By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO
A while ago, I had a provocative conversation with two good friends: Rha Goddess, founder of Move the Crowd, an organization that supports entrepreneurial training for next generation movers and shakers, and Jessica Norwood, founder of Runway Project, aiming to solve the “friends and family” seed funding gap for African American entrepreneurs.
We talked about how many of the issues we face in our country today stem from inequality, lack of inclusion, and biased narratives around people of color. By the end of the conversation, we all recognized these types of reflective conversations are vital in moving us toward inclusivity.
We also felt compelled to create opportunities where this kind of dialogue could happen more frequently.
So Rha, Jessica and I began hosting Uncommon Conversations, a series of intimate gatherings over dinner to discuss how to reshape the prevailing cultural narratives and determine what active part impact investing can play.
Uncommon Conversations tries to bring in a range of diverse voices, including artists, investors, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. Together, over a shared meal, we explore new ideas and discuss the importance of resilient, inclusive cultures.
Tackling Big Issues
Our series began in Baltimore, during the 2015 Social Venture Network Gathering. We convened an amazing group of change-makers and influencers to answers questions like:
- What is the potential of transforming culture through impact investing?
- How do we begin to see culture as part of our strategy for impact?
- What does a society that embraces cultural differences look like?
- What does it mean to shift real power to the voices and experiences that shape our culture?
The words of the phenomenal author and social activist the late Grace Lee Boggs centered our conversation and provided true inspiration for the group. Grace led a life infused with critical conversations and demonstrated that they are an important thread of movement building. Guided by her extraordinary legacy, we used our time to enjoy the process of new ideas and new meanings being formed.
Next, we moved to New York and Los Angeles, where we asked guests to reflect on our responsibility to shape and mold the country’s culture. We viewed a beautiful video of Nina Simone, who talked about the role we can all play in making progress to inclusiveness. We also reviewed the work of the renowned artist, Frida Kahlo. Her story of strength in creativity is still relevant today, and it provided inspiration for the evening. Frida managed a life of complexity, while embracing the duality of self. These two cultural icons anchored our conversations as we shared ideas and reflected on these questions:
- How will we be responsive to culture in a way that reflects the imperatives of our times?
- Are we supporting meaningful financial and entrepreneurial lanes that open up space for the molders and shapers or are we requiring assimilation?
Food Is Love
Nothing illuminates culture quite like food, which was our focus for Uncommon Conversations San Francisco. Our venue for the evening was 18 Reasons, a community cooking school supporting individuals and families discovery good, healthy, affordable food. The food we eat tells the story of where we come from and where we’re going. It determines our health and how we survive. As the demand for more local, organic food increases, we can’t ignore that the people who bring us our food from factories, kitchens, and fields often can’t afford to eat the food themselves. We challenged ourselves to consider:
- What is our responsibility to making the country’s food system equitable for workers in the industry?
- How do we provide broad ownership and advancement opportunities in food systems?
More recently, we convened Uncommon Conversations at the Confluence Philanthropy annual gathering in New Orleans, cohosted with Dillard University’s Ray Charles program in African American Material Culture. Our conversations centered on supporting women and girls through the arts, and touched on themes including some of the controversy around artistic expression and how to keep stories alive with art. Big Chief Delcour from the Mardi Gras Indians shared his experiences as a cultural leader with us. Another artist, B Mike, stunned us with his larger than life artworks capturing African American heroes and New Orleans locals (see title image).
We feel, and have felt for a while, there has been an accelerating cultural shift cultural shift towards inclusiveness with regard to gender equality, equity, and agency for people of color. Lately, we’ve all witnessed a very quick and rapid change in the predominant narrative around this hard-fought progress. It is our belief that the underlying cultural shift towards inclusivity is still happening, and it is strong. The question we need to answer is this: “How do we shift the predominant narrative?”
The richness of the Uncommon Conversations is a treat in and of itself. But our goal is for these conversations to inspire more individuals, especially impact investors. We want them to think about how they can support cultural entrepreneurs and movements. Ultimately, we want to build frameworks that integrate culture, inclusiveness, freedom, and agency into economic analyses.
We are in an unprecedented moment of change. As we explore the intersection of impact investing and culture, we deepen our collective understanding of what impact really means. We can identify new ways to disrupt our cultural norms and invest in equitable and culture shifts that are equitable and inclusive.