital graduated from a black led accelerator. But these types of accelerators are chronically under appreciated, under supported, underestimated and underfunded, you’re going to hear a little bit more about that in a moment. So we’re excited to talk today about how do we take those bright spots and really maximize them? And what is the role of philanthropy, also of government funding and people who are in the investment community to continue to support these ecosystem builders. So I’m gonna turn it over to my fellow panelists, Kelly and Charli to introduce themselves and then we’ll jump into the conversation. So Kelly, I’m gonna kick it to you first and then to Charli. 

Burton 04:07 

Thanks so much, Allie. Hello, everyone. I am Kelly Burton, and I am the founder of families of color as well as the executive director of the black innovation Alliance. mBiA is a national coalition of innovators support organization. So these are organizations that exist to support small and medium sized business owners, tech founders and creative technologists. And so I’d be a our work is really committed to helping to build the sort of ecosystem that is necessary for black entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive. And I’m so excited to be on this panel today. To you, Charli. 

Cooksey 04:44 

Good morning, everyone. My name is Charli Cooksey. I’m the founder and CEO of we power. We power partners of black and Latin x change makers and entrepreneurs to build both political and economic power. And we do that work specifically on economic power building. in three ways, we focused on accelerating the number of black and Latin x founded businesses based here in St. Louis, we focused on making sure they have access to capital, ranging from zero interest loans, to revenue based investments. And we also really back to collective and communal power. We’re focused on ownership. So as we decide what companies access capital access support, we make sure that community gets to vote democratically, and in terms of what companies we do and don’t support. And we’ve also designed our models so that as we yield returns on investments, some of those returns are managed by community to fuel their future. So it’s an honor to be here today. And I think this is a really important conversation. 

Burns 05:44 

Charli, or your community based model is really important. I do want to dig into that during this conversation. But before we go there, maybe starting with a question that’s really for both of you. I’m talking about sort of the big picture right now. And we know that 80% of budgets for entrepreneurs support organizations, like all of ours come from philanthropic sources. But if we look at the data that we have, from a very limited set of data, but that we have on nonprofits, we see that nonprofits led by founders of color are raising roughly half as much as similar organizations led by white founders. So I’m curious for your thoughts. I know Kelly, have a very pragmatic way of looking at this sort of why is this? Why is this happening, and and we’d love to hear from both of you.  

Burton 06:35 

So I’ll jump in there. I think everything traces to wealth in your access to wealth, your access to wealth determines your access to everything. And so what we know is that the average white child enters the world with 10 times the inherited wealth of the average black child. And that disparity shows up in every aspect of that child’s life from where they’re born to where they live, how they grow up. And we see it when these folks, these children grow up in their building, businesses are starting nonprofits. They’re having to bootstrap because they don’t have access to the resources that’s necessary for them to grow and scale that venture. And so that means that white LED nonprofits have more access to individual donors. And so they can go to their church and raise $200,000 to build wells and Uganda. black folks can’t do that. And so we end up bootstrapping our nonprofits and having to go straight directly to philanthropy, before we have a chance to even test out the model. And so then we end up being compared apples to apples, when really our experiences could not be more dissimilar. And so it’s really important for us to appreciate all the ways that racial disparities and economic inequality bear out whether you are launching a startup or small business, or if you’re starting a nonprofit organization. 

Cooksey 08:06 

Yes to everything Kelly said, and I think inherent in what I heard from Kelly is that systemic racism is embedded in every system from the way that we support entrepreneurs, to the way that entrepreneurs support organizations or support it to the way that philanthropy exists. And so what I think is happening is we see that philanthropy is a microcosm of a much larger reality that our country is facing. And one of the things that Kelly spoke to and out sort of build on that is fun fundraising is relational people get to people. And it’s really about who you know, and sort of the history of that relationship. And so, when we think about exactly what Kelly said, when, for example, I’m not born of wealth or even close to it. Honestly, I think that my journey as a social entrepreneur leading a few nonprofits has been the reason I’ve been able to raise the resource I’ve been able to raise is because I’m connected to networks that are predominantly white and wealthy, through programs like Teach for America. And so that was a catalyst for me. But that that does make me an anomaly. So I think we really have to talk about the root causes and the systemic themes and patterns and how to disrupt that so that folks like me who are raising funds aren’t an anomaly, but this becomes a norm. And I think the other pieces in my journey and watching our first cohort of accelerator. Philanthropy honestly didn’t come around to the idea of a black and Latinx focus accelerator until after we ran the first accelerator, it had a proof of concept. And so I think that part of the challenge also is really shifting mental models of philanthropic leaders to one see the need and to to see the urgency and then three to pair that need and urge See, with their dollars resourcing the work without organizations like mine and others having to, to really bootstrap so much that we’re running a model with no resources just to prove that we deserve resources. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot there. But I think at the most sort of systemically level, it’s racism. That is a microcosm of all the things we see happening in our country right now. 

