Category Archives: Politics and Policy

Lupe Fiasco and Di-Ann Eisnor’s Neighborhood Start Fund — Inspiring and Leading a New Generation of Celebrity Impact Investors and Entrepreneurs to Transform Distressed Communities











Hip Hop Star/Entrepreneur Lupe Fiasco and Angel Investor/Google Waze Exec Di-Ann Eisnor’s Neighborhood Start Fund is a laudable initiative that embodies innovative approaches to help revitalize distressed communities through private investment and entrepreneurship. Admirably, despite the oft-expressed skepticism, Fiasco and Eisnor have a strong conviction – which we share – that, but for, the unique challenges talented would-be entrepreneurs in these communities face with regard to access to patient capital, networks, etc., they can build successful businesses that will have substantive and sustainable economic impact in their neighborhoods. Given the limited public funding available and the limitations of traditional philanthropy, there are strong prospects that Fiasco and Eisnor’s fund and other recent efforts to foster black entrepreneurship, many of which are largely powered by African Americans themselves, will help to transform our distressed communities over the next few years. The expected substantial growth of the burgeoning impact investing sector and public policy developments such as President Obama’s “Promise Zones” initiative and the bipartisan “Investing in Opportunity Act” recently introduced in Congress will further boost such prospects.

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The Distressed Communities Index (Economic Innovation Group)

Economic Innovation Group – Press Release (Feb 25, 2016) 

Over 50 Million Americans Live In Economically Distressed Communities

Economic Innovation Group Launches The Distressed Communities Index, A New Analysis of Economic Well-Being and Spatial Inequality


Washington, D.C. – The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) today launched the Distressed Communities Index (DCI), an interactive heat map and analysis for identifying, visualizing, and evaluating economic prosperity and distress spanning nearly every community throughout the country. The DCI was built using data from more than 25,000 zip codes and covers 312 million Americans, or 99 percent of the population. Users can explore the dataset by zip code, county, city, state, and Congressional district.

“Good data are essential for good public policy,” said John Lettieri, EIG co-founder and senior director of policy and strategy. “The DCI gives us a deeper understanding of economic well-being through the lens of local geographies, providing a powerful tool for policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels.”

The DCI provides a multifaceted look at the circumstances underlying the prevailing economic anxiety for many Americans. While more Americans live in communities that have recovered from the Great Recession, there are large swathes of the country that continue to be plagued by disproportionate poverty and joblessness. The DCI reveals that more than 50 million Americans live in economically distressed communities.

“Millions of Americans continue to feel left behind by the economic recovery. The DCI helps us understand what is driving these sentiments and why, and how, place matters,” said Steve Glickman, co-founder and executive director of EIG. “Achieving the American dream should not be predetermined by the zip code where you happen to be born.”

An examination of economic well-being at the local level reveals that the country’s most prosperous and most distressed communities are pulling apart with particularly heavy concentrations of economic distress in Southern states and Rust Belt cities.

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After Baltimore: Revitalizing Distressed Communities through Impact Investing and Entrepreneurship

Updated, February 2016.


The imperative, rationale and framework for an impact investment fund specifically targeted to distressed communities:

After Baltimore: Revitalizing Distressed Communities through Impact Investing and Entrepreneurship. By Michael J. Isimbabi, Ph.D.

Part 1: The Imperative and Rationale for an Impact Investment Fund Specifically Targeted to Distressed Communities. Nov 5, 2015.

Part II: A Vision for an Impact Investment Fund Specifically Targeted to Distressed Communities. Nov 12, 2015.

Part III: How Engaged Celebrities and Other Philanthropists, as “Pioneer Investors,” Can Jump-Start an Impact Investment Fund and Galvanize Other Investors and Communities. Dec 10, 2015


….According to the Fast Company article, [Di-Ann] Eisnor and [Lupe] Fiasco met in May 2014 as Henry Crown Fellows at the Aspen Institute, “hit it off” and started discussing their shared concerns about “inequality in America, ghettoized neighborhoods, and the lack of diversity in the innovation economy. They had a shared belief that good ideas could come from anywhere, and began to wonder whether there wasn’t a way to start hunting for business ideas—and funding them—in neglected neighborhoods around the country.”

