Power, Ownership, and Choice
- Essential Common Future
Nothing we did in 2022 fits the mold of a traditional nonprofit. But that’s the point. Building an equitable and inclusive economy means we have to think, talk, and move differently.
First and foremost, best New Year’s wishes from all of us at Common Future. We enter 2023 invigorated to close the racial wealth gap and steer our society towards racial equity. With a looming recession and a widening gap between rich and poor, there is still so much to do. But for a moment, we can reflect on all we accomplished last year: seeking power, ownership, and choice for Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the economy.
In 2022, after years of saying the system was broken, we charted a new path forward: A merger. An acquisition. An investment. An incubator. An accelerator.
Nothing we did in 2022 fits the mold of a traditional nonprofit. But that’s the point. Building an equitable and inclusive economy means we have to think, talk, and move differently. We asked: Where are there opportunities to build power and influence? And what tools are best to use?
In other words, this new model is Black-led, defies boundaries, and has power, ownership, and choice at the center.
What do power, ownership, and choice over the economy look like in practice? To imagine an economy where power is not concentrated in the hands of the few requires bold and transformative long-term solutions led by those most directly impacted by injustice.
Last year, we piloted three major initiatives that look at reframing power through investing, through narrative, and through the relationship between grantees and funders.
In May we launched the Action Lab: Participatory Investing in partnership with World Educations Services (WES), to redesign the systems in which power and capital are held. This 12-month initiative was designed as a space for funders to learn about, experiment with, and co-create new models and strategies for participatory investing within their own institutions and through a collaborative fund.
In June we launched Radical Pragmatism with Liberation in a Generation. This new framework names how we can move from an oppression economy to an equitable, power-full one, aiming to transform and upend systems of oppression and harm, while acknowledging current realities and opportunities to shift power toward that vision. Supporting that work, we launched Narratives to Build Collective Economic Power with Nonprofit Quarterly. In the series, authors wrote about their economic justice work and how, in their work, they challenge conventional narratives, and offer new ways of thinking about who can be owners in the economy and what community economic development means.
We rounded out the year with an examination of the practices within fundraising and philanthropy and the inherent power imbalance between grantor-grantees and wondered what it might take to level the playing field in those relationships. The result is the first draft of an Equity Commitment; a tool for funders and nonprofits to use that calls out different areas of potential friction in grant agreements and presents alternative ways to equalize the conversation. We see this as a living hypothesis in action: an opportunity to test some of our assumptions in public to see what lands and how we can iterate and build equity into the grantmaking process alongside our nonprofit and funder peers.
To effectively advance racial and economic equity, we’re collaborating with leaders who have the imagination and courage to rethink our economy. We bring initiatives that model how to build wealth and power in excluded communities to life.
In 2022, we made big moves rethinking what ownership can mean as a 501c3. We kicked the year off by accepting the SKOLL Award and soon announced our merger with Uncharted—a Denver-based social impact accelerator with the talent, knowledge, and expertise to accelerate the work of community-led ventures dedicated to economic justice. But that was just the beginning. After a successful merger—a rarity in the nonprofit space—we went on to invest in one of the very institutions that had first taken a bet on us: SOCAP. Our substantive stake in the conference saw our CEO Rodney Foxworth take a seat on the SOCAP board.
We then announced our acquisition of Community Credit Lab (CCL), which has been at the forefront of community-first investing, designing lending programs that equip community organizations, whom we partnered with previously to launch Character-Based Lending.
With our 4-day workweek and compensation audit we made sure to model equity in ourselves, and then looked at how we could empower others and build access to resources within our community. In the wake of the devastating Dobb’s decision, we asked Fast Company what we lose when our jobs are the only safety net to access abortion care.
We launched two initiatives: Tools For Equitable Acquisitions in Manufacturing (T.E.A.M.) and Community Owned Real Estate (CORE). T.E.A.M.—a collaboration between Urban Manufacturing Alliance, Concerned Capital, and Common Future—which aims to shift ownership of manufacturing businesses from retiring owners to BIPOC workers, while CORE is an upcoming model to show how community-owned real estate projects can thrive when they receive the right type of capital at the right time.
The people closest to the problems are already leading models to restore community wealth—but these solutions require additional attention, support, and financial investment. We’re moving resources to the people and organizations building those models—co-creating the terms that center their needs.
This year, we also took a bet on big thinkers who are already working on solutions we desperately need in action today. With these initiatives, we prioritized choice—that is options in the market designed by people closest to the issues.
In January, we had had enough with the policy and advocacy space being dominated by the same white, ivy league educated and McKinsey-inspired actors. So we launched the Common Future Policy Incubator: designed to catalyze the work of a small group of world-changing BIPOC leaders and chart a better path forward for think tanks and advocacy organizations. Since then, we’ve been releasing updates, webinars and insights from the brilliant Roque Barros, Bree Jones, Keneshia Raymond, and Trevor Smith.
Now, bolstered by our lessons learned from launching a successful incubator—and armed with experienced talent through our merger and acquisition strategy—we built yet another exciting initiative. We launched the Common Future Accelerator, which will spend three months investing in a cohort of 10 organizations. These organizations are actively working to dismantle economic inequality by giving power back to communities left out of prosperity. In the coming weeks, we’ll be announcing the incredible entrepreneurs who will be joining us for this journey.
At Common Future, we are leaving the old system behind and moving forward toward a better economy. Building new economic power requires investing in leaders with equitable visions for their own communities. We journey alongside our partners toward four long-term goals: building people power, validating alternatives, shifting capital, and shifting systems.
Creating an equitable economy requires collective action from people across racial and class differences. We’re boldly tackling racial and economic injustice to build a new economy where BIPOC communities can thrive.
We can’t wait to share what’s in store this year.