Burton 10:27 

Can i plus one that really quickly Allie, you know, before getting into the startup space, I was a nonprofit consultant, I’m still a nonprofit consultant, my agency Nexus research group is still around. And I’ve watched how philanthropy really struggles to appreciate the power of social enterprise, they just don’t know how to play in the space. And if you’re not a 501, c three, it’s almost like the model breaks. And philanthropy has lost the ability to really innovate in its thinking, to understand and appreciate that a 501 c three is just one vehicle to do good. It’s not the only means by which we can achieve social impact. So it’s really important for philanthropy to reimagine what it means to invest in the sorts of social impact that’s necessary to move the needle. I mean, like I said, I’ve been in the nonprofit philanthropic space for a long time. And there always been these conversations about nonprofits need to figure out a revenue model, nonprofits need to figure out a revenue, they need mixed revenue. But you don’t even understand how to work with an organization that has a business model, that is a mixed business model that enables them to build that sort of operation. And so there’s just a disconnect in the expectations versus what philanthropy is willing to support. 

Burns 11:46 

I’m smiling here, because I’m holding myself back from nodding vehemently. So, yeah, it’s so interesting, we talk a lot when we’re talking about barriers to capital for founders and for startups. And one of the big ones being social capital. And this is the very, very similar challenge when you talk about msos and philanthropy, and other potential funders of entrepreneurs support organization. So I want to talk about each of your founding stories, and have the the audience hear a little bit more about why you started each of your organizations. And, and, Charli, maybe that’s an opportunity for you to share a little bit more about the community based model or the community focused model and, and, and why you chose to, to try some of the awesome things that you’re doing it we power. So maybe we’ll start there. Tell me a little bit about the impetus for starting we power and the sort of very unique perspective that you’re bringing, which obviously a village capital being also a big proponent of pure selection, our I am a big fan of and would love for the audience to hear more about it. 

Cooksey 12:59 

Yeah, sure. So I’m, I sort of consider myself a serial social entrepreneur, serial startup, executive. So when I came back to St. Louis after completing my undergraduate studies, and I was culture shocked, honestly, I was born and raised in what I call the hood still live here. And I see one, the hood is a place of beauty and brilliance of black brilliance that has been harmed by systemic racism and disinvestment. So I just want to clarify, it doesn’t have negative connotation for me. But when I came back, crime was at an all time high. And this time I was different, because I was thinking I could change the world, one kid at a time. And then realizing like wait, my students are coming to and from the same neighborhood that I’m in and they’re hearing and could be subject to the same bullets that I’m I’m could be subject to. So just that awakening after college just created this sense of urgency and responsibility, and also just feeling overwhelmed for me. And so I quickly started to default to what’s the solution? And then how is entrepreneurship the path towards that solution? So my second classroom started educational access and leadership development organization. And by the end of my second year, I was out of the classroom, working with pretty much all of my students, full time supporting them with getting support with gaining access to the best color for high schools and supporting them with college matriculation. But through that journey, things were going really well. We were hitting all of our metrics. We our first group of scholars who are preparing graduate from high school and go on to college, and then Mike Brown was killed, and St. Louis and Ferguson. And so for me, like the rest of the world, it’s led me to question what does it even mean acts as a great education. If our young black people came and live to, to take advantage of their education and pursue their their dreams and their their goes. So I was at this intersection and my personal journey where I was thinking about the reality that a lot of what we see in St. Louis, and across the country is a power problem, who has power, how it’s being used, and the intersection between power and race. And so for me founding the power was about power, believing the collective power of we, and the more that we build it, the more we get organized folks who have been historically oppressed, the more that we can build enough power to shift systems to nurture our lives instead of destroy them, and so on. The way that we look at that is through both community led policy design, and policy change and community led wealth building. And so for the wealth building work, we we believe that entrepreneurship is a lever towards wealth building, but not the end in itself. And so we’re constantly looking at, for example, which businesses can create the most jobs and are in our neighborhoods, which businesses have shared values of community, well being are committed to environmental sustainability are committed to political power building, because we see entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurs as a key part of movement building, not just the single thing. So different ways that we engage community is surfacing entrepreneurs, but also literally having a community voting process where folks can vote online, pre pandemic, we were set up at all the neighborhood centers with paper ballots, and folks could say, these are my top five companies. This is why I like them. This is what I didn’t see in this list of finalists this one want to see next year. And then also we invite them into the work. So yeah, it was great. I got to vote today. But I also I want to opt in to being part of the policy change work focused on economic justice or being part of the education work, which also has an intersection with economic justice and wealth building. So for us, it’s really about power. How do we build it and how is entrepreneurship and access to capital and job creation, a lever for for power building to create the future in the neighborhoods that our communities deserve? 

Burns 17:11 

So incredible. It is a remarkable approach and one that I hope you continue are able to continue sharing in forums like this, what you’re doing, because I think we need a lot more of community centered approaches, and approaches that question, traditional power dynamics, if we’re really going to make progress, so yeah, absolutely. Kelly, I would love to also hear that I’m, I’m kind of going chronologically here, I’m going to sort of get to where some things we’re collaborating on today. But I would love to have you also share the founding story of the black innovation Alliance, and share a little bit more about how it came together, and how you all were thinking about the sort of CO convening of this group. 

