Our Common Future Conference – Oct. 27, 2017 Part One
Our Common Future conference was held in Detroit, Michigan at the end of October 2017. We have a Part One and a Part Two to give you the top ten. We will interview several guest speakers that help shape our community. They give us some insight into the work that they do to empower entrepreneurship and Impact Investing.
For the full transcript click below
Welcome to the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. This is Romy, and we have something very special for you on this episode. Our Bonfires team was invited to podcast from the Our Common Futures conference which was held in Detroit at the end of October 2017. I was not able to attend but two of our very experienced colleagues, Jennifer Davis-Papa and Natalie Hazen, caught up with some very high profile attendees and speakers at the conference. They came back with so many great discussions that we had to do a Part 1 and a Part 2 to give you the top ten.
So, on Part 1, you will hear interviews with Dan Cardinali, President, and CEO of Independent Sector, Joyce Cade-Hitchye from the organization, Of Impact, Angela Barbash from the financial firm, Revalue Aaron Seybert of Kresge, and Angela Rogensues of the non-profit, Playworks.
Let’s get started with Dan Cardinelli of Independent Sector. He begins by answering Natalie with some organization history.
Dan Cardinali: Well, first of all, Independent Sector is a 38-year-old organization that is founded with two very simple principles; that our goal is to bring the sector, the whole sector together. Grant seeking, foundations, corporate foundations, and … Excuse me. Can I start that again?
Dan Cardinali: Independent Sector was founded 38 years ago with two very simple purposes; to bring the sector together, sector spanning, so we have grant seeking organizations, nonprofits, and grant-making organizations like philanthropy and corporate foundations.
The goal of this gathering is for the community to come together in a non-transactional way. Not to cut deals, but to collectively take stock in what’s going well and what’s not, and how we as a sector can come together, catalyze activity, and be part of accelerating social change. That’s what Independent Sector does.
And then we learn from that conversation, and we translate that into our public policy work. Primarily in Washington, but increasingly we partner with state organizations to make sure we’re aligned with the policies that are really going to strengthen the sector.
Every year we gather, historically every year we gather the sector together in this vital meeting ground, this conference. We realize collaboration is the way of the future. Early on as were designing for this, we said, “Look, who are the strongest sector spanning organizations we can partner with.” The Council of Michigan Foundations is one of the strongest state level, regional association working in philanthropy. The Michigan Nonprofit Association is a similar; it’s one of the strongest nonprofit association.
It made perfect sense to say, “Hey! Let’s put our heads together, and let’s design together.” And that’s what we did. It’s been a phenomenal experience.
Natalie: Wow. That’s fantastic. I like how you’re getting everybody together in the sandbox to play well together, in essence.
Dan Cardinali: Right. Well, the goal I think is playing well together. I think also means struggling to do what we hope happens here. Which is to push each other. Each of us have a different purview. We look across the whole sector nationally. The Council of Michigan Foundations has their lens working with philanthropy here in Michigan. Although, they are also a national player. They’ve a really great purview, and similarly, the Michigan Nonprofit Association has their purview really on what’s going on here in Michigan and understanding the national context.
We all have strong opinions. We’re all leaders in our own right. The work we did in terms of really finding the common ground among ourselves, I think then got reflected in the conference. We’ve been really pleased with the kind of seamlessness with which our teams have worked together, and the design of content. So the meaning that’s coming out of this, the learning is actually synthetic for the whole sector. It’s not anyone of those federally, or locally, or just philanthropy kind of getting the lion share of the learning.
Dan Cardinali: The nice part is interesting. I think it’s more of the respectful part. When you really listen to the other and realize they’re coming at this one from a place of deep goodwill and a deep level of experience. You’re forced to listen pretty thoroughly. And then each of us, and I have to say our partners were phenomenal in allowing themselves to be stretched and stretching us. What we found is what we learned a fair amount here.
I was just talking with our team that Independent Sector is in this mode right now being a startup in a legacy organization. We after doing a lot of thinking at the nation level, a lot of listening, looking out to the way the world was changing, realized that our responsibility was to kind of called the question for this sector. That we need to change, and we need to evolve and actually pretty quickly.
