Arch’s first exposure to direct community investments occurred during its participation in the Maestra Program run by Justice Funders.
As part of Maestra, we were introduced to two exciting projects that are working on creating a more democratic and sustainable new economy.
Boston Ujima Project is creating a new economic model in Boston: a democratically governed multi-stakeholder organization that is building a community-controlled economy led by working class people of color. Members of the governing body pool resources and make decisions collectively about the businesses and services they want as part of their communal ecosystem. They also make decisions on which businesses to invest in.
Seed Commons, is a national network of locally-rooted, non-extractive loan funds that brings the power of big finance under community control. We were drawn by Seed Commons’ approach to non-extractive finance, which it defines as as the returns to the lender not ever exceeding the wealth created by the borrower using the capital. With its 25+ community-controlled member loan funds, Seed Commons is creating a national non-extractive finance infrastructure.
As it turned out, Boston Ujima Project and Seed Commons were both part of Chordata Capital’s model portfolio.
Through Chordata Capital, we now invest about 20% of our assets into high social impact projects. Chordata facilitates direct investments into local economies that focus on racial, economic and gender justice. It invests in CDFIs, democratically-controlled loan funds and emergent solidarity economy projects that are higher risk and require a longer term investment.
Most of our investments in Chordata’s portfolio range from $50-$150,000, are no or low interest (0-4%) and have terms of 3-7 years. Below are a few examples of projects in Chordata’s portfolio that we are particularly excited about.
East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative This black-led multi racial organization is buying and preserving real estate in the East Bay to create community controlled assets in BIPOC communities. They are truly creating transformative change by removing land and housing from the speculative market to create permanently affordable, community controlled homes. Their vision includes empowering communities to cooperatively lead a transition from an extractive capitalist system into one where communities are ecologically, emotionally, spiritually, culturally and economically restorative and regenerative.
Oweesta is the only existing Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Intermediary that provides lending capital and development services exclusively to Native CDFIs and Native communities. Oweesta provides opportunities for Native people to develop financial assets and create wealth by assisting in the establishment of strong, permanent institutions and programs contributing to economic independence and strengthening sovereignty for all Native communities.
Obran Cooperative is a Black-founded worker-owned conglomerate that acquires small-to-medium-sized businesses and converts them to cooperatives. Obran is on a mission to change the system of employment in this country and build community wealth in the process. Started in Baltimore, the fund has expanded to a national focus. One of its arms, Obran Health, is currently converting a 550 worker home healthcare aide business in the Pacific NW into a cooperative.
We are very much on a learning journey and committed to reviewing our Investment Philosophy every year. As we learn from our experiences, we hope that we will be able to invest more and more resources into projects that are mission-aligned, while still ensuring that we can meet the need for stability and liquidity.
It is both uncomfortable and exciting to be a foundation that is striving to think and operate outside a traditional paradigm in its investment philosophy. We are taking the risk of investing in a holistic vision where are impact is not only about our grantmaking, but the way we invest the totality of our assets. We hope more and more foundations will do the same.