Moving Toward a Just Future
At the end of February, the entire Venture For America team traveled to Alabama for three days of bonding, skill building, and learning. We are still digesting the lessons of this powerful experience, and I wanted to share some of those reflections with you. This retreat gave us the opportunity to delve deeper into the Fellow experience in Birmingham, showcase the expertise of team members who led immersive sessions, and celebrate what makes each of us unique. I left awed and inspired by the extraordinary talents and potential of the community we have built internally, folks who are too often standing just outside the limelight that we cast on our VFA Fellows.
The cornerstone of this trip was a visit to the two projects run by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery: The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The museum lays out a clear narrative of the systematic oppression of Black Americans — arguing that slavery did not end but instead evolved into lynchings and segregation and the present-day epidemic of mass incarceration. The memorial honors the more than 4,400 Black Americans who lost their lives between 1877 and 1950 as a result of extrajudicial lynchings designed to create racial terror.
At the monument, I learned that one of the largest massacres of Black citizens in the 20th Century occurred in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917. As many as 400 men, women, and children were killed while law enforcement did nothing to stop the violence. Despite the scale of this atrocity, which occurred about 20 minutes from where I grew up, I had never learned about it in history. It wasn’t hard to draw a line from that legacy to the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent uprising in Ferguson nearly 100 years and a mere 15 miles apart. My hometown, and all of our hometowns, have legacies that we may not be proud of but that we need to acknowledge and confront head-on before we can truly achieve justice.
After the powerful visit, we had the opportunity to unpack how systems of oppression show up in the work that we do at Venture For America. We are working to root out biases and inequities in everything from our selection process to company matchmaking to participation in our programming. I left convinced that we have far more work to do to create the change we envision, but confident that each and every member of the Venture For America Team is aligned behind this purpose.
This work is deeply personal for me. While I have experienced many privileges in my life, I am also the child of a single mother, the first person in my family to earn a college degree, and a Pell Grant recipient. I know what it’s like to feel like an alien in elite spaces, to worry that everyone knows that you don’t belong and that one misstep will out you irrevocably. I see many of our Fellows struggle with this, often alongside well-meaning but oblivious peers. Like me, they may carry the weight of seeing what cycles of poverty can do to a family — from incarceration to drug abuse to chronic health conditions.
When we issued our strategic plan 18 months ago, the VFA Board, Team, Alumni, and other stakeholders made a commitment that our organization would become an onramp to entrepreneurship for historically excluded communities. We recognized that we had a unique ability to influence who decides to become an entrepreneur — and in turn, a wealth builder and job creator. As a national organization with a prestigious reputation, we also had an obligation to use our status responsibly to create shared prosperity. Today, I’m proud to share with you what we have been working on to actualize that goal: Operation 3 to 300 is our commitment to helping 300 women and people of color become entrepreneurs by 2021.
Some highlights of this initiative include:
- Increasing subsidies and reimbursements for transition costs for Fellows from high-need backgrounds
- Improving bias training and other inclusion practices for Company Partners
- Increasing funding for our Rise Groups (Fellow affinity groups) for specialized programming
- Investing $2mm+ in companies led by VFA Alumni from historically excluded backgrounds
I would like to thank our partners at UBS and Uber for their leadership grants that have funded a significant portion of this work. We will be announcing Operation 3 to 300 more widely later in the year, but today I’m sharing it with two asks.
- Can you help us close out fundraising for this project? If you know individuals or institutions that are aligned with this work who can help us raise an additional $1.7 million in the next 18 months, we would like to connect with them.
- Do you know experts who can advise us along the way? We want to build an experienced advisory panel to help us best structure program design and implementation.
Thank you for standing beside us as we work to disrupt the systems of exclusion that have laid claim to our country, and our field of entrepreneurship, for far too long.
Amy Nelson, CEO