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Why We Must Close The Capital Gap In Social Impact

Posted by Lavonya Jones on

Hi I'm Lavonya Jones, the founder of Consciously Funded. I'm originally from Atlanta, GA. Yes, actually the City of Atlanta, Southwest Atlanta to be exact! What we affectionately call the SWATS. The home of Goodie Mob and Outkast. And anyone who truly knows me will tell you that I'm a PROUD ATLien! I'm also a third generation Hamptonion. GO PIRATES! While I will forever Rock The Blue And White, I stan ANY alum of an HBCU (Historically Black College and University)! It's all HBCU love 24/7 for me.

While I started my career in the entertainment industry, my journey into social impact started quite early. Like many in my neighborhood, I grew up in poverty. However, my godmother was a successful special education teacher, and education was extremely important in my home. My mom was from the country and old school. She fully expected my older sister and I to do well in college and secure "successful" careers. It was also important to my mom that we grew up caring for and being considerate of others. At least one Sunday a month my mom and I would go to the local shelter with our church to provide meals. I remember doing this as early as four years old and throughout high school. I would often talk with the children there my age and learn their stories. I would also go with my godmother to help students in her special education classes participate in the Special Olympics activities. I've also regularly found myself participating in green and sustainability initiatives throughout the city.

I spent a significant amount of time with my godmother, as she would often keep me when my mom had to work late. Being with her, I grew up surrounded by educators and activists. With my older sister attending Hampton and my godmother being a graduate of Morris Brown College, much of my childhood was framed by HBCU culture. I was at every homecoming, and participating in youth programs on these campuses, it was common for me to sit in on an African-American history lecture, or encounter a public ancestral libation ceremony. Living in Atlanta, the headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement and walking the same grounds as civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Joseph Lowery, Maynard Jackson, and Ambassador Andrew Young fueled an early passion for justice and entrepreneurship. Service to others is a part of who I am, and I had an early desire to be an example to my peers that they could live well from what they were passionate about.

I also come from a musical family and started in the entertainment industry in high school. I attended a performing arts high school and initially attended Hampton as a Music Engineering and Technology major with a voice concentration. Yes, I sing and have been singing since I was five. While at Hampton I took an entrepreneurship class as an elective and fell in love. I saw so many of the entrepreneurs I worked with in the entertainment industry fail and realized that it was this lack of knowledge about business that held many of them back. Subsequently, I changed my major to entrepreneurship to help my entertainment peers find success with their dreams. This was my very first introduction to venture capital and the first time I had ever heard the term. The chair of my program at Hampton was a former venture capitalist and taught us from that perspective. I went on to obtain my master's degree in leadership coaching and at the time of this writing, I am completing my doctoral degree in organizational leadership with my research focus being on entrepreneurial leadership.

After owning a successful DJing business, I launched my coaching practice still focused on entertainment entrepreneurs. During this time I started conducting leadership trainings, entrepreneurial bootcamps, and judging pitch competitions for youth and adults. But it was in 2011 when I was brought into one of Atlanta’s most impoverished neighborhoods to do economic development work, that I started to see the gaps in our Black communities and my trajectory changed. Seeing the disparities and injustices in this neighborhood for four years caused me to realize that I could not do economic justice work without also doing racial justice work. The more I studied poverty, I saw how it significantly impacted Black and Indigenous communities not only in America, but globally. I saw the need for HBCUs in Black communities and realized that as an HBCU alum, I could make the biggest impact with HBCU students. This led to me serving in leadership development roles at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater, Morehouse College, planning out the innovation lab at Clark Atlanta University, where W.E.B. DuBois taught, and supporting HBCU students to enter the venture capital space through my role with HBCUvc.

Working in leadership development, community development, entrepreneurship, and venture capital has brought me to a personal mission to equip an army of socially conscious entrepreneurs because it is important to me to change the narrative that says it will take families in my community, the Black community, 228 years to achieve the same wealth as White families. It is important to me to identify, challenge, and change the values, structures, and behaviors that perpetuate systemic oppression of Black and Indigenous communities. Systemic racism and poverty cost our economy trillions of dollars every year. When our economy suffers in this manner, our whole nation suffers!

When we look at access to capital, less than 1% of Black and Indigenous founders receive venture capital funding. Less than 1% of venture capitalists are Black or Indigenous, and 93% of venture capital funds have no Black investors. Specifically in the social impact sector, ⅓ of the world’s startups are focused on social good over just commercial success, but Black and Indigenous social impact professionals receive less than 1% of the funding that goes to these social ventures and hold less than 10% of the executive leadership roles in social impact. As I found myself in more and more social impact spaces, I noticed that very few Black and Indigenous faces were represented. In social impact the wisdom and expertise of Black and Indigenous leaders has not been valued or trusted. Social impact is notorious for advancing the "white savior" narrative. Yet, it is often Black and Indigenous social impact leaders that best understand the multi-dimensional root causes of social issues and are often the most proximate to the communities the social impact sector serves and the social issues that need solving. We are working tirelessly, dedicating our knowledge, time, and resources to build ventures that create social value for our communities, often at our own personal expense. I have seen a White-led organization and a Black-led organization doing the same work get very different results in the area of fundraising, with the White-led organization often raising millions of dollars more than the Black-led organization, again, for the very same work!

If we are going to have a more just and equitable world, and tackle the United Nation’s 17 Social Development Goals to create social and economic mobility in our global communities, we must increase the flow of capital and capacity building support to Black and Indigenous leaders and communities. We must center the work and voice of Black and Indigenous social impact leaders. We cannot have a sustainable and accessible global economy until we amplify effective interventions and best practices that honor Black and Indigenous knowledge.

I envision a world where our communities are ripe with people leading equitable lives that never omit people, purpose, and planet. With Consciously Funded it is my goal to blow up the status quo and provide Black and Indigenous social impact leaders the support they need to create legacy impact and legacy wealth in our communities. Media is my sweet spot. At Consciously Funded we plan to achieve this world we envision through our lifestyle brand, digital media, and capacity building resources centered in purposeful community. Consciously Funded has been twenty years in the making. Everything I've done has brought me to this point. We know this will not be an easy road, but we are up for the challenge and hope you'll join us on the journey.