Their initiative is consistent with the concept of the EXCEL-TRANSFORM Fund. Indeed, in my eBook [Pooling Our Resources to Foster Black Progress: An Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing Framework], I posit that a group of five to ten successful, philanthropic-minded, respected, and influential people – arts/music/movie/TV/radio/sports/other celebrities, entrepreneurs, corporate and financial professionals, angel investors, etc. – could set up the Fund and hire competent and experienced professionals to run it.

Such a first-rate team, by virtue of their accomplishments, credibility, high profiles, and celebrity, would give the Fund the instant credibility, imprimatur and massive publicity necessary to enable it to overcome the trust barrier, galvanize large numbers of investors (potentially in the millions), and thereby raise enough capital to have transformational impact.

Some of these “pioneer investors” would be high-net worth individuals who can provide seed capital to start the Fund, and others could be highly-accomplished personalities who may not be wealthy enough to invest significant amounts but can lend the public respect and credibility they command, e.g., by helping to engage and galvanize communities.

As discussed in my eBook – and well-chronicled by blogs such as and – such people already do substantial charitable giving in various ways. However, while they give to many worthy causes, e.g., education, health, poverty, museums, etc., in many cases, it is often difficult to determine the effectiveness of their giving.

For example, a recent UBS survey found that “while millionaires highly value charitable giving, they are not confident about the impact of their giving. Only 20% of millionaires rate their giving approach as highly effective, and only 41% are highly satisfied with the impact they have made on their broader communities and society.”

Similarly, a U.S. Trust study found that, in 2013, 98.4% of high-net-worth households donated to charity; of these, 53.4% monitor or evaluate the impact of their charitable giving while 46.6% do not, and only 40% of the latter category report achieving their desired impact through their giving.

As I argued in the previous post, people who are already engaged in philanthropic giving to uplift distressed communities are the most obvious prospective investors in the Fund. To the extent that they are convinced that the Fund, by virtue of its business/entrepreneurship focus and industry-standard transparency and accountability, would have greater impact than “traditional” charitable giving, while also providing them financial returns, some would find the Fund to be a more attractive option for their philanthropy dollars.

Furthermore, some may even consider investing in the Fund beyond their normal levels of charitable giving as part of their investment portfolios. Lupe Fiasco’s efforts, and other similar efforts by other celebrities – such as Grammy-winning songwriter/producer Bryan Michael Cox (100 Urban Entrepreneurs and other initiatives)– potentially could inspire more celebrities to become more engaged in impact investing, especially by pooling capital through collaborative partnerships to establish a national, large-scale initiative such as the Fund….. Continue reading


  • PODCAST: Revitalizing Communities Through Impact InvestingGoldman Sachs. On this episode of Exchanges at Goldman Sachs, Margaret Anadu, a managing director in the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs, discusses impact investing and the firm’s efforts to help rebuild communities in Newark and New York City.
  • The Distressed Communities Index (DCI) is a customized dataset created by the Economic Innovation Group examining economic distress throughout the country and made up of interactive maps, infographics, and a report. 

Baltimore and Beyond: Creating Opportunity in Places – Brookings Institution Forum

For links to Video, Audio & Transcript:

Informative and insightful forum hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, “featuring hands-on experts to reflect on promising practices to help young people and families in distressed communities participate in an advanced economy that works for all.”


May 21, 2015

Summary: “Recent events in Baltimore and St. Louis underscore the enduring challenges the nation faces in trying to create neighborhoods of opportunity amid entrenched poverty, long-term disinvestment, and stark racial divides. Baltimore was an early pioneer in applying new comprehensive approaches to neighborhood revitalization. Since then, the practice of joining people- and place-based strategies has evolved, driven by both public and private sector leaders. The Great Recession has reversed progress in some ways as unemployment, foreclosures, and stagnant wages increased poverty. As the nation now focuses on its struggling urban areas, it is critical to broadly examine what cities, counties, and the nation have learned since the redevelopment of Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood….”