Burton 18:03 

Thanks, Allie. So last year, the top of 2020, I was in San Francisco, participating in an accelerator and decided to catch up with an old friend and Nia Williams, who’s the founder of black and brown founders out of Oakland. And while we were catching up, we couldn’t help the talk shop. And we were just, you know, dishing on all the ways that was hard to run our dsos in hardened ways that we didn’t expect it to be hard, like multi frontal, hard. You know, we were all chasing the same small checks. corporate sponsorships, were just for events very rarely for programming, foundations were barely playing in this space. And we couldn’t charge our participants what it cost us in order to run the programming. And so it was just very, very difficult to build a business model. And we realized, you know, we’ve had some version of this conversation with other friends and colleagues and peers in the space who run similar organizations, other ecosystem builders. So we said, You know what, we tend to all cross paths at South by Southwest. So let’s just you know, do brunch at your Airbnb and go to Costco and get some free stuff and some orange juice or figure out whether or not it makes sense for us to try to create some sort of collective front. So that’s what we did, we reached out to our couple, a couple dozen of our closest friends ecosystem, and planned on connecting up at South by will south by did not happen because COVID hit and we decided to take the conversation online. We met virtually starting in March, every other week for about six months. And we launched as the black innovation alliance in the July of last year. And so big I love what Charli said about weak power because we launched with the slogan the power is us. And it’s the same concept like the power lies in the community. And because our ecosystem is so fragmented, we’re all doing this work in isolation. We don’t have the band to collaborate in the ways that we would want to. And it just inhibits our ability to really establish a collective front and build power and assert our power in the ways that make sense for the communities that we serve. And so a black innovation Alliance, we have a distributed network. It’s a non hierarchical coalition, I served as executive director, but that’s just because there needs to be a person whose function is to move the work forward. But our decision making is democratic. We have committed to moving at the pace of trust, because we realize that what we’re essentially doing in black innovation Alliance is reconstituting black community, and we’re centering it in black love. And so for us, it’s about entrepreneurship, like that’s the work. But it’s also that how do we model healthy culture healthy community in ways that really enable us to advance the sort of work that is necessary to kind of pull it all together? 

Burns 21:01 

I love that phrase moving at the pace of trust, filing that away. So you mentioned South by Southwest, and Charli, we were on a panel together last year, as COVID was starting to hit, had to move that panel to a virtual format. And that feels like a lifetime ago. But you’ve seen the impacts of the pandemic, in the weed power community on entrepreneurs. Both of you have seen the impact of the pandemic. And I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you’re seeing amongst entrepreneurs and how particularly bipoc lead entrepreneur support organizations are stepping up to support them. 

Cooksey 21:49 

Sure, well, first, I want to start with the pandemic disproportionately impacted black and brown folks, even aside from the the reality of them being entrepreneurs, still, we kicked off our very first accelerator. The week before the pandemic hit, we were here in our office, we had lovely food. And we were in a nice conference room and our workbooks and then had to quickly pivot and facilitate the rest of the six months, virtually. But first I want to speak to like our we had 10 entrepreneurs, some of them lost immediate family members, including parents. So not only was it challenging for them as entrepreneur, it was challenging for them because the pandemic hit them in a very personal way. And I think something that I really appreciate about the way we model our accelerator is we focus on on people over profit, we focused on the entrepreneur and their well being. And so we had already budgeted for our accelerator to offer and cover the expenses for wellness coaching for therapy for folks who really focus on their own social emotional well being so we really had to lean in there more than ever. And so do you want to speak to the fact that like, there’s this double challenge with a pandemic, the fact that black and brown folks are dying at alarming rates, and also on top of that, trying to run businesses as entrepreneurs. So some of the data showed that about 40% of black businesses closed by April last year, I read another stat and that was from you all or somewhere that about 50% of black businesses are at risk of closing as a result of the pandemic. So we see it hitting communities really hard. And to me, I think it speaks to why supporting black LED, and black and brown focus msos is so important. So Mr. pandemic, despite all the things happening in the world, as a result of it, entrepreneurs ended up increasing their average monthly revenue 3.5x, they were able to go on to raise nearly half a million in capital, just between now over the last six months since the accelerator, some have been accepted into larger and more established accelerators like tech stars and doing deals with fortune 500 companies. So they’re all around still sustaining. So I think, not to say that we power is amazing. But I do think it speaks to the the importance and the necessity of accelerators and entrepreneur support organizations. And imagine if every bipoc entrepreneur was able to access an eso, throughout this pandemic, imagine how many of them would not only be open still, but thriving. And so I think that’s been my big takeaway about just realizing that things that were needed pre pandemic are needed even more. And I hope that we can make the pivot towards investing in esls even more as we come out of this pandemic. 

Burns 24:43 

And the centering of wellness as a framing for you from the get go without regardless of the pandemic. I mean, that’s something that everyone can learn from. That’s leading an entrepreneur sport organization. Kelly, what about amongst the black innovation Alliance? What What else have you Seeing as the pandemic has, has gone on. 

