Deborah Frieze has dedicated her life to cultivating and empowering local communities and their leaders. Nearly everything she does aims to help build strong, thriving local communities.
Upon graduating from Harvard Business School in 1998, Frieze served in an executive-level role in tech. She left when she realized she was interested in more community-focused ventures. She set her sights on the nonprofit sector, becoming co-president of the Berkana Institute, a nonprofit that promotes community development. She co-wrote a book with Margaret J. Wheatley, “Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey Into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now,” which was published in 2011. She is the founder of Old Oak Dojo, a community meeting space in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
Now she is the co-founder and president of Boston Impact Initiative, an impact investing fund that aims to help fund the business ventures of underrepresented entrepreneurs in the Greater Boston area. Impact investing is different from typical investing because its goal is to promote some social or environmental cause through its investments.
Boston Impact Initiative is particularly passionate about funding local entrepreneurs of color. “My focus, as an impact investor, is on inequality,” Frieze said. “Which means that anytime I make an investment, I want my investment to reduce the amount of inequality, primarily race-based inequality, in the world.”
Boston Impact Initiative is proof that if you invest in underrepresented entrepreneurs, they can create successful and innovative companies that can help their local economies thrive. Multiple entrepreneurs funded by Boston Impact Initiative are being recognized for their outstanding work. For instance, CareAcademy co-founder Helen Adeosun, was recently named one of the Fortune 40 Under 40 health care entrepreneurs. Another entrepreneur, Joanna Smith, founder and CEO of AllHere, was recently named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in education.
“The purpose is to restore the productive capacity of communities of color in our area, which means investing in Black entrepreneurs, Latinx entrepreneurs, [and] entrepreneurs of color in the community that are able to then build wealth through asset ownership,” Frieze said.
Helping entrepreneurs and workers from marginalized groups profit from their own work and ideas is central to BII’s mission. “I, as an investor committed to closing the racial wealth divide, do not want to profit off of their work…I’m not looking to maximize my return,” Frieze said. “If I were looking to maximize my return, I’d be amplifying the wealth divide, not closing it.”
Frieze recognizes the additional importance of having a diverse group of people holding positions of power within the organization itself. She noted that the community members comprising the Board of Directors are half people of color and half white. Additionally, half of the members are women.“We recognize that the redistribution of wealth is also about the redistribution of power and so who makes decisions and how we organize to change the way decisions are made are critical,” she said.
BII is not intended for entrepreneurs who want to simply turn a quick profit, but rather for those who want to support their workers and help their communities while also providing quality goods and services. “If [the entrepreneur’s] desire is to stay in control, grow their ownership and management team, distribute ownership to their workers, pay a living wage, [and] decrease their ecological footprint, we’ll partner with them to help them,” Frieze said.
In this video interview, Frieze discusses the origins of impact investing, how impact investors provide funding for entrepreneurs, and the importance of collaboration in entrepreneurship.
Check out this Impact Report to learn more about how BII is championing local communities.