By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When it comes to helping Milwaukee recover from this economic crisis and invest in the community, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is among the organizations leading the way. Last month, the foundation announced its plan to dedicate $30 million to positive impact investments for the next five years.
The $30 million is built on the $15 million that the foundation already has in resources and the remaining amount will come through private fundraising.
“Our economic plan is just one lever or one part in moving Milwaukee forward during these times,” Ken Robertson, the vice president and chief financial officer, said.
Impact investing focuses on three main areas: equitable economic opportunities, affordable housing and early childhood education.
Milwaukee has these communities that have historically been disinvested in, and that face barriers when they try to get a loan from local banks, Robertson explained. The foundation wants to give those communities access to capital so that they can grow their businesses and put social value and wealth back into the neighborhoods.
When the communities thrive, the foundation thrives. A community that has more businesses can create more jobs and that wealth is shared with the foundation, Robertson said.
“Thirty million is still a drop in the bucket, and we’re using it to start our programs, but we need partners,” Robertson said.
Among those programs is an early childhood education center, which has been one of the group’s primary focuses.
Over the past year, the foundation along with the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Royal Capital Group has been holding visioning sessions with residents of the Harambee neighborhood, where the foundation is planning to move its headquarters.
The building will not only house offices, but mixed-income affordable housing and the previously mentioned early childhood education center. The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is working to not only create more seats but to work with and support the current childcare providers.
The goal is to move the whole neighborhood forward, not just sections of it, he said.
Among its impact investments, the foundation is dedicated to fighting that disparities that have ingrained themselves in Milwaukee.
“As a foundation, we’ve known that disparities have existed, but if we want to make change, we need to dismantle the systemic barriers,” he said.
The pandemic forced things into perspective; there’s not always time to wait and study a situation that requires action, Robertson said. The foundation needs to start doing things differently, he added. For Robertson, that means taking bigger risks, addressing the immediate needs sooner and to stop being patient all the time.
In response to the pandemic, the group organized a coalition of nonprofits to address the immediate issues in the community. From there, the foundation made targeted investments.
“We just did it because it needed to be done and we go to embrace that [moving forward],” Robertson said.
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is committed to revitalizing Milwaukee and sometimes that means not exercising patience, especially when it comes to tackling systemic racism and disparities.
“We all got to realize that we’ve been at the table making decisions and not all the decisions were great for Milwaukee,” he said. “There’s no perfect response but we got to move the needle forward.”
He added that as a person of color, he’s seeing the change and the effort to move quickly and to be a part of the solution and for that he’s excited and hopeful for Milwaukee’s future.