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How We’re Making Sure Economic Policy Solutions Are More Inclusive, By Design

What might it look like if community leaders co-developed the economic policies that impacted their work?

Authors: Lauren Paul, Vice President of Strategic Alliances

For two decades, Common Future has been identifying, resourcing, and developing economic innovations alongside a network of 200+ community leaders who are pioneering transformative work around access to capital and the ownership of assets. These solutions include things like building more inclusive pathways to direct seed funding to Black and Brown entrepreneurs, leveraging revenue-based financing models for sustainable food and farm entrepreneurs via community-centered lending institutions, and facilitating the transfer of ownership from retiring business owners to employees of color.

At Common Future, we work with incredible partners, across sectors, who see the value of this work and understand that equitable economic development must be one of our nation’s foremost priorities, and the Common Future network has viable solutions. We’ve been thrilled to receive recognition from some of our nation’s best recognized funders and investors, including the Hewlett Foundation,, the Skoll Foundation, and the Kauffman Foundation. Our work has been referenced in Forbes, the Boston Review, and Protocol. Still, we know that without more supportive economic policies, these brilliant economic solutions will never achieve their full impact potential.

Given massive small business extinction and the growing wealth disparities spurred on by our current economic crisis, we also recognize that we need these solutions now more than ever. While we’ve already been tapped by a number of existing networks to share our expertise (from this joint report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Rockefeller to our advisement on the development of a proposal for a U.S. Development Corporation), we know that, as an institution, Common Future is poised to take on additional leadership in policy development.

Developing an equitable policy process and lessons learned

In 2020, we began to experiment with how we might develop equitable policy solutions with these values in mind. In partnership with our friends at Dalberg Advisors, we gathered leaders in our community to explore the types of broad policy changes that could reduce fallout in BIPOC communities and build for more equitable access in the long-term. Dalberg, a global consultancy focused on building a more inclusive world in which “all people, everywhere, can reach their fullest potential,” brought substantial experience in policy advocacy and econometric research to the table, along with expertise both in participatory design and inclusive economic development.

Here’s how it worked:

  1. We identified ~15 leaders from our communities. These are leaders who run values-aligned organizations, from national and local CDFIs to entrepreneurial support organizations across the country. We knew all of these leaders well and deeply value their perspective on these issues.
  2. With the 2021 political climate in mind, we held three calls where participants shared ideas, informed by their work and relationships with their communities. We then formed small working groups and explored potential solutions or calls to action, particularly around the theme of “access to capital.”
  3. We then passed the baton over to Dalberg’s expert research team to frame these ideas within the context of existing policy and historical trends, as well as a forecast of expected impact.
  4. We compiled draft ideas for another round of the working group’s feedback to ensure that their voices were accurately represented in our recommendations.
  5. These ideas were then collected and published in both a report submitted via partners to national policy makers and here on this website.

This past year has taught all of us a lot — from the brokenness of our capital infrastructure to the essentiality of supporting small businesses, especially in historically disenfranchised communities. Though we’ve seen certain sectors, such as the CDFI fund, receive increased attention and investment in recent months, we all know that, given existing capacities of the sector, we must do more. Investment into marginalized communities supports job creation, crime reduction, and increased wellness. It’s time we double down on community reinvestment.

The bold policy ideas project represents Common Future’s first foray into policy development. We learned a lot about how we might improve upon the policy development process to facilitate even more idea generation in the future. Most importantly, the experience allowed us to develop a strong perspective around what is most essential to economic policy development in marginalized communities, around the broader topic of community investment and development.

Here’s what we’ve determined is more important for economic policy-makers to keep in mind:

  1. Relationships matter in small business lending, especially when prioritizing access and inclusion.
  2. In order to achieve economic sustainability in the long-term, we must move beyond wages and talk about wealth.
  3. Our current norms, tools, and metrics around risk in investment and lending are outdated, biased, and no longer serve our highest aims.
  4. Untapped potential is everywhere. Women and people of color are disproportionately left out.
  5. Constituents’ voices must be heard from a systems-perspective. The best ideas oftentimes come from those who are closest to the problem.

We’re asking: How can we develop policy solutions that will build economic independence for constituents in marginalized communities for the long-term? Given our diverse and multi-sectoral network, we’re able to bring systems-level thinking to reimagine capital flows to marginalized communities and inform policies that build wealth in historically disenfranchised districts.

Like most 21st century organizations, we’ve been inspired by frameworks like collective impact, human-centered design, and participatory action-research — all of which recognize that in order to achieve the best outcome, we must be thoughtful about who is informing the design of an intervention or policy and how these inputs are integrated into the larger whole. We’re fortunate to have a number of experts in equitable design on our staff and greater network, and this expertise is sought after within the field of philanthropy (for things like our grounded perspective on best practices in equitable grant-making).

Our new approach: Launching policy work

For all of the reasons outlined above, we’ve decided to launch a new body of work at Common Future, aimed at influencing policy-makers at the local, state and national levels to not only better understand how policy impacts the communities they wish to target, but also how to design better policy with community-needs at the center. All too often, economic policy is created from the top-down, privileging traditional perspectives that risk being out-of-touch with the grounded reality of access and inclusion. At Common Future, we know that in order to achieve better results, we must leverage more inclusive processes.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we are all deeply interconnected. Until everyone has access to health services and economic opportunities, we will all suffer. Our economic systems are in a moment of crisis — we have not historically built these systems with all of us in mind. Moreover, we are in desperate need of good ideas — solutions that can carry us forward. At Common Future, we’re privileged to support hundreds of leaders and organizations across the country choosing a better way forward. Let’s follow their ideas.

Stay tuned for more in this policy series at Common Future. In future posts, we’ll be exploring questions like:

  • What if we combined our collective capacities across sectors, just as Common Future and Dalberg Advisors did through the bold policy ideas project, to identify those solutions that could have truly transformative impacts on our communities?
  • What if we allowed ourselves the space to re-imagine structures such as the SBA and the EDA so that we could design for more sustainable and equitable capital flows to those communities who need support most?
  • What if we came together in unity to build more inclusive “tables” with the greater aim of building solutions that work?

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