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We’ve Come a Long Way. We Have Much Further to Go

Reflecting on 2021, and sharing what we have in store for 2022

Authors: Cristina Diaz-Borda, Editorial Manager

What a year! After all that was 2020, 2021 brought us vaccines, the Great Resignation, and new COVID variants. Yet 2021 also saw great strides towards equity, such as the women who stepped into leadership roles, the growing home economy and the push for labor organizing.

At Common Future, we made incredible strides as well. We took on policy and lending, partnering with leaders across the country to pilot character-based lending in BIPOC communities, so often shut out of traditional lending processes. We explored a new way of working, one that prioritizes impact, equity, and rest with our four-day work week. We reflected on our years of work with funders to push for a new culture and vision for philanthropy, one that centers justice. Through it all, we shared our lessons and challenges with you, using 2021 to listen and connect, as we incubated, co-created, and funded equitable models.

As we press further into 2022, we’d like to spend time reflecting on all we accomplished with our partners over the past, tumultuous, year:


Last year, we expanded on the stories we told and learned more about the audiences we engaged. This looked like relaunching our monthly newsletter and sharing more about how we think and operate. This included a deep dive into our commitment to experimentation, an exploration of justice — past and present — as well as the stories you see above, all serving the mission of better sharing the work we do.

Our Knowledge Management team built a space for curious people to engage with what W.E.B. Du Bois referred to as “the great near”: concepts and forces that shape us that are too big to understand. We launched a Substack publication, aptly named The Great Near, to engage with ideas around wealth, inequality, and community-led solutions that are shifting power to BIPOC communities. What emerged was a newsletter about reimagining the economy in language that everyone can understand.

Skoll and Freethink also teamed up to create a documentary about how a network of entrepreneurs, advocates, and community leaders, including Common Future, MORTAR, and PolicyLink, are part of that effort to close the racial wealth gap. If you missed it, watch here.


In the summer of 2021, we officially launched an $800,000 character-based lending fund (CBL) that was designed, from the ground up, by, with and for BIPOC businesses and ecosystems that are far too often ignored by traditional financial institutions. We reached out to three entrepreneur support organizations ( ESOs) in our network with strong community roots and an ambition to provide financial capital to their businesses: MORTAR, Native Women Lead, and ConnectUP! Institute. With the support of Common Future and Community Credit Lab, these leaders drove the process of how terms would be set for loans and who will be referred — loans will not require collateral or credit checks; will be, on average, $30,000; range from 0–3% interest; and be repaid within 3–6 years. We’re incredibly excited to see how this undertaking — our first involving investment capital — will pan out, and how beneficial community-driven capital will be to these businesses and ecosystems. Check out Yes! Media’s feature on this project.


In 2021, we took a hard look at philanthropy as a sector, and asked what is a system that is truly equitable? We envisioned a culture in philanthropy that prioritizes justice and not funder recognition or praise. We envision practices in philanthropy that prioritize getting money out the door with no strings attached instead of adhering to an old operating system. To acknowledge that unrestricted funding is a measure of trust. We envisioned stories in philanthropy that uplift the impact of a wide range of grantees and one that does not position the funder as the hero. Our philanthropic partners have the opportunity, by working with Common Future, to ensure their money travels beyond the insulation and bias of their networks to capitalize where the most meaningful work is happening.


2021 was one of transitions for our network team, filled with the exploration of understanding what our network and communities needed most from us. On the cohorts and grants side, our Bridge Fellows completed their time with our program, and we can’t wait to see what they do next. In March of 2021, we partnered with ArtPlace America to resource four organizations working at the intersection of arts/culture and community wealth building through our Reimagine: Community and Culture Grant.

We also wrapped the Heartland Project: focused on hearing ideas and insights from 30+ organizations across Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa working to build stronger local economies. Their stories, the challenges they face, and the creative approaches they are trying echo folks across our network — the need for capital that centers the places and spaces we care about instead of only focusing on returns, and the importance of deep collaboration and co-building to make this work successful. Through our Communities of Exploration initiative, we also invited our network to come tell us about what is pressing for them so we can dig deep to help us narrow our focus in the new year and redistribute capital and resources to where it’s needed most.


Through our policy work, we’ve been supporting and uplifting representative, grounded voices in economic policy development. Similar to how we shift capital to shift power at Common Future, we’re taking on changing policy to fundamentally change the conditions in which our communities operate. Without community expertise, policy will consistently reinforce systems that extract wealth and resources from communities of color.

This past year, we teamed up with the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, B Lab, and the Omidyar network to push for a new White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth. Our ideas were featured in Forbes, Inc., and Triple Pundit. We’ve supported groups like the American Economic Liberties Project on their Access to Markets initiative, which rhymes with the Executive Order increasing competition, and we’ve worked with the National Economic Council and the Federal Trade Commission on understanding how concentrated power in our economy creates unfair conditions for marginalized groups. Building on this momentum, we’re also working with the Kauffman Foundation on entrepreneurial policy development and Public Private Strategies on quality jobs, surveying thousands of marginalized small business owners nationwide to support policies that make it easier for those businesses to compete.


This past June, we implemented a radical experiment: a four-day work week (4DWW), or rather working 80% of time for 100% pay. At the time, return to work policies and the end of COVID-19 based restrictions seemed to be on the horizon. However, as the rise of an alphabet of variants dampened that initial prospect and as we continued to see historic shifts in the labor market, our initial question remained ever pressing: how could we reimagine the future of work? To reach our conclusion, we analyzed the data our staff diligently provided throughout the trial, including surveys, focus groups, and weekly time tracking. Our high level findings all pointed to the conclusion that a four day work week would promote justice and satisfaction throughout our team, which is ultimately why we decided to implement the 4DWW as official policy.


We know that there is still much work to be done. In this newsletter, you’ll read about what we need to do to bring this work into the year ahead. You’ll see how we’re building our own economic independence, how our network team is evolving to support organizations in a pandemic world, and what we have planned for policy this year. Here’s to 2022, and all the forward momentum we hope to see across the sector from our friends, collaborators and so much more.

With love,

Cristina Diaz-Borda,

Editorial Manager

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