Burton 25:07 

Although I say the biggest thing that we’ve seen is just going back to Charli’s earlier point about just having to like pivot in the moment. So much of blackletter ESL is business model is tied to in person events in person programming. And so to have to kind of do a 180 on that, just like, just like that, for a lot of our organizations was very, very challenging. But one of my big takeaways from this whole experience has been the power of networks. When we think about PPP. The only way that most entrepreneurs heard about PPP is if they were especially curious and entrepreneurial, and got online and did all the things, or they were synced to a pre existing CDF II, nonprofit organization, black lead. So that’s the only way that you got the information. And it really, for me reinforced the importance of building out our networks, we have achieved some sort of network of network effect. Otherwise, people are just going to be lost because they fall through the cracks. So for me, the big aha was we’ve got to strengthen and fortify our ecosystem, we have to figure out the connective tissue piece, we have to do a better job of sinking organizations to one another. Because if it’s just your organization, you only have like a very limited line of sight. But how do we make sure that we sync up organizations so that we’re more effectively able to deploy information and resources in ways that are highly efficient? So that’s been probably my biggest takeaway from the pandemic, the importance of networks, infrastructure and systems? 

Burns 26:46 

Great, thank you. Um, so I wanted procedural reminder, to thanks to the folks who have added comments, if you have questions, please do feel free to include them in the comment box. And we’ll be happy to get to them as they come in. But sort of so so going from founding stories to the onset of the pandemic to what we’re working on together today. We, the black innovation Alliance and village capital have partnered to launch a program called resource and resources, a nationwide project that is focused on supporting entrepreneurs support organizations that are LED, led by and focused on founders of color. And we have had philanthropic funders that have stepped up to help support this initiative, UBS, Sorensen impact Foundation, Moody’s travelers, and we’re really grateful for their support. And the goal of the project is really to create a stronger entrepreneurial infrastructure for diverse founders across the United States by running both accelerators for entrepreneurs support organizations, but more importantly, building a community of practice amongst these ecosystem leaders. And we power is one of the organizations that’s participating in the program as well. So I think there’s, there’s some things we can dig into here. And it’s not to be overly promotional of the program. But I think for folks who are asking themselves, how can I step in and step up and help to support these ecosystems, there’s a lot of lessons in what we’re building within the resource program. So Kelly, I don’t know if you want to add a little bit around the motivation on the part of the black innovation Alliance to partner with village capital on a program like this, and I can kind of share a little bit on that as well. 

Burton 28:44 

It was a little bit of serendipity that brought us together, I think we were launching at the same time that you all were ideating and raising fundraising around this program. And it just seemed like it made all the sense in the world for us to collaborate. I would say that for us, it’s been a really healthy partnership, because we went into it saying, Okay, so how can we model something where we can learn how to intermediaries, one led by black folks, and one led by white folks can do this work well, in a way that’s not extractive and through a lens of racial equity and cultural competency. And so even when we were planning in the early days, it was like, okay, so can we have open conversations? Because there’s no way we’re going to do this? Well, if we can’t have our conversations. And so it’s like, we primed the like, you know, space to say if as things crop up, we need to be able to talk about it. And that has really enabled us to learn along the way we’re very clear that it’s a pilot, nothing like this has ever been done before. We’re hoping that there will be more, but I would say from the very beginning, we were aware of all the ways that this could go wrong, all the ways we’ve seen going wrong, so that we can be mindful to ensure that we don’t fall prey to those similar pitfalls and building out resource. But from our standpoint, it’s been a really, really helpful, healthy and productive collaboration. And one for which many of our organizations have benefited nine out of the 13 organizations that are a part of resource RBI, eight members. 

Burns 30:22 

Some thanks and contacts from village capitals perspective. I mean, first of all, we knew that we couldn’t build something like this alone. And we needed incredible partners both with black innovation Alliance, but as well as thinking about the participant VSOs as partners. In this work as well, we’ve been running a few programs historically that are focused on capacity building for entrepreneurs support organizations writ large, in the global markets where we serve and knew that we could leverage that and bring that to the table in a way that was really focused on supporting ecosystems led by black, indigenous and people of color. And we knew that we needed to bring a great partner to the table, to help us build that cultural competence. And also, we’re very excited about supporting an emerging organization like the black innovation Alliance. So it’s been it’s been a ton of fun, and really great learning experience and honest open partnerships, really setting expectations and continuing to, to have those checks along the way to make sure we’re continuing to be a good partner. And so I always, like I often, when Kelly and I have done panels like this together, say, Kelly, how could we be a better partner, so maybe I’ll throw it out there not to put you on the spot. But and then Charli would love, love to hear from you on your experience in the program, but, Kelly, any thoughts on the the partnership itself, 

