The Skoll Foundation continues to drive transformative social change

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The Skoll Foundation, founded in 1999 by Jeff Skoll, is well known as a philanthropic leader in the field of stimulating racial equity through capital investments in organizations that address issues of economic inequity. The goal is to achieve transformational social change, not just to invest money. This is where the work of Common Future lies.

More than 20 years of commitment to social innovation

Each year, the Foundation awards up to ten Skoll Prizes for Social Innovation to organizations that meet rigorous criteria: the potential to initiate systemic institutional change from the community level to the global geographic level, and present a long-term growth and sustainability.

The prizes are substantial – $1.5 million in unrestricted funding over three years, plus an additional $750,000 in support. Awards are given to those with strong leadership and governance and strong financial health. The organization must have a track record of impact in its specialized area, be strategically positioned for success, and be closely aligned with the target audience.
With this high bar set, the Skoll Foundation has chosen Common Future (CF) as the winner of a 2022 Skoll Foundation Award.

How Common Future defines community engagement

CF is a not-for-profit organization that operates on a model of wealth distribution based on community support that includes equitable access to capital, participation in democratically governed funds, or employee share ownership opportunities in local businesses.

Additionally, CF offers a network of community leaders, funders, and others working toward a collective vision and mission to transfer wealth and power into marginalized communities.

The organization works to serve five principles:

Self-determination: Communities should be empowered to own, transform and create wealth in local economies that best serve their interests.

Frank talks about race: Economic equity will be achieved when we talk explicitly about race and the wealth gap.

Solution-focused: We have to defend the economy we want, not just against the economy we have.

Voice Amplification: It is important to celebrate and raise diverse ideas, solutions and voices that are not being heard.

Moving the story: We must elevate local perspectives to increase the possibility of them thriving in the national mainstream.

“We examine the practices and beliefs that perpetuate inequalities and generate new ones in their place,” said Rodney Foxworth, CEO of CF. “And we’ve been fortunate to work closely with financial institutions, helping them transfer $280 million to community wealth-creating organizations and the businesses they support.”

Making philanthropy more equitable and accessible

“In this work, we realized that the challenge often centers on the changes they [capital institutions] are willing to do about how they deploy money,” Foxworth added. “If we point out, for example, that the granting process is arduous and excludes small organizations or that the focus on return on investment leads to conditions that hinder growth, this forces holders of capital to rethink their way to work from the ground up. It forces them to see how ‘business as usual’ practices and the beliefs that surround them exacerbate inequalities.”

The Boston Ujima project is an excellent example of loosening capital control in the United States using the CF model. Ujima has created an impact investment fund where the community has decision-making power over investments to elevate local minority-owned businesses.

The fund is governed by voting members, all of whom are local residents and have an interest in Boston’s working-class communities of color. Membership only requires a $25 fee, and Ujima seeks to grow the fund to $5 million by 2020, with community residents, local foundations and high net worth individuals as investors.

The intricacies of the step-by-step process leading to Ujima investing $200,000 in a local program can be found here.
What entrepreneurs of minority-owned businesses find themselves facing is a system of entrenched economic inequity, with lack of access to capital being the main obstacle. According to the US Small Business Administration, most micro businesses cost around $3,000 to start, while most home-based franchises cost between $2,000 and $5,000. At the same time, for a variety of reasons, including systemic racism, in 2019 the median white household held $188,200 in wealth, or 7.8 times that of the typical black household at $24,100.

Foxworth added: “With the Skoll Prize for Social Innovation, we have joined a global community of people tackling pressing issues around the world. The award signals that Common Future has a promising model and that the issue of economic inequality — particularly the growing racial wealth gap — needs greater attention.

Image credit: Brandy Kennedy via Unsplash

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