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Cooperation Over Competition

By Carrie Flemming

At the Rooted Resources Festival, I attended a session called Democratizing Access to Community Capital. The social justice themes of trust, reciprocity, community-led, and accountability were infused throughout the discussion. As a healing arts practitioner and community worker, these themes feel humanistic and strengths-based to me. When embodied, these values create the conditions for healing. I was moved to see them woven into the foundation of investment funds. I want to share how two speakers, Betty Francisco and Olivia Watkins, center these values in their organizations.

Betty Francisco is CEO of Boston Impact Initiative, a social impact investment fund working to close the racial wealth divide in Eastern Massachusetts, and co-founder of Amplify Latinx, a network to advance Latinx economic and political power. The mission of Boston Impact Initiative is focused on economic justice. They invest in “opportunity for all people—especially those most oppressed or abandoned by our current economic system—to lead a dignified and productive life.” 

Boston Impact Initiative prioritizes funding with impact around economic justice, community resilience, and enterprise health. They utilize close-looped investing, meaning they invest in complementary businesses within the local community, such as those which grow, process, distribute, and prepare food and manage food waste. Close-looped investing creates a circular economy and encourages community members to collaborate, build cohesion, and move toward ecological stewardship. Betty spoke to us of the importance of workers’ rights, a livable wage, and asset-ownership for people of color and women in the social impact investment process.

Boston Impact Initiative also created a Fund-Building Cohort to share their knowledge and provide mentorship through a program for fund managers committed to economic justice. Olivia Watkins is a cohort member using her expertise to create lending opportunities within local food systems. 

Olivia Watkins is co-founder and President of Black Farmer Fund and a Soul Fire Farm Institute board member. Black Farmer Fund is a charitable loan fund providing financial assistance to Black farmers in New York State and addressing the history of lending discrimination impacting Black communities. The mission of the Black Farmer Fund is to “nurture Black community wealth and health by investing in Black agricultural systems in the Northeast.” Olivia shared how the fund shifts power toward communities by centering relationships, decentralizing decision-making, and providing coaching and technical assistance. 

Black Farmer Fund created an investment committee of community stakeholders to decide who receives capital and increase accountability to those most impacted by funding. Investment committee members use collective decision-making and are given a stipend, childcare, and professional development opportunities in a practice of reciprocity. Committee members work on the ground with funded farmers, deepening trust and investment in the local food ecosystem.

Boston Impact Initiative and Black Farmer Fund are regenerative, visionary projects of cooperation over competition, encouraging community members to turn toward one another. We know a future that works for everyone will require radical movement toward equity and community care in every sector of society. I left this talk with an understanding of the change possible through social impact investing, how it aligns with my values, and where it intersects with my own healing work.

Carrie Flemming is a holistic practitioner, community worker, and creative guide whose professional experience spans twenty years supporting communities focused on reproductive justice, mental health, and personal transformation. She has a healing arts private practice called Cultivating Aliveness and is a crisis counselor for New York Project Hope in Dutchess County. Carrie lives with her partner in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Rooted Resources posts give us a clearer vision of what “democratizing wealth” means, refracted through the living experience and emerging projects of people making change today. This series grows out of the Rooted Resources Festival (May 12-15, 2022) and the Community Fund design project.

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