Our work here in Michigan grounded us in the very practical realities of where the sector is at. We figured out together the pace with which that change needed to take place. It has been an invaluable contribution as we go to L.A. next year. We’ve rebranded kind of the work it will now be this wonderful gathering for the social sector called Upswell. You can go to the website, upswell.org. It is not the Independent Sector conference anymore. It is the sector’s conference. Much like South by Southwest is for the tech industry. Upswell is going to the gathering for this sector.
We learned that in a really important way here in Michigan. It was through that collaboration that helped us really say, “How do we develop a place where those who are in transition can find themselves comfortable and be stretched. Those who are on the front edge of innovation will also be excited and can push further. And those who are skeptical can put a toe in the water and find like-minded folks kind of asking questions and exploring.”
Natalie: Wow. That’s fantastic. You’re grabbing everybody from, no matter where they are in the spectrum really.
Dan Cardinali: That’s the goal, right? The sector is huge. People often forget that, right? There are 11 million workers, and then if you put in the number of volunteers in America, one in four Americans, one in four Americans are involved in civil society. And yet we don’t have a sense of a collective identity. Part of Upswell’s aspiration is, we know that social change is happening all over America and citizens, really just Americans. People who are here in this country who are just deeply passionate about being part of community, are doing great work all the time. We want to capture that energy and share it out. So the notion of Upswell is that we’re deeply locally engaged, but nationally relevant. Anybody can find their place in that conversation.
Natalie: Wow. That’s fantastic. I like that, but now next year we’re in L.A.
Dan Cardinali: We’re going to be in L.A. next year. We learned a lot here in Michigan. We sent a team here back in January to live here in Detroit for a month, and to go through a human-centered design program from a local organization here trained by Stanford, and to fan out into the community. That fundamentally changed how we thought about the conference. We’re doing that on steroids in L.A.
We’ve already identified a group of community base leaders who are actually here in Detroit who are learning about what’s going well and what isn’t. They will become a community of changemakers over the course of the year helping us plan. So place leaders are already learning from what kind of national discourse looks like. And then turning to their home community and saying, “Wow. We have a lot to learn, and we have a lot to teach. And let’s make that happen next year.”
Natalie: Wow. I love the gathering of the information but yet not just sitting on it. You’re actually moving it forward and taking some action on it. That to me is incredible.
Dan Cardinali: That’s great. I appreciate you saying that. We believe one of our roles is this notion of recalibrating the tension of how the sector learns. Historically over the last 20 years, a lot of the sector leaders, the big institution, elite coastal institutions, got to kind of say what the important issues were and set the agenda. We think actually communities in dialogue with those elite institutions will create a much clearer and acute understanding of what actually the core issues are. That we then collectively need to catalyze activity and drive change.
Natalie: Right, right. There’s always a, making an impact to everywhere that you can go right?
Dan Cardinali: That’s exactly. That is exactly right.
Natalie: How do you feel that the conference is going so far, and what has been the highlight or inspiration to you?
Dan Cardinali: Personally, I am kind of over the moon. We were quite nervous going into this last year at our conference. We had about 800 folks come. This year I think we’ve come close to breaking numbers for our conference. We’re well over 1400. It’s an example why collaboration is so important. The Council of Michigan Foundations and Michigan Nonprofit Association, not only brought their folks but their folks had a place here and contributed. The traditional folks that we brought were in dialogue with them in a much richer way. I’m very proud and very, very excited that that meaning-making has already begun to take place here. We learned a great deal about that.
The collaboration and the quality of the content … I was coming back from a dinner last night out in the community with about 30 people. We were at a local nonprofit talking about what is it going to take for our country to become stronger. I’ve met a diverse group of people. On the bus ride back, a colleague of mine, that I’ve known for many years said, “You know, I’ve come to this conference a lot. Most of the time it’s been maybe, you know I knew most of what I was going to, and I’d get an occasionally good idea.” She said, “I have been challenged and stretched in this conference.” So I’m deeply proud that was a collective effort among the sector itself. Stretching itself to grow and learn. It feels to me that is … If anything Independent Sector can do, we believe in catalyzing leaders into transformative work. It felt to me in that moment; she was saying, “I’ve feel like I could go back now ready to take on harder stuff.”
Natalie: It sounds like it was just a great moment where she was refreshed and renewed in all that she is learning and ready to, as you said, make it into action. Push it forward.
Dan Cardinali: I think that’s right. I love to notion of renewal. John Gardner, who founded Independent Sector, said we have to constantly be in renewal as individuals and as institutions. So absolutely I think the conference is the gathering of the tribe, the celebration, the eating and breaking bread together, and hanging out, and laughing. I think the other component of what she said is that I had the assumptions about how I think about creating change stretched and challenged.
And now I don’t feel like I am destabilized, but I do feel like I have to go back now and reexamine and bring in what I’ve learned in the context, and really see if I can push my work forward. To me, this notions of a safe nurturing place to grow is really a tender achievement. And again, that came through collective effort. We couldn’t have done it on our own.
Natalie: I think that’s fantastic. You’re creating this space for everyone to just really be thought, partners.
Dan Cardinali: That’s right. That’s right. That’s exactly.
Natalie: I like that a lot. So in terms of your views for the future of impact investing. How to you see impact investing really tie into your mission, and where do you see impact investing in the local markets really heading?
Dan Cardinali: That’s a great question. So I think impact investing is … What I’m excited about impact investing is that there is a period when it was treated as kind of the be-all and the end-all. It was going to solve this issue of scale. It was going to be market-driven solutions to drive effective practice out there. I actually still believe that’s what it can hold. I think there is now a sober and clear-eyed understanding of the strategies that really, I think the work you all are doing is a good example of really the embeddedness it requires in community. The marrying of those with capital looking to use market-driven solutions to drive change. And the kind of … prior to hopping on the podcast, you use the notion of training Olympic athletes.
I think that has been a missing piece. That there is this incredible commitment to these change makers, who are so poised and so capable. And our assumption is that that passion is sufficient to driven them forward. And yet we know there are really technical supports that will unleash their capability and channel that good sentiment, those values in the market-driven solutions. So I’m very bullish.
I want to call out something about impact investing that I think is going to be a limiting factor unless we partner with a set of institutions that can help, whether it’s on the kind of B Corp or the pure social enterprise, or the nonprofit social enterprise. This notion of the tools required for ongoing quality improvement for outcomes. Not for profit, but for outcomes. Creating meaningful social change is actually very, very difficult. There is an emerging body of work. I have to call an example.
Project Evident, which is a startup, is developing a set of strategies for cost-effective tools to help startups or second stage kind of organizations begin to put together what’s called strategic evaluation plan. Part of that is understanding how to get the right sets of incomes, but the key to the strategic evaluation plan is understanding the marketplace for results. So that a social enterprise is aiming in a market-driven way. So that its results, when it produces good outcomes for kids and families or whatever it’s trying to do. There is actually pickup and payoff at the end.
I think sometimes there is a misalignment between what in fact will … One, first of all, how do you drive effective outcomes for difficult, intractable problems? And then two, who or how are those going to be picked up and scaled?
Natalie: Right. Now I think you’ve hit several amazing points. The marketplace, what we’re seeing and noticing is that the marketplace when you are creating your business is sometimes not really thought of. Its, yes you want to go do a great thing, have some wonderful impact, but if that marketplace isn’t there for your product to help generate your business, you have to go in and create that marketplace. Then that is something we’re noticing has been missed as to your point. That you really have to think about that marketplace. Is it already there? Is it waiting for me? Or is it something that I have to go and pioneer on my own?
Dan Cardinali: Yeah. It’s an extraordinary important point. Something we’re committed to at Independent Sector is working with … we’re working right now with Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to look at what we can do as an organization to create a much more rational marketplace for results. So that social enterprises don’t have to have dual challenge of both innovating breakthrough strategies to create social good and market, field building or the market making that then scales that work. It’s too much at any one time.
