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Gloria Johns headshot

Skoll Foundation Keeps Funding and Seeking Transformative Social Change

The Skoll Foundation's success in funding social impact programs continues with Common Future, which bridges the funding gap for Black entrepreneurs.
By Gloria Johns
Common Future

The Skoll Foundation, founded in 1999 by Jeff Skoll, is well known as a philanthropic leader in the area of stimulating racial equity through capital investments in organizations that solve problems of economic inequity. The goal is to achieve transformational social change, not just invest dollars. Therein lies the work of Common Future.

More than 20 years of commitments to social innovation

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

The awards are considerable — $1.5 million in unrestricted funding over three years, as well as an additional amount of $750,000 of support. Awards are made to those with a strong leadership and governance, and with strong financial health. The organization must have a history of making an impact in their specialized area, be strategically placed for success, and be closely aligned to the target audience.
With this high bar established, The Skoll Foundation chose Common Future (CF) as a winner of a 2022 Skoll Foundation Award.

How Common Future defines community engagement

CF is a nonprofit which has at its core a wealth distribution model built on communal support that includes equitable access to capital, participation in democratically governed funds or opportunities for employee ownership of local businesses.

In addition, CF offers a network of community leaders, funders, and others working towards a collective vision and mission to shift wealth and power into marginalized communities.

The organization works to serve five principles: 

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

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

Solution-focused: We must advocate for the economy we want, not only against the economy we have.

Amplifying voices: It is important to celebrate and lift up ideas, solutions and diverse voices that aren’t heard.

Shifting the narrative: We must lift up local perspectives to increase the possibility that they will thrive in the national mainstream.

“We look at practices and beliefs that perpetuate inequity and generate new ones in their place,” said Rodney Foxworth, CEO of CF. “And we’ve been fortunate to work closely with capital institutions, helping them move $280 million to community wealth building organizations and the businesses they support.”

Making philanthropy more equitable and accessible

“In this work we realized that the challenge often centers around what changes they [capital institutions] are willing to make to how they deploy money,” added Foxworth. “If we point out, for example, that the grant process is arduous and excludes smaller organizations or that the focus on return on investment leads to terms that hinder growth, this requires capital holders to rethink how they work from the ground up. It requires them to see how ‘business as usual’ practices and the beliefs around them exacerbate inequity.” 

The Boston Ujima Project is a great example of loosening control of capital in the United States using the CF Model. Ujima has created an impact investing fund where the community has decision-making power over investments to uplift local, minority-owned enterprises.

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

The intricacies of the step-by-step process leading to an investment of $200,000 by Ujima in a local program can be found here.
What minority business entrepreneurs find themselves up against is a system of embedded economic inequity, lack of access to capital being the common roadblock. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, most microbusinesses cost around $3,000 to start, while most home-based franchises cost $2,000 to $5,000. At the same time, for various reasons, including systemic racism, in 2019 the median white household held $188,200 in wealth — 7.8 times that of the typical Black household at $24,100.

Foxworth added, “With the Skoll Award for Social Innovation we joined a global community of people who are tackling pressing issues around the world. The award signals that Common Future has a promising model and the issue of economic inequity — specifically the growing racial wealth gap — needs greater attention.”

Image credit: Brandy Kennedy via Unsplash

Gloria Johns headshot

Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.

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