Burton 31:55 

We want more, uh, you know, more partnerships, more opportunities to partner like, you know, going back to Charli’s earlier point about being limited by our networks, let’s keep it real, you know, a village capital has far more access than a black innovation Alliance. It’s not that we don’t have the capabilities, we, you know, all of our members, our leaders, 51 leaders of organizations that are than in his work, and most of these people come from other careers, we’ve got folks who’ve been professional fencers, and run state agencies have been program managers. So these are highly experienced people. But we lack access to networks. And folks that will give us a yes, the trust is not there. So it’s really helpful if we’re able to come to these tables in partnership and alliance with a village capital, that means a lot. And it’s really enabled us to bring in earned revenue, because we’re functioning as a consultant. And that’s super important to our model, because, yes, we’re hoping that philanthropy, you know, sees the alignment. But if not, we wouldn’t be able to generate the sort of revenue that enables us to carry for our mission. And so it’s really been helpful for us in establishing that model. And giving us the sort of flexible capital that enables us to build operational infrastructure, we are setting ourselves up to be an intermediary focused on systems change. So it’s not easy for us to pitch the sort of programmatic work, that foundations tend to, you know, need in order to be able to make a big investment. system change requires large scale investment. If you’re a young, black led organization, that’s not your traditional model, you know, it makes it increasingly difficult to secure the sort of resources that are necessary. So for us, you know, we feel that we are learning along the way but we are open to more partnerships that allow us to do really bold, courageous work in ways that leverage our respective strengths.  

Burns 33:57 

Love it, and we’re up for it. So more to come on that. Charli, you you were you and your team are busy building a growing organization, you’ve shared a lot about all the exciting work that you’re doing. So tell me about the attraction of program like resource when you’ve got a lot of other stuff on your plate. Would love to hear more about that? 

Cooksey 34:19 

Yeah, sure. Um, well, I’m, I’m not the first point of contact for it. But I’m Keyshia who is our Director of entrepreneur support and runs our accelerator. Literally afore this morning, I was dropping the decks from the last session into our slack. And I honestly was up to I was like, Oh, this is good stuff. Um, so I do know that every time the team goes to one of the sessions, they’re leaving even more equipped resources and tools and skills to really grow our impact here in St. Louis. And also that the work is lonely and it’s hard to hear. So I think the opportunity to simply be in relationship with other organizations across the country, who are also navigating similar challenges, but have shared dreams and visions for how to really grow. The number of thriving bipoc entrepreneurs, it’s just affirming. And I think this conversation around resources is important to be able to have because sometimes we can be in our own regions and cities. And me wondering like, Is it just me trying to convince funders why we need to get funding for this. And I will say like, we have seen a huge influx in resources post the initial accelerator cohort, and now I’m trying to navigate Alright, so now we’re in the door, we’re getting the check. And I just read this. Press release for this, this organizations while I got a million dollars, uh, we just got $25,000. And so I think just being able to have those eyes conversations, and a space, more folks who get it, folks who have been experiencing similar things, it’s just, it’s just feels like a safe space to process really hard things, but also have the tools and resources to navigate it. So super grateful. 

Burns 36:15 

Awesome, thanks. We do have a question. In the comment that is focused on a little bit more insight into maybe each of your in your organization’s daily lives. Phyllis is asking what does an average day look like for both organizations? Okay, 

Cooksey 36:41 

I’ll kick it off. Well, I think the general theme for me is there is no average day. It’s just a wild ride. And our work is a bit unique, locally. So we do focus on the policy and systems change work led by community members. And then we also have the wing focus on wealth building. And so it’s filled with anyone, and we’re startup ourselves. So yesterday, for example, I was part of a working group with the local hospital, as they figure out their way to be a better anchor institution and dance community wealth building for communities of color, and then jumped from that to a presentation to a group of nuns, a group of sisters and about our community wealth building and accelerator, and it was so affirming and amazing to I just left feeling on cloud nine in that conversation, and then jump into a meeting about Alright, how do we customize our CRM? So we have a more strategic process for sending emails? And how do I send this email to the right listener. So it really is all over the place, a lot of internal and external, because we’re about we’re trying to build internal infrastructure. But the heart of it, I think I spend most of my days trying to solve problems, take advantage of opportunities that are on the horizon, and supporting my team and doing the same. 

Burton 38:14 

I would likewise say that it’s not a typical day, I described at a scrub this current stage of my career, especially the last three months, like being on a train that’s moving really, really fast. And I have no idea where it’s going I just vigor that I better hold on to that isn’t completely throwing me off. And that’s what it feels like in this moment. And I think the the sense among a lot of leaders in the space is to capitalize on the momentum and the moment because we don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know how long folks are going to care. And my big concern when it comes to these diversity, equity inclusion conversations is we spend all the momentum talking in conversation. And by the time it’s time to act, we’re on to the next shiny object. And we haven’t done anything. And so we have these flash points, where they’re all these announcements, these millions and billion dollar announcements, and you don’t see anything coming from it. And there’s no accountability. So coins going back to this need for power building, who’s holding these fortune 500 companies accountable? Who said, Oh, we’ve got we’ve dedicated, you know, $50 million to black female entrepreneurs, well, where’s the money at? How did you spend it? What were your metrics? What was the impact, and then you come to find, oh, it’s $500,000 in grant money, and, you know, $50 million in some loan program that is not carried out through a racial equity lens, and the money never gets deployed. Right. And so there’s just a lot of shenanigans happening in this space in this work. And so I’m completely off topic, but my point was to say there’s a lot of energy and a lot of activity. We experienced a lot of inbound and bi folks who want to figure out a way to partner. So a lot of my time is spent trying to have those conversations to figure out the mission alignment. And usually, that’s not an initial call, that’s just a steady cadence of conversations until you can figure out the fit. So there’s a lot of that. And there’s a lot of committee work and black innovation Alliance, because we are a distributed network. So it’s not the easy path where a couple of people make all the choices. And so we have to figure out democratic models for decision making that enables us to build trust, but also get the work done. And we’re also trying to relationship build virtually, where we’re spread across the country, we’d much rather be in physical space with one another, but those opportunities don’t exist. So how do you build community, and I’ve been in a virtual situation in ways that enable you to really carry for a really big mission, while other folks are like running organizations in their own right and have full lives. How do they also show up as leaders in this work? So that’s all that I kind of tend to manage in a typical day? 