We think by virtual of our sector spanning world and public policy capabilities. We have a partnership with an organization results for America which is looking at the public policies that could be put in place that will incentivize government to really reward institutions, organizations for profit and nonprofit that are delivering really material value to society.
Natalie: Excellent. Wow. Thank you so much for your time this morning. I got you up early. You were ready to rock and roll.
Dan Cardinali: I’m ready to rock and roll. I had a lot of coffee this morning. I’m super excited to be here.
Natalie: Well, thank you. So how do our listeners touch base with you at Independent Sector?
Dan Cardinali: Sure. First of all, we would love for folks to engage with us. Your listeners are learning and seeing things that often we are not. So I would really invite them to engage with us. There are a couple ways they can do that. One, our website which is independent sector, and I still misspell Independent so don’t fell bad, but it is one-word independentsector.org. And then on our website, there’s lot of ways to engage. We publish blogs. We invite folks if they’re interested in blogging, let us know. We loved to hear their thoughts.
And then if you go to Upswell.org you can sign up. And we’re going to use that platform as a way to engage with folks. And because Upswell is really about kind of the whole shoot and match. We would just invite folks, please sign up, and we will begin to reach out … and we want their thoughts. Then maybe opportunities for them to curate ideas and present on a national stage.
Natalie: Well, there you have it and to all of our listeners out in L.A., alright. Ball’s in your court. Jump on board, right?
Dan Cardinali: Yeah, we look forward to seeing you next year. November 14th through the 16th.
Natalie: All right. Well Dan, thank you so much. I so appreciate it.
Dan Cardinali: Really great.
Thanks, Natalie and Dan! What a great way to kick off the conference and plant seeds for next year in LA. By the time we are done listening to these great guests, we will probably all be booking some tickets.
Next up, Jennifer catches up with Joyce Cade-Hitchye with the organization, Of Impact. Jennifer had some specific questions for Joyce on the conference.
Jennifer: Jade, I’d love to get your ideas and thoughts about the conference so far, and also a little bit then about how that ties into what you do every day.
Joyce: Well, basically, I love this. We’ve been coming the last couple of years when the Michigan Nonprofit Association converges with the Council of Michigan Foundations. Actually, funny story; can I tell you?
Joyce: Okay, couple of years ago, we attended and, I’m a talker, so I loved the tie that this gentleman was wearing. Right? It ended up to be the president of the Council of Michigan Foundations. He remembered our little encounter years later when we went to another event in April. He told me, “You’re coming to the …” before I was even on the … what do you call it? His website. Their website. I was like, “Of course! I can’t wait to come and enjoy this!” It’s really a good … yesterday we went to the Michigan Nonprofit Association luncheon. Lots of good information. Was sitting right across from, again, some more foundations, that were telling us what they needed and expected from us. I’m, of course, taking notes, had my board directors; one flew out from DC,
Joyce: Yeah, and what we’re doing is making sure that what we’re doing is exactly what they need from us. I like that, you telling us what you need from us, and we’re giving it. We haven’t had any problems so far with that.
Jennifer: That’s great! How often do you get to have such one on one conversations where this is exactly what we’re looking for, and then you can go ahead and deliver on that.
Joyce: Right, right. Mm-hmm (affirmative)-.
Jennifer: What has been the biggest highlight for you, so far, at the conference?
Joyce: So far? Just the networking has been just awesome. I’ve been meeting … we met this wonderful lady, she’s from Africa, and she has a green, I think it’s [Seneko 00:02:08] is the company. Just the ideas that people have, and just being able to collaborate. We’ve already had a couple of organizations that are interested in collaborating with us from here, just from yesterday.
Jennifer: That is wonderful, Joyce. I’m going to ask you one more thing. Understanding you’re building out your network, and you’re collaborating, what is the top thing that you’re going to walk away from this conference with, and put into practice right away?
Joyce: Well, let me see. I’ve got to get my … I took my little notes.
Jennifer: Get your notes, that’s great.
Joyce: The one thing, the main thing, is to make sure that … let’s see. Ah, sustainable spending policy is good, is down pat, and really to focus on that. Okay?
Jennifer: Tell me a little bit more about how would you define what a sustainable spending policy is?
