2020 is the year the world’s attention turned to the deep fractures of our economic, political, educational, and healthcare systems. The year when status quo solutions were no longer good enough. For all the declarations of being “in this together,” the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and systemic racism have revealed how low-income communities and people of color are disproportionately left out, let down, and punished by our systems.
The death of George Floyd, representing too many Black lives lost, has reignited the movement for racial justice around the world, demonstrating that we urgently need to build a society that is not only inclusive, but also just. The immediate call to reform police and criminal-justice systems in America is a significant step, but the change must go further. We must upend how capital flows, how hospitals care for patients, how institutions lend, how employers hire and care for workers, and how all of us see and care for each other.
To do this, we need to activate all parts of society—public, private, and nonprofit—to rebuild. We need to develop bold new solutions that address our most pressing problems at the systemic level, and then mobilize our resources to help those solutions achieve maximum impact.
A New Category of Entrepreneurs
Many of these new solutions are coming from a new category of entrepreneurs who apply their creative and innovative energy to solve problems of poverty. These entrepreneurs, who run for-profit businesses, have been the difference makers in countless communities across America. They bring crucial products and services to the people who need them most, while at the same time addressing the factors that contribute to them being the most in need.
The leaders of these companies are role models for our future because they share a new mindset that puts the wellbeing of all people and the planet at the heart of their businesses. And this new mindset reflects a moral revolution that’s happening across the country.
Restaurant chain Everytable serves healthy grab-and-go meals at fast-food prices in eight locations in underserved communities across Los Angeles. When Covid-19 shut the city down, Everytable CEO Sam Polk not only shifted to delivering food, but also provided free meals to anyone who couldn’t afford them. He also called on his community to help by asking customers who could afford more to “pay it forward.” This approach increased Everytable’s volume seven-fold and helped the chain provide over 3 million meals into the food deserts in L.A., including to the homeless, the recently unemployed, employers looking to feed their staff, and parents struggling to feed their children.
MindRight Health, based in Newark, New Jersey, provides culturally responsive and trauma-informed preventative mental health coaching by text message, to help youth in under-resourced communities manage daily stresses and navigate adversity. CEO Ashley Edwards aims to reimagine mental health services and advance health equity by making mental health care accessible and inclusive. The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the challenges that lead to stress and anxiety for low-income youth, including stress over financial and healthcare needs, while isolating them from their peers and other in-person support networks. At the onset of the pandemic, the company saw a 20 percent increase in utilization by its users.
Moral Leaders Redefining Philanthropy
Acumen, the nonprofit investment fund I created to change the way the world tackles poverty, has for 19 years invested in businesses such as these that adopt this philosophy of moral leadership. And, as we reflect on the 50th anniversary of Milton Freidman’s essay on the primacy of shareholders interests over shared, social responsibilities, we see many corporate CEOs and business leaders advocating for inclusive business models that serve all stakeholders.
What’s also apparent is that we all have a responsibility to support and nurture this new category of entrepreneurs who are demonstrating exactly what it looks like to be a moral leader in these imperfect times.
At the onset of the pandemic, Acumen America launched a $1.5 million emergency fund of grant capital to ensure entrepreneurs like Polk and Edwards can respond to the increased need for their products and services and emerge stronger. And in a demonstration of how moral leadership extends to even the largest and most well-known institutions in business, Barclays, a long-time funder of Acumen America and contributor to the fund, is matching the first $500,000 in donations to this facility.
Just as this pandemic is causing a shift toward inclusive capitalism, it’s also creating opportunities to redefine philanthropy.
The world is calling on all of us for new solutions. It is early-stage companies like Everytable and MindRight, with the help of global corporations like Barclays and alongside hundreds of other changemakers, who will lead their communities toward greater inclusivity. We say hindsight is 20/20, but my hope is that the entrepreneurs of 2020 are an early indication of the future to come and the future we need.
To contribute to Acumen’s Emergency fund, click here.
Jacqueline Novogratz is the Founder and CEO of Acumen.