Burns 41:06 

Just a little bit. Go ahead, Charli. Yeah, 

Cooksey 41:10 

I think Kelly lifted a very, very important important point. And after the, the murder of George Floyd and the uprisings, we saw donations coming out of nowhere, both locally, and, and nationally. And it was so exciting because we have these resources we didn’t budget for. And honestly, we were trying our hardest to, to execute on a really bold mission with limited resources, and being a Blackledge startup. And I was just being interviewed by someone last week, or this week, actually, who’s trying to collect data on all right, there was like $10 billion, or something, or maybe more pledged for racial justice. But we can only find, like 1 billion it’s actually been distributed. And I was seeing like, yeah, like, as much as I appreciate it, those unexpected resources last year, I don’t even know how to budget and project like, Will those folks like are going to give this year, like some of those folks, I can’t even get a meeting with our team and meet, they just wrote a check. And I was like, here you go. And so it is a really hard time and opportune time, where I think we really need to see philanthropy put a stake in the ground and say, we’re going to make a five or 10 year pledge at 100,000 per year, not just a one and done in the moment. So they can check a box and say that we’re committed to racial justice. So I really think we have to have a serious conversation about that. 

Burns 42:37 

Yeah, I I want to give that like this huge standing ovation, that accountability question, is such an important one who is holding? Who is holding people accountable? Who’s holding companies accountable for these commitments? And how are we going to get the data because right now, the only data that I think we sort of have to understand what has happened, or at least that I’ve seen is around venture capital. And that’s one very small slice of the pie, but also an important indicator, a lot of conversation about getting money to black lead founders last year, and the number is still below 1%, from the data that I’ve seen from 2020. So how do we what can we do to both hold people accountable and get the data that is needed? I think is a really important question. I don’t want to ignore the questions that are coming in. From the from the chat. So there’s a question from Kathy, about we power and the black innovation Alliance and collaboration that maybe goes beyond the resource program. I don’t know if there’s anything you all want to add on that. And then I can jump to another question. 

Burton 43:51 

We are already tagging in the private chat. 

Burns 43:56 

Where there’s partners, partners in developing. And then Patrick has a question for you, Charli, about community wealth building and your approach to community wealth building and any connections to other community wealth building efforts around the country. 

Cooksey 44:22 

Yes, thank you, Patrick, for that question. I saw it. I was trying to pull up our notes. So we’re actually we formed a working group earlier this year, mainly made up of residents from predominantly black neighborhoods that have been historically disinvested. And so we’re working with them right now to define what is community wealth building mean for us here in our neighborhoods? What are the values of community wealth building? What are the indicators we’ll use to measure overtime? Are we actually building wealth? And then from there, we’re going to build out a set of strategies, but there’s a few places that we’re really learning from and leaning into as, as leaders in this space, one is liberation and generation, coal black LED, national, I don’t know if I want to call it think tank, but national policy shop that is supporting organizations like we power on the ground as they build out their wealth building strategy. And then the new economy coalition who is doing work across the globe, it’s a collaborative of organizations all doing work at super local and grassroots levels to really advance in a new economy that is focused on repairing restoring relationships with the earth, thinking about democratic control, putting people over profit. So those are two places that we’re really leaning in and learning from how to grow community wealth. But for us, we have a working definition right now, that says community wealth building is an approach to creating collective well being by shifting economic power to ordinary people and community. So for us, that means shifting away from a system or sort of structure of wealth that strips wealth from black and brown communities, and one where black and brown communities get to build the wealth and retain that low that looks like I’m basically disrupting the ways that we’ve allowed environmental injustice to explain and harm harm can use a color and shifting to a way where we built wealth, that where we are able to sustain our life, in relationship to nature, and we’re able to respect nature in relationship to our daily lives. And so we’re building the plane while flying it right now. And I think the one other detail I’ll add is that we pair that with our policy strategies. So right now, one of our key policy strategies is a campaign led by residents focused on community benefit agreements. And using community benefit agreements as a lever for residents to say we want to negotiate living wage jobs in our neighborhoods, we don’t we shouldn’t have to drive an hour away to access a job that doesn’t even pay a living wage, leveraging community benefit agreements as a policy to guarantee that folks don’t get displaced as new developments are coming. So we’re thinking both about what we can do directly as an organization also about what policies we can push for across the region. 

