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What We Need to Advance Economic Equity, One Year Into COVID-19

Our staff members weigh in on what the economy needs now (from funders to policymakers), one year into the pandemic.

Authors: Melonie Tharpe, Director Portfolio Initiatives, Katheryn Witt, Jessica Feingold, Co-CEO, Rakiba Kibria, Vice President of Revenue, Lauren Paul, Vice President of Strategic Alliances

The COVID-19 pandemic brought big lessons and big losses early on in the shutdown and have continued to a year in for individuals, families, communities, and businesses. In this unique year, we’ve learned how to shift our work to be more responsive to local economic leaders who are often operating on small margins or working to address the small margins of their communities.

In our work at Common Future, we are ideally positioned to see where opportunities lie to improve on the economy as a whole, and to engage the right leaders for what’s needed most. In the past year, we deployed our first grants to organizations in our network to support them at the start of the shutdown; during the Movement for Black Lives, we deployed grants to Black-led and Black-run organizations in our network that support and invest in Black communities impacted by economic injustice; and last month, we introduced our approach to policy through our Bold Ideas Project, where we asked, how do we build an equitable post-COVID economy?

Through our 20 years of work with local economies, we know that multiple levers need to be pulled to create a more equtiable future for more people. Here, Common Future team members offer insights into what actions funders, business leaders, policymakers, and institutions can take to create a better economy for more people now.

Funders Need to Stay Commited to Supporting Communities

“Speaking to our friends in philanthropy and investing: Be patient, kind and think long term. While COVID itself may be soon under control in the U.S., the impact it has had on communities will last years. Missed earnings from sales or wages. Piles of unpaid bills due to unemployment or closures to keep people safe. Lost loved ones — whether they are the community elder who kept a neighborhood fed and up on gossip or a beloved store owner whose family may not want to continue operations or workers who kept the knowledge of what the regulars liked to drink.”

-Melone Tharpe, Senior Director of Programs

“Don’t go back to the ‘pre-crisis normal’ state. Continue treating the racial wealth gap and resource deprivation of Black and Brown communities with utmost importance and urgency beyond the pandemic. Incorporate these communities’ very voices into grantmaking and investing bodies. Open boardrooms (not superficially) to center their experiences and expertise. Funders who can do this will also signal to others the value and importance of these communities — and that it can be done!

In addition, streamline any pro-forma activities and necessities required of small businesses, their support organizations, and local economy catalytic leaders at large. Bring those most affected by the crisis to the forefront of designing solutions and give them the decision making power to bring those solutions to life.”

-Rakiba Kibria, Director of Advancement

“Provide flexible, patient capital to initiatives led by communities of color to allow for greater chances of success. Allow small businesses and initiatives to have the freedom to pivot the use of funding, if needed, to be responsive to changes in the state of the world, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Examine how you allocate funding: Minimize administrative and application burdens for potential borrowers and provide feedback when you say no to an initiative. Consider funding already existing initiatives in the community rather than creating a new, competing one. Lift up and empower community perspectives — engage the community in your investment strategy, put community leaders on your board, only collect, analyze, and track data deemed necessary and pertinent by the community. Have race-explicit policies and strategies to guide top decision-making. Include non-financial and nontraditional factors when ‘measuring risk’ of a potential investment.”

-Katheryn Witt, Director of Funder Learning and Investment

Policymakers Need to Build Coalitions and Push for Bold Policies

“Now is the moment to push for big, systemic policy change at the local, state, and federal levels. How can we create new systems for our collective work to move farther, faster?

Build coalitions to fight for the reform of the Community Reinvestment Act to ensure that people of color have access to financial products and services. Organize to protect and expand the power of the Consumer Financial Bureau to regulate financial products and fair lending laws. And for federal legislatures: Enact postal banking and expand the CDFI Fund.”

-Lauren Paul, Director of Partnerships and Policy

Businesses Need More Than PPP, They Need Power

“We need to relinquish more funding to community ownership and control. As we’ve seen with PPP, top-down solutions are never targeted with enough agility to meet real community needs. Instead, they both typify and exacerbate existing inequities. And blunt instruments to ameliorate their damage — as in the new provisions that provided a 14 day priority to businesses less than 20 employees, amended loan calculation formulas for sole proprietors and the self-employed, and expanded eligibility — are too little, too late for the historically vulnerable entrepreneurs they intend to serve. Change can be created not by giving those most vulnerable a seat at the table, but supporting the necessary infrastructure to set their own table and to demand the resources that are most needed.”

-Jessica Feingold, Chief Strategy Officer

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