Joyce: Basically, and this is understandable, all foundations look for you to self-sustain yourself. Right? What we’re doing right now, and we’re doing this, is that we’re trying to build off of our art therapy program, and from that, we’re trademarking, patenting, and we’re even working on a little app pertaining to that. Okay? What we want to do is we want to make sure that we’re able to sustain ourselves for at least six months. Say, our foundation, or the giving that’s been doing, dries up. We want to make sure that we can hold ourselves, and that’s what we’re doing, and that’s why we’re getting all kinds of different ways that we can fend for ourselves. Then asking, hey, we’re doing this on our own, but we need a little bit of extra help.
Jennifer: I love it. Creating a revenue stream, make some money, so if, in the event that the grant or some other funding stops you can do it on your own.
Joyce: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Very good. Let’s stay with Jennifer as she interviews financial advisor, Angela Barbash of Revalue.
Jennifer: Thank you, Angela, for taking time to spend with us today on the podcast. What I’d like to do is start off our time together with having you tell our listeners about you, your firm, what you do, and your mission.
Angela Barbash: Great. I am so excited to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation to speak on your podcast. My name, again, is Angela Barbash. I am the co-founder of Revalue. We’re a registered investment advisory firm out in Ypsilanti, which is Ann Arbor’s little scrappy sister city.
Jennifer: We love Ypsilanti.
Angela Barbash: We got a lot of heart in Ypsi. We’re out in Ypsilanti. I’ve been an investment advisor for 14 years, and six years ago, it became pretty clear to me that the industry was changing. People wanted to invest locally. They wanted to invest alongside their values and have an impact on the world around them. There were not a whole lot of options available for investors to figure out how to do that, particularly on the community impact investing side of the work. That resulted in me finding some partners and in 2013 launching Revalue. We just celebrated our fourth year in business.
Angela Barbash: We are one of three firms in the country that really dig deep with investors, both accredited or non-accredited. That’s that million-dollar line in the sand.
Angela Barbash: We’re one of only three firms in the country that will do that kind of work at such a deep level, especially with non-accredited investors.
Jennifer: Wow. Angela, that’s awesome, especially being able to bridge that gap. Here, even, at the conference learning that there’s so many other people interested to get invited to this party. How do I get involved? What are the next steps I take? My next question, then, is gonna be around that and tying it into the conference a little bit. From what you’re seeing and learning and hearing at the conference, how are you gonna be able to bring that back to both sides of the equation, your accredited and your non-accredited investors, to get them to take action?
Angela Barbash: Well, I think what’s most exciting to me and has been most exciting over the last year is seeing the gap between the individual investors and the marketplace who are interested in investing for local impact, and the institutional investors in the marketplace who are those community foundations, large corporate foundations, and family foundations, or even university endowment funds or, take it a step further, even municipal pension funds, which they’re not quite yet at the table. But at least the foundations are, and we see that here at the conference.
There’s been a bit of a gap between those two types of investors, those individuals, the main street people in the community, and the foundations, where they in their own silos have been building up this competency for investing locally, and now I’m starting to see that gap between the two narrow. That’s what I’m most excited about, is helping the foundations see the individuals in the community are excited about this and helping the individuals see that the institutions are excited about this.
In my vision of the world in the next two to three years, I think we’ll see more and more opportunities in Michigan where institutions are investing, and individual investors are co-investing right alongside them. That unlocks a whole bevy of capital opportunities for those brilliant entrepreneurs who are doing such a great job of changing our world for us.
Jennifer: Totally. You’re speaking my language. You’re singing my song here, Angela, listening to what you say. I wanna hop on the other side of the equation, then, outside the investors. Let’s talk about the entrepreneurs and the social entrepreneurs because they’ve actually been a big focus here of the conference today. There’s been a lot. If I’m a social entrepreneur or an entrepreneur in general, and because you do what you do, how is the best way to interact with an advisor such as yourself?
Angela Barbash: That’s a really great question. We actually receive a lot of inquiries. Now that the world around us knows that we represent investors, we get a lot of people knocking on our door. I mean entrepreneurs knocking on our door.