Burns 47:27 

That’s awesome. Thanks, Charli. Since we only have about 12 minutes left, I would love to jump to practical steps. For folks who are listening in or who may see a recording of this. We’re we’re here specifically to talk about what philanthropy can do to support bipoc LED eco startup ecosystems. But maybe we can also broaden that out to say, if you’re in philanthropy, if you’re in government, or if you’re in a policymaking or policy influence role, or if you are just someone who wants to help, how can people step up and help support organizations like the ones that are part of the black innovation Alliance like we power and the the other organizations that are in the resource program? 

Burton 48:20 

I’ll start by saying I think philanthropy has an appetite for the issues that are a result of the lack of access to wealth, they don’t really go deep on economic empowerment, you know, so it’s like education, financial literacy, you know, juvenile justice, and all of those are important, but they’re downstream. We need increase focus on economic empowerment, and how we support the sorts of models that enable black and brown folks to be self sufficient. When it comes to wealth creation, entrepreneurship is the number one wealth generation generator globally, it clips inheritance about three or four years ago. And so if we’re going to close the racial wealth gap, it’s going to be through entrepreneurship. There are other ways of creating wealth. But that’s usually stuff that people do once they created wealth through entrepreneurship. And so if we can just redirect a little more focus within philanthropy, towards supporting entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial models, that would get us a long way. And the last thing I’ll say is kind of going back to Kim’s earlier question about long term actions or programs, we really need to think about what it takes to provide long term sustainable support to organizations like we power. If you’re an individual donor, just pick an organization whose work you love, and support them for five years. If we had anchors in this ecosystem, we’d have increased sustainability because what happens is, you have organizations that filter into the ecosystem leaders that see a need they start an organization can’t figure out the business model and they shut up shop in two to five years. Because they got to get a real job, because they can’t figure out how to make it work. So you have all of this turnover in the black serving ecosystem, and we can’t stabilize. So we need programs like resource which is dedicated to follow on dollars to ensure that the we powers of the world have long term sustainability, that they can plan for 510 years out, and they’re not constantly chasing $25,000 checks, just come with the million dollar check and check back in with them in five years. 

Cooksey 50:32 

Yes, every single thing Kelly said, I would just add a few things I was actually going to say cut checks intermediaries like the IAA. I don’t even know if like is right, because I since it ba might be the only type of organization and network like this in the country. We need intermediaries that are black LED, I’ve seen a growth in intermediaries across all types of systems, education, economic, and honestly, most of them are led by white folks controlled by white folks. And then they’ll use a small percentage of the dollars to go towards bipro bipoc work. So I think it’s so important and so unique that bi exists, and we need to really put resources behind it. And yes, funding organizations like we power across the country at the local level. And then the other piece right now is the stimulus dollars, we have billions of dollars coming to regions that have never seen this type of money at once. And there’s a way I think I think both about the immediate but also the long term. Imagine if we leverage the stimulus dollars, if we leverage philanthropy to set up funds, in every region across this country that supported scaling the number of bipoc LED businesses and making sure they had access to capital that isn’t going to strangle them have the freedom they need to make their companies work and thrive. The second piece, so the first one is around, cut the check, and do so like Kelly said multi year funding. The second one is make connections. It’s great to be able to have resources from a single funder. But also we need a lot of money to do this work. And so it would be great to just be able to connect and meet other funders who are mission and values aligned. And then helping us grow our platform. If there’s ways that we can amplify our story beyond a one on one with one funder, that will be great as well. So those are my key takeaways. 

Burns 52:33 

Awesome. Well, I I’m going to keep asking questions about 30. Because I could talk about this with you too, for hours. But one of the things that that Kelly and Charli or comments brought up are conversations we’ve had previously to about the importance of proximity to the problems. And in addition to entrepreneurship as a critical path for wealth building, entrepreneurship is a critical path for solving problems that exist in our society and addressing inequities. And one of the reasons it’s, you know, we believe at village capital, that it is so important to look beyond where VC is going today, mostly, to the coasts, mostly to white male founders, is because we’re missing an opportunity to solve the big problems of our time through entrepreneurship. And I’m curious if either of you have any thoughts on that in, including as a way for other folks to help support entrepreneurs who have more experience in proximity to the problem? Or if you totally disagree with him, okay. 

Burton 53:44 

Like, you didn’t go? Um, but I think that’s absolutely right. Um, I feel that oftentimes in this work, we just ask the wrong questions, because we don’t really have the context, you know, understand, like, what’s really going on on on the ground, when we talk about entrepreneurs, even we talk about venture capital, there’s just such a small segment of all businesses, especially businesses, led by people of color, that are good fit for that sort of investment. But because we don’t have a sense of what the community looks like, and what the community needs very difficult for us to tailor solutions that fit. We talked about, even when it comes to underwriting for loans, we want to believe that when it comes to small businesses, apples to apples, how do you compare someone who has access to 10 times the wealth does someone who asked her to attend? That’s totally different underwriting criteria? And but we don’t think about it that way. Because it’s like, once you’re an adult, all is equally we live in a meritocracy self reliance, and you know, all that’s a myth. It’s still predominates in these spaces. And we think that all is good for everybody. But because we have lack of understanding of the context and what’s actually happening on the ground, it really inhibits the ecosystems ability To create the sort of solutions that are necessary in order to help black and brown folks move along in their trajectory as an entrepreneur, small business owner. 

