By Sabrina Wu, Senior Program Officer, Inclusive Economy

Piloting a Community-Governed Fund

What if those who have borne the brunt of wealth-stripping policies decided how financial resources were invested in communities and who received those resources? 

As part of our commitment to creating an inclusive East Bay economy, EBCF supports entrepreneurship and other wealth-building strategies in communities of color through the REAL People’s Fund (RPF). As an innovative $10M community-governed and -led investment fund and entrepreneurship program, RPF provides non-extractive capital, holistic business support, and community organizing opportunities to build economic opportunity, political voice, and influence of entrepreneurs of color in the East Bay. RFP is poised to move over $5M more into the community over the next few years.  

  • COMMUNITY-GOVERNED/LED: RFP is unique in that it is governed by the community — putting the power to direct resources in the hands of those most impacted by economic injustices. Most RPF Board members do not have traditional finance or investment backgrounds or expertise, but possess deep knowledge of the most pressing community priorities from being in deep relationship with communities of color most impacted by economic injustices in the East Bay. Their position in the decision-making seat represents a true paradigm shift from how investment fund decisions are typically made and who makes them.

  • NON-EXTRACTIVE CAPITAL: RPF is not a bank, so it doesn’t operate like one. The funding program is a collaborative process based on mission alignment, business preparedness, and strength of relationship through character-based underwriting. RPF doesn’t rely on credit scores or personal assets to make investments. These traditional methods have often locked entrepreneurs of color out of opportunities to access capital. Instead, RPF operates with transparency, trust, and care.

  • HOLISTIC BUSINESS SUPPORT: The program begins with year-long advising to prepare entrepreneurs to take on funding. This includes developing a robust and tested business and funding plan with clear financial projections. After receiving funding, entrepreneurs receive ongoing advising on improving operations, remaining flexible through business pivots, and providing quality jobs to keep businesses thriving locally.

  • BUILDING POWER IN COMMUNITY: Power is created through collective action. RPF’s goal is to strengthen the leadership and political power of entrepreneurs, businesses, and worker-owned cooperatives in the East Bay. RPF collectively organizes political education training and resources to shift the power away from harmful, inequitable systems to create long-term social, economic, and political change that benefits the community.

The Fund is a unique collaboration between grassroots community organizations (Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Oakland Rising, Restaurant Opportunities Center, Restore Oakland Inc., and more to come), community capital providers (Community Vision), program managers (Runway), business advisory services provider (Uptima Entrepreneur Cooperative), and a community foundation (East Bay Community Foundation).  

Leveraging Our Competencies as a Community Foundation

EBCF plays a number of critical roles in the RPF collaboration and the impact it has already made to date. As a local philanthropic anchor, we lead the grant and investment capital raise for this initiative. This includes raising and receiving pooled funds; grantmaking; and providing funder, donor, and investor education. EBCF has helped bring crucial resources to this important initiative to support the design, launch, and ongoing operations of the fund and the unique community governance and organizing aspects of this initiative. RPF grantees and other organizations regard EBCF not just as a funder, but as an equal partner in this effort.  

“For the past five years, EBCF has been instrumental in our work to support Black and Brown entrepreneurs and small businesses in accessing capital and political empowerment. Not only has EBCF been an important funding partner, they have also supported our strategic direction, as well as our learning and development. Together, we are practicing what it takes to build a care-based economy rooted in transparency, reciprocity, and abundance!”

— Tash Nguyen, Interim Executive Director of Restore Oakland and REAL People’s Fund Board Chair

In collaboration with RPF partners, EBCF has raised over $9M in investment commitments, which is almost the entirety of the fund, in only the second year since RPF began investing in local businesses. We have also collectively raised over $3M in grant funding to support the fund’s operating expenses, business advising, community governance, and entrepreneur organizing. As a result, RPF has made $2.2M in non-extractive, integrated capital investments (equity profit share, loans, and grants) into BIPOC entrepreneurs and businesses to date, with a robust pipeline of over 60 businesses across the East Bay.

Incubating New Community Initiatives

In our role as an incubator, we have filled different capacity and infrastructure gaps as the fund has gotten off the ground. As a community foundation, we have offered our infrastructure and fund vehicles to facilitate RPF’s movement organizing work. We opened a donor-advised fund at EBCF to receive grant funding in support of this initiative, where REAL People’s Fund Board members served as the fund advisors. This allowed the community to retain decision-making authority over RPF grant dollars. 

This level of community governance has allowed RPF to pursue the core part of its work with organizing alongside our grantee partners to build power and ensure BIPOC entrepreneurs, businesses, and co-ops in the East Bay can create accessible and inclusive pathways for collective wealth and self-determination. Building a base of progressive entrepreneurs and business owners and amplifying the voice of this important community intersects with and strengthens the power-building work led by EBCF’s grantee partners, who have identified this group as a critical constituency for many years. 

RFP has led successful community initiatives in Oakland over the last few years. For example, small business owners and entrepreneurs advocated and helped pass a more equitable tax structure for small businesses in 2022, and entrepreneurs organized to restore funding to essential resources and critical city services for small businesses in 2023. Learn more about their community impact in their 2023 Annual Report.

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs are important voices that amplify and bring to life our collective vision of a more equitable and sustainable Oakland. This is why Oakland Rising is proud to be a part of the REAL People’s Fund. We see how important it is to keep values-aligned BIPOC entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods to advocate for an inclusive, diverse economy for all.”

— Pecolia Manigo, Political Director of Oakland Rising and REAL People’s Fund Board member

The Next Stage

RPF will be moving millions more into the community over the next few years. RPF’s board has also been in strategic conversation about evolving its structure to ensure sustainability over the next 7 years of the Fund’s life. On the organizing front, RPF is working with local partners and the government to influence city and county budgeting processes and advocate for more affordable and accessible commercial spaces for local entrepreneurs and small businesses. 

We invite donors and philanthropic allies, who are working alongside EBCF to shift capital and power, to collectively resource and co-create an economy that truly values Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. You can do this by: