We Made the Road Together: A Letter From BII Founder, Deborah Frieze

We Made the Road Together
Completing my time at BII

You thought I knew where the road was and you followed me.
But no. I didn’t know where the road was.
We had to make the road together.
And that is what we did.
That’s how we got where we wanted to be.
We made the road. It wasn’t there.

Subcomandante Marcos, Zapatista Army of National Liberation

This was the closing poem of my book, Walk Out Walk On, co-authored with Margaret Wheatley and published in April 2011. Eighteen months later, I signed the formation documents to launch the Boston Impact Initiative. Back then, I couldn’t find any investment opportunities in my own community that focused