Cooksey 55:14 

Just yes to what Kelly said. 

Burns 55:18 

I feel like that says basically what I could just say this whole panel, it’s like yes to what the two of you are saying. So, thank you so much. We have a few more minutes, I just want to give you both a chance for any, any closing thoughts. I’m feeling so inspired by this conversation, as I always do, in chatting with both of you. So I’ll leave it to the two of you for any closing thoughts. And then we can let folks go? And oh, it does look like we have one more question. Which is a great question, maybe to close on is to is how have the organizations approached trust building with bipoc communities with each other and with philanthropy? And I think we probably all have a perspective on that. So I’ll let you each answer that and at any closing thoughts? 

Cooksey 56:07 

Sure, um, one thing for us, we, we are part of the community, I live in the same community that we are serving. And I’m one of those residents. I didn’t vote but I’m, in theory, one of the residents who could have voted my mom and my aunt and my next door, neighbors voted on what companies they wanted to see come into their neighborhood. So I do you think back to that question that alley raise proximity matters so much on my team, what it’s 10 of us, seven, eight of us identify as black and or Latinx. Seven out of was, yeah, seven out of 10 of us identify as women. I think that we are trying to create the world internally that we want to be true externally. And so just continuously trying to make sure we draw the right team, not just whose values align but who reflect the lived experiences of the entrepreneurs we’re trying to work with. But also just building relationships with residents grabbing now virtual coffees, and before that, that was knocking on their door and having a conversation or having a communion gathering. And then also doing work. There are ways where we power as a black led org, but I we pair it could be a black led org that is perpetuating white supremacy if we don’t disrupt the patterns and behaviors that we’ve been conditioned to believe. So we’ve been doing work to work on our own identity development and wrestle with our own privileges, both as individuals and as a team and trying to figure out how does that look in terms of even things like our employee handbook, so that we’re disrupting patterns that could harm our ability to build relationships with community.  

Burton 57:52 

I love that. I would say within Black Innovation Alliance when it comes to trust building, it starts with love. You know, a no love is a four letter word. We wouldn’t like to talk about us I dare you say it love Yeah, love. Because when it comes to this stuff, especially when you’re building community and, and among leaders who have experienced a tremendous amount of trauma, if you’re a black leaders, say in this era, but ever, um, there’s just a tremendous amount of trauma that you incur on an ongoing basis. And a lot of unpacking and wrestling with that black folks just don’t have the space to to deal with him. So part of it is just creating safe space, where we can love on our people and love on each other, and check in on one another, and be honest and forthright and, you know, straight up, you know, we have our general body meetings, but it’s really an opportunity for us to cut up and to one another and make sure we’re okay. You know, make sure that that we’re okay, because if anything is going to help us advance this work, it’s really got to be grounded in love. And when it comes to dealing with a largely white lead potential partners and founders grace and offering up have the benefit of the doubt, to say, Well, why is this not happening? And not always leading with? Well, it’s racism? Well, maybe. But maybe they’re just risk averse. Or maybe there’s implicit bias at play, like let’s unpack to figure out what else is going on? How can we give folks the benefit of the doubt and really try to come to terms and figure out, you know, get a better of an understanding of one another? You know, Allie, I reached out to you a couple of weeks ago because we’ve been doing this work over the course of like six months and I’m like, I don’t think we ever had a one on one. Like let’s disconnect. I don’t know if you have a cat or a dog or where you grew up, like let’s chat. Um, but it’s relationships going back to Charli’s earlier point. So leading with love holding one another accountable to that. Not only in our community but in our extended relationships. 

Burns 1:00:08 

And for for me, I’m just to add, I think leading with love is such a great thing to close on. But for me, it’s also know it for us as a white LED organization that can do a lot better when it comes to our leadership, in particular, knowing where we fall short, and being been willing to know what we don’t know, being curious to learn, partnering with organizations and listening, at the same time being a voice to call out systemic inequities, and not just sitting by and staying silent. Those are some of the things that we’ve been working on. Charli, your comment, I feel like we need to have a follow up on how you’re developing your team, how we’re developing our own internal systems, a lot of the work that we’ve done at village capital is centered on disrupting traditional power dynamics in the investment process. And now we need to do the same thing with our own internal processes so that we’re not perpetuating the same systems that exist. And it’d be very easy for me to just continue on doing what I’m doing, I have the privilege of doing that. I get in trouble sometimes for not doing that. And I’m totally okay with that. I want to keep getting in trouble. So maybe that’s one of the things that I will continue to commit to do to build trust and connection is being willing to stick my neck out there and get in trouble. So I just want to say thank you again to you both for being incredible partners, and for taking the time today. And I hope everybody learned a little something in the conversation and as and as inspired as I am. 

Burton 1:01:51 

Thank you, Allie, and thanks everybody for the engagement. Thanks Charli. Bye

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