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Rewriting the Rules: Builders and Benefactors’ Influence on the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

To explore all the content from the Builders & Benefactors, scroll down to the end of this piece.

Systems change requires the undoing and restructuring of policies, practices, and power structures that have long existed and maintained harmful inequities. These inequities have held people in positions of limited resources, wealth, and agency. Rather than working in temporary fixes that overlook the complexity of historic and nuanced inequity, we aim to change the rules and requirements of the systems themselves.

Living Cities has long used capital as a driving mechanism of change. When capital is deployed with a systems change strategy, it is possible to rewrite the rules that have perpetuated inequity.

Living Cities spent a long time working with capital with the intention of uplifting low income people in cities. Yet, when we looked to the data, we saw that despite all our hard work and despite our best intentions, gaps remained. In fact, the gaps between people of color and those whom we’ve come to call white were growing. Living Cities’ work within systems would not be successful without naming what was at the heart of the inequities we were trying to solve. We identified racism as the cause of inequitable systems, and moved forward with a refined strategy to close racial wealth and income gaps.

Business starts and growth became a core strategy of Living Cities’ work. It maintains the use of capital to propel systemic change while acknowledging and working to eliminate racial disparities. Current systems leave people of color out of the entrepreneurial and investing space, and as a result, money and talent is left on the table. To address this, it is not enough to simply identify restrictions to access and participation. We had to go beyond that. The best way to understand the needs and the climate of the ecosystem was to build relationships and seek feedback from people of color in the field, members of the community we sought to impact.

Going forward, we decided to take stock of our relationships. We knew that capital could not stand on its own. In addition to financial resources, we needed relationships as a tool in the equation for systems change. Relationships themselves can serve as a form of currency and influence.

As two senior leaders of color at Living Cities, Janay and Demetric connected with other people of color about their work. As Living Cities refined its organizational strategy to focus on closing racial wealth and income gaps, it was uniquely positioned to grow its network. They were able to create a space where collective action and capital intersected with a race-informed frame. Janay had a history of experience in collective action work. She asked the question, “What does it mean to bring people together?” Meanwhile, Demetric is a thought-leader in the impact investing field, with experience promoting the adoption of innovative financing to support people in their communities, particularly people of color.

Together, and in service of Living Cities’ interest in closing racial wealth gaps, Janay and Demetric built a network of private equity investors, venture capitalists and founders of color that were intentionally investing in entrepreneurs of color. The network embodies the work Living Cities is striving toward within their business starts and growth strategy. They are unified by one fundamental belief that if capitalism was in the hands of people of color, it would generate more equitable outcomes than traditional means employed.

The network we convened is called Builders and Benefactors, and it features innovators of color who are working within the context of high-growth scalable businesses to close racial wealth and income gaps. They are rewriting the rules that exclude people of color from participation and success in the private equity and business venture capital sector.

As the network grew, we decided that the best way to grow our relationship was to bring everyone together to share insights. When the group convened in Las Vegas last summer, we imagined a world where capital thrives without the constraints of institutional, structural, and systemic racism.

Dive into the rest of the series, which features the stories and work of Builders and Benefactors, a network of private equity investors, venture capitalists, and founders of color who are intentionally investing to close racial wealth and income gaps. Together, we imagine what the capital ecosystem could look like #IfGapsWereClosed:

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