Welcome by Jennifer S. Vey, Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program

Panel Discussion

Amy Liu (Moderator) — Co-Director and Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program

Derek Douglas — Vice President for Civic Engagement, The University of Chicago

Frederick B. (Bart) Harvey III — Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Enterprise Community Partners

Joel Miranda — Director of Leadership Development and Graduate Leadership, YouthBuild USA

Donald Hinkle-Brown — President/CEO, The Reinvestment Fund

Michael Smith — Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for ‘My Brother’s Keeper’, The White House


Los Angeles 1992 to Baltimore 2015: Washington’s Changed Response to Urban CrisisBruce Katz. Brookings Institution. May 27, 2015.

Beyond Baltimore: Building on What We Know to Create Neighborhood Opportunities. Amy Liu. Brookings Institution. May 12, 2015.

Yes, There Are Two Baltimores. Jennifer S. Vey and Alan Berube. Brookings Institution. May 15, 2015.

Good Fortune, Dire Poverty, and Inequality in Baltimore: An American Story. Alan Berube and Brad McDearman. Brookings Institution. May 11, 2015.


Closing the Racial Wealth Gap – The 2015 Color of Wealth Summit


The 2015 Color of Wealth Summit, organized by the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (ICCED), was held at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on April 30, 2015.

The annual summit seeks to “engage Members of Congress, Congressional staff, the media, and the public in a dialogue about the racial wealth gap, its effect on marginalized households, its impact on the U.S. economy, and solutions for closing the gap.”

The informative and insightful sessions featured, among others: Members of Congress, policy researchers, economists, academics, and nonprofit, community development, financial and media professionals.

Watch videos of sessions here:

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Pooling Our Resources to Foster Black Progress: An Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing Framework


Check out the new book, Pooling Our Resources to Foster Black Progress: An Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing Framework. The book:

  • Examines the great potential with respect to the powerful nexus among: black earning/buying/investing power, philanthropy and resource-pooling, buying/banking black, entrepreneurship, business development, job creation, wealth-building, and economic and social progress 
  • Shows how a potent, large-scale resource-pooling vehicle with a comprehensive framework that is able to harness this potential, especially with the galvanizing power of online and social media, can have immense impact 
  • Presents a framework for establishing such an initiative, in the form of a national impact investment fund — the “Excellence and Ventures Transformation Fund” (or “EXCEL-TRANSFORM Fund”) — that would address unemployment and poverty and help finish the “unfinished business” of the civil rights movement.

[Full disclosure: the author, Dr. Michael Isimbabi, a finance and energy industry professional, consultant, and former professor of finance, is affiliated with this website.]

Look inside the book (the first 10%) for free and get it here (at

Also join the discussion on the feasibility and establishment of the EXCEL-TRANSFORM Fund, innovative strategies for self-reliant resource-pooling, and related philanthropy, entrepreneurship, impact investing and empowerment issues at the book’s website,, and Google Plus.

Lisa Hall, President/CEO of Calvert Foundation, on the Potential of Impact Investing to Transform Underserved Communities

Excerpts: Lisa Hall, President/CEO of Calvert Foundation, on the potential of impact investing to transform underserved communities

LisaHall-239x164Lisa Hall of the Calvert Foundation on Impact Investing: An In-depth Interview. October 20, 2011.

….Rahim Kanani: How can we convince traditional investors to reevaluate their portfolios and consider social impact investing?

Lisa Hall: I thought about this a lot at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual conference, where I spoke about impact investing and the widening wealth gap. During the past few years, our economy has suffered greatly and yet the wealth keeps building at the top. Impact investment creates a virtuous circle of empowerment, opportunity, and engagement by connecting investors, underprivileged individuals, and communities. We need more people to get involved in impact investing because it is a critical part of the solution to closing the wealth gap. ….


Lisa Hall on How Calvert Foundation is Democratizing Impact Investing. December 17, 2012.

Sixteen years ago, Calvert Foundation was born of a seemingly improbable idea: using investment dollars to help end poverty.

Today, investment banks describe impact investing as an “emerging asset class”;… the impact investing market is estimated to raise at least $500 billion in the next decade;…and according to Calvert Foundation’s recent research survey, 72 percent of financial advisors are interested in offering impact investing products to clients….

Impact investing is undoubtedly an idea whose time has come. As budgets of philanthropies and governments have shrunk, investment capital has come to be recognized as a tool that can address some of the world’s most pressing problems.…..

