In 2018 and 2019, I was part of the team at the Louisville Urban League helping to develop its $53 million Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Complex in West Louisville. I served as a volunteer executive adviser and created the proforma of the operating entity that helped attract funders, donors and long-term operators to engage with the project.
This project had all of the ingredients for success – great leadership, key donors and deep relationships in the community and a strong on-going business model. It got built and is live and making a difference in the lives of those it touches.
Sadly, still too often that doesn’t happen for underrepresented founders or projects serving underrepresented communities. Project after project has good leadership and a good plan, but it just doesn’t happen. After the success of the Louisville Urban League effort, I explored why.
I learned that it can be for a host of reasons from historical barriers and discrimination to the old boys’ club to lack of expertise. I observed that it’s often about a disconnect in translating the plan to the funders in convincing ways. We’ve all seen it. The people and projects that get capital have special access. The rest of us have to be smarter.
With these insights, I launched Velo to help black, brown, women and LGBTQ owned companies and projects develop the capital they need for smarter growth. We brought people together around bold initiatives and worked to attract funders – investors, bankers, local, state and federal government grants and development initiatives. While not every project worked, many did happen.
Change on a broader scale
In 2020 and 2021, our city was receiving unprecedented one-time federal funds for COVID and I spent the early part of 2021 working with a diverse group of citizens to promote ideas for equitable investment of the funds in communities most affected. We were concerned that the money would be spread around like peanut butter and to the usual suspects, with no real impact.
We needed a change. Population growth in the city had stalled over the past few decades, as it was unable to attract the new businesses and retain the talent it needed to thrive. We were also the city of Breonna Taylor and its aftermath, where many felt we hadn’t been honest about the harm done, nor proactive about coming together to address root causes of poverty and avoid future violence.
I felt we had to do better.
I knew key players in the city, foundations, businesses and educational institutions from my 20+ years of volunteer board and business work. I knew key black leaders who were innovating in businesses and nonprofits. I knew of many projects with unbelievable potential, like an inspiring initiative of a group of 70-strong organizations that articulated a “Path Forward” for addressing inequities and lack of investment. I had seen ways that better stewardship and innovation could be achieved through working on our local transit authority board.
Never having planned to run for political office, I realized how much could be done if we could bring the city together on a shared vision, and get it done. To the surprise of everyone, I stepped into the mayoral race in mid-October with a change message. I got down to work to understand what is blocking change, and what we could do about it.
I learned that the same thing I’ve spent my career on while innovating and turning around businesses and nonprofits big and small—from NYC to London to here – is what is needed for change on a broader scale.
It starts by including everyone: black, brown, LGBTQ, all the stakeholders and experts, and centering their voices in the decision-making process. From there, it’s a leadership formula based on identifying talent, bringing people together around a shared strategy, getting things funded and implemented, creating true accountability and over-communicating from start to finish.
I saw many instances where people across the city were interested in bridging to others, learning about their work and collaborating on ideas for a more equitable, integrated city where its citizens thrive. There were many ideas generated for better policy, program and resource management in the city overall.
Learning and connecting with people seeking change was a thrill, but due to personal reasons, I needed to withdraw from the race in late 2021. But what I learned about change continues to inspire my efforts.
Preparing for a new … everything
‘Grow or die.’ ‘Go big or go home.’ ‘Move fast and break things.’ These are the change mantras of the past few decades.
We are in a different time.
We are in a time where there is just a tiny degree of separation –
– from the current way of thinking, from the status quo, that is leading to continued decline and vast inequities and disengagement
– to a new way where we are honest about where we are, come together in unprecedented ways, and unlock the potential of the future.
A vibrant and thriving project or business or city is one where the benefits and burdens of growth are shared equitably by all --- across race, ethnicity, income, geography, educational attainment, ownership, capital access, etc. This is the given for today’s and tomorrow’s world.
Growth strategies for change
Right now, with no clear end in sight to the uncertainties brought by the pandemic, is the perfect time for taking a fresh look at our challenges and our opportunities for emerging in the aftermath with new ideas, approaches and relationships that reflect change.
Growth strategies, usually created for businesses, are about finding new customers for a product or service (market penetration), finding new markets and partners (market development) or innovating with new products and services (disruption) and then funding and executing your plan. Growth strategies are meant to increase the “bottom line” over time and provide attractive returns on investment (ROI).
Now, Velo is lifting its lens to help businesses, governmental entities and nonprofits shape the leadership, strategy, innovation, technology and financial results to meet to meet today’s and tomorrow’s requirements.
Starting with an equity lens to address racial, economic and environmental justice as a foundational element, we're creating a framework and a community around shared growth strategies -- how to find ideas and execute them to add to all of their “bottom lines.”
Because meaningful change and shared growth requires for equity to be a given in the process, not the end goal.
This is the time to work together. By doing so, more good projects empowering underrepresented founders and communities will happen.
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