Jennifer: I got it.
Angela Barbash: Other people knock on our door, too, but entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are really a natural fit for impact investors. They’re already coming to the table with a triple or double bottom line of people who’ll place some profits or some mix of that, not just a bottom line. We always recommend to people when they do knock on our door to send us an executive summary. If they don’t have an executive summary that’s a quick one, two, three pager, we will send them a template for an executive summary. It gives them all a feel to what we need them to communicate to us.
With that, we can do a cursory review and see if this is something that we could even get through due diligence. Is this something that’s gonna meet even our basic standards? Is this something that our clients, our particular investors, are passionate about? You may have a brilliant idea or business, but if our investors, if that’s not their passion point, then it’s just not gonna work. With that executive summary, we can then finish that review and get back to them and let them know if there’s some interest to take it further.
Sometimes we may not be the right shop for them, but we know a hell of a lot of people. We’ll send them. We call this triaging. We will triage them to some other organization if we see that they are a better fit for someone else, some other source of funding.
Jennifer: I love that. This is gonna take me back old school. I remember back in the day when I first started in finance, and people would say, “Well, Jennifer, you need to realize you’re a shipbuilder.” I’m a shipbuilder? They’re like, “Yes, relationships.” I know how corny that sounds, but having you talk about being that one and you can bridge it out, it made me think about that, and it just popped into my head.
Angela Barbash: That’s good.
Jennifer: I wanna ask on more question if I’m an entrepreneur. What do you see, if they’re filling out that one-pager, that is the most effective, that makes them the most attractive or puts them ahead of the competition, if you will if an investor is maybe looking for them?
Angela Barbash: Oh, that’s a brilliant question. I really love that question. Thanks so much. At the end of the day, you are asking people to invest in your vision as an entrepreneur and what you see as a possibility for the future. For us, and really for me specifically, I’m looking for traction. What I mean by traction is that you have evidence. There’s evidence that you can find people who want what you are providing. That could be as simple as a pre-sales crowdfunding campaign where you got 50 people to pre-buy the product or service that you’re offering. It could be you did popups at the farmers market.
It doesn’t have to be you had $100,000 in sales, and now you’re gonna go get capital, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel like they’ve gotta make this monumental achievement in sales before they can go get money. We’re not saying that. We’re just saying you gotta show that someone wants what you’re offering at the price point you’re offering it with the quality and standards you’re providing it. That is critical because we can’t take a risk, especially with other people’s money. We especially can’t take another people’s money risk on a wing and a prayer or just a vision or an idea. It may be the most brilliant idea in the world, but we can’t do that.
Jennifer: I like it. What I’m hearing is you gotta have a clearly defined why. You have to sell your why. This is what I’m taking away, and you can tell me if I’m right. Before you even get to your market opportunity, they’re already, “How do I get involved?” Then when you show them that you’ve looked at your market beyond what you can get from the state that says, “You have 8,000 customers,” all that stuff, but that you’ve taken it and you’ve executed in your market. Two really key features for entrepreneurs that are looking to go for investment.
Angela Barbash: Absolutely. That’s absolutely true.
Jennifer: Great. I love that. It’s one of the key bases that I just see over and over again. You need the passion, but you need the business skill. You need to be able to show. My last question before I let you off the hook today, there’s been a lot of sessions, a lot of great people, a lot of new information. What do you feel that from this conference you wanna take away back to your practice and your clients and tell them about right away?
Angela Barbash: I think what has been most exciting to me in my experiences at this conference so far has been seeing the almost fervor, if I may use that word, in the foundation world, their excitement for doing impact investing. You know, a lot of our mutual friends in this space, we’ve all been digging at this for years. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to find a session with 100 foundations in it talking about impact investing. It was just not what you found. Today, it’s not just one session, it was two sessions, and maybe I missed another one.
But it’s multiple conversations around impact investing. That’s what I’m taking away from this, that there is real traction in the foundation world for impact investing. Then most of all, relationships is why I am so excited to be here and to be part of this conversation, is to be able to meet the people on the other side.
Jennifer: Build the ship.