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BET Founder Robert L. Johnson’s “RLJ Rule” to Increase Employment Opportunities for African Americans

Robert-L.-Johnson-CNBCRobert L. Johnson Urges President Obama to Encourage U.S. Businesses to Adopt Version of the NFL Rooney Rule for Employment. News Release. December 17, 2012.

Robert L. Johnson, chairman of The RLJ Companies and founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) today calls on President Barack Obama to renew his commitment in addressing the employment gap between African Americans and White Americans, by encouraging U.S. corporations to adopt the RLJ Rule to address the overwhelming gap in unemployment.

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Pooling Our Resources on a Large, Transformative Scale: Breaking Through the Trust Barrier

The “trust barrier” is the major obstacle hampering the establishment of a large-scale, self-reliance-based resource-pooling fund that can have a transformational impact in addressing urgent problems in our distressed communities. Even black churches are losing trust and credibility among many African Americans. There would be no “trust barrier,” however, if, for instance, five or more of the most respected African Americans got together to start a fund and hired a few highly competent people to run it.

A fund backed by such an ideal “dream team” is unlikely or infeasible (but not impossible!). The more likely way it will happen: a few visionary, motivated, and accomplished entrepreneurs who have solid, unblemished reputations, armed with a sound and credible business plan, convince some less well-known but equally highly-regarded people to back the fund. 

Such backing need not even be financial: by virtue of their strong reputations, relationships, and public standing, just lending their credibility, prestige, gravitas, and imprimatur to the fund will provide it with the instant credibility it needs to be able to attract contributions from large numbers of African Americans even at start-up.  This is the most likely way a potent large-scale fund will get established. 

As discussed in the article, Financing Black Progress, Part 1: A Publicly Financed “Marshall Plan” Is Unrealistic, So What’s the Alternative? A “Self-Reliance Marshall Plan”?, given the current noxious and racially-charged political environment — in which even the reasonable and very modest American Jobs Act remains stalled in Congress — waiting for massive public investment in initiatives that can transform distressed communities of color is largely futile.

And there is no indication this situation will change in the near future. Regardless of who is president and whether or not Democrats retain control of the Senate and/or retake the House in 2013, Congress will most likely remain closely divided, highly polarized and acrimonious, and is unlikely to pass any legislation to fund, on a substantial enough scale, the types of initiatives that can sufficiently meet the dire needs of these communities.

Rather than simply standing by helplessly and wringing our hands while Congress remains gridlocked and yet another generation of children in distressed communities remains trapped in poverty and dysfunction, we must focus on organizing proactive self-reliance approaches to transform our own communities.

By pooling our resources on a large enough scale, we would be able to amass sufficient capital to adequately attack the most critical problems in our communities, especially with respect to education, entrepreneurship and business development, job creation, and wealth-building. The article, Financing Black Progress, Part 2: A Self-Reliance “Marshall Plan”: Creating a National Resource-Pooling Fund, discusses such a resource pooling effort–a National Ventures & Excellence Fund or “EXCEL Fund”. Continue reading

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Self-Reliance and “Pooling Our Resources”

MLK_Chicago rally“We need to pool our resources” has been a recurring exhortation in the African American community for decades. For example, here’s Dr. Martin Luther King in a 1958 interview:

Question: Do you think Negroes are partly responsible for their plight? They don’t stick together and they don’t help each other. Negroes, for example, will walk past a Negro-owned grocery store or shoe shop to get to a white place. Instead of trying to make themselves financially independent, most Negroes are trying to keep up with the Joneses. Isn’t it time for us to stop begging and stand on our own feet? 

Dr. King: I quite agree that there is a great deal that the Negro can do to lift himself by his own bootstraps. Well has it been said by one that Negroes too often buy what they want and beg for what they need. Negroes must learn to practice systematic saving. They must also pool their economic resources through various cooperative enterprises. Such agencies as credit unions, savings and loan associations, and finance companies are needed in every Negro community. All of these are things that would serve to lift the economic level of the Negro which would in turn give him greater purchasing power. This increased purchasing power will inevitably make for better housing, better health standards, and for better educational standards.

From: “Advice for Living,” The King Papers Project, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University —