Angela Barbash: Yeah, build the ship, right? We often use the analogy that in entrepreneurship, ’cause we’re entrepreneurs, too. We’re social entrepreneurs, too. We use this analogy that we’re often building the plane while we fly it, or flying the plane while we build it. It’s the same thing that you have just to dive in and you have to build. You’re building your skillset, you’re building your client base, and you’re building those relationships. For me, if I can direct an entrepreneur to an organization who is going to look at them because of what they do and where they do it, but we don’t have clients who care about that particular space or that particular place, then I’ve done my job in the world. That’s what I’m most excited about walking away with, is some new relationships.
Thanks, Angela and Jennifer. It is always great to grab the perspective of a financial advisor who is working with clients interested in investing locally. We are going to stay with Jennifer for one more interview with Aaron Seybert; the Impact Investing lead for the Kresge Foundation.
Jennifer: I am sitting here with the wonderful Aaron Seybert from the Kresge Foundation. He agreed to spend a couple of times with us and share his amazing wisdom on what he does is a part of the Kresge organization as their social investment officer. Aaron, thank you so much for joining us.
Aaron Seybert: I’m happy to be here.
Jennifer: Great. What I’d like to do is have you to explain to our listeners, ’cause you’re one of the very first foundation representatives that we’ve had that really focuses on social impact. If you could explain to them in the quick and dirty exactly what your role is and what you do.
Aaron Seybert: Sure. A few years ago, the foundation created the social investment practice, which mandate is to provide program-related investing in support of our general purpose and our program goals. We have $350 million of capital set aside through 2020 to program against initiatives, funds, investments of all kinds that are a dramatic lift to our programmatic goals. The question is, using different tools other than grant-making as the foundation has typically done, can we accelerate or expand the impact of our program teams? We believe the answer is yes, but we’re in the process.
Jennifer: That is so exciting and great to hear because coming from working with social entrepreneurs and individual investors, to hear that the foundations are fired up to get involved in this, to be able to aid the community and really have impact in that community and have that be accountable and traceable is super exciting. One of the things that I just heard you talk about is how you work with a firm called Enterprise. Can you explain what that is, how you work with them, and how that helps you, as a foundation, make decisions?
Aaron Seybert: Sure. Enterprise Community Partners and their sister organization, Enterprise Community Loan Fund, are one of the largest national community development institutions in the country. They’re deeply invested in affordable housing, but they also do a lot of environmental work, place-making, a lot of real estate-centric enterprises around community development. Enterprise as intermediaries, they’re a great partner to us because they deeply understand our space and a lot of the programmatic goals we have, but they are also built like a mini bank, and they have the expertise and the shop, effectively.
They’ve got lenders and environmental people and architects and folks who can look at projects in a way that require a lot of time and effort, where foundations are just typically not built to take on that kind of infrastructure and overhead. We work through intermediaries that have that kind of expertise to leverage our assets with the assets of other people, federal funding, private sector to do greater impact in places like Detroit. That’s the partnership that we struck here with enterprise. We provided them with the PRI in partnership with Jefferson East and Josh Elling to expand their work in that district. Enterprise can be the lender of our capital along with some of their own and expand the impact.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s great. I really appreciate you explaining that ’cause that makes so much- What a great partner to have and find and to be able to leverage. Last question before you go, ’cause I know that you gotta hit the road. Understanding everything that’s going on in this conference, what has been the biggest highlight for you that you’re gonna be taking away and taking it back to the rest of your team to tell about?
Aaron Seybert: I mean, I think that one of the things that I’ve heard at the conference that I find exciting is that people are thinking about the way that they work in a different way. In our space, we talk a lot about using the right tool for the right situation. Many of our core grantee partners here at the conference and otherwise are thinking about the way that they can expand their work using program-related investment, using [mission-related 00:03:18], trying to leverage the public sector, the private sector, to blend their capital, to build their balance sheets in different ways, to allow them to not only be more sustainable, to be more impactful over time.
I think that awareness and being in the impact investing space, I get excited about when I hear people thinking about their work in a different way and trying to think outside of what grant capital loan can do for them.
Jennifer: It’s changing the way people are thinking and doing things, and hearing that coming from you as a representative of the Kresge Foundation, that is just very exciting. Thank you so much for your time today. Safe travels, and we’ll talk soon.
Aaron Seybert: Thanks for having me.
Thanks, Jennifer and Aaron. It is great to hear what everyone is doing out there with all of their programs. As you can hear, these programs are very well thought through and intentional.
Next up, we head back to hear from Natalie and her attendee guest, Angela Rogensues of the non-profit Playworks.
Angela: Playworks is the leading national non-profit leveraging the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. We use play and games at recess to help improve the social and emotional learning of kids. We set this really audacious goal. By December 31st, 2020, we’ll reach 3.5 million children across the U.S. In Michigan, we’re owning about 60,000 of that, and so we want to reach 60,000 children by December 31st, 2020, in Michigan, and there’s about 1.1 million just in southeastern Michigan alone. We partner with elementary schools and youth-serving organizations to help ensure that there’s a caring, consistent adult on the playground and that kids have the opportunity to play safely at school every day.
Natalie: Wow. That is fantastic. I, one, love being outside and playing, so I love what you’re doing here. I think it’s always good, and I’m sure you can attest to this, that when you’re on a playground, there’s a lot of opportunity for things to be soloed out, so when you engage other kids together, that helps just bring everybody up.
Angela: Yeah, so that’s part of our work, is to help kids develop the skills they need, like self-regulation, teamwork, shared celebration of experiences, how to negotiate, how to collaborate. We use recess, which is kind of this natural learning lab, as an opportunity to build up those skills that help develop character and make kids good citizens when they grow up.
Natalie: All good things. All good things that, who knew everything you learned was in school, right?
Angela: Yeah. Yeah. The playground at recess.
Natalie: I love that. Now, I heard that you are partnering with, what is it, Play 60?
Angela: Yeah, so locally here, we’re the Play 60 partner of the Detroit Lions. We’re their community partner, and so we help them extend their Play 60 reach by supporting our schools and us. We’re in 38 schools here locally in Michigan, and so we’re ensuring that those schools have safe and healthy play every day at school.
Natalie: That’s fantastic. What are you enjoying about this conference so far? What has been your favorite highlight so far, I guess?
Angela: Well, I always love seeing our founder speak. She spoke on stage yesterday and played a game. That was really amazing. It’s really awesome to be around like-minded people and folks who are trying to change the world in really positive ways. That’s super inspiring and kind of fills your tank, if you will, to keep moving forward and trying to move the needle on some of the equity things that we see, or inequity, the public education, and really trying to change the way that schools are built and how they incorporate play. Being around other people who are maybe approaching other systems, and working with each other, and being around each other is always really inspiring.
Angela: so we have national supporters where Playworks Michigan is a part of a much larger organization that has regional offices in 23 states across the country, or 23 regions, 19 states. We have national investors who support our work, and then we also have local investors. Locally, the Detroit Lions have been one of our largest both financial supporters, but also just one of our longest-standing partners. We have received some phenomenal support from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, 1.14 million over the course of two years to expand both in Michigan, but also in Western New York. The Skillman Foundation has been a steadfast partner, as well as Edna and some of the private sector, Health Alliance Plan, and a variety of other corporate partners.
Natalie: Wow. That’s fantastic. That’s good. Grabbing the village, right?
Angela: Yeah. Absolutely. We require everyone. We need everyone on board. Play can change the world, and if we can make everyone see that and remember what it’s like, play can unite people in ways that other things can’t, and so we’re trying to spread that message.
Natalie: What is the website that they can reach you on?
Angela: Yeah, so playworks.org or recesslab.org has a lot more resources for folks to learn more about our play movement.
Interesting to hear from a non-profit attendee in the middle of this big conference. I love all of the different perspectives and guests. This wraps up Part 1 but don’t wait to jump over and finish with five more change leaders in Part 2.
Signing off for now, talk to you in Part 2….
Links for Dan Cardinali
Links for Joyce Cade-Hitchye
Links for Angela Barbash
Links for Aaron Seybert
Links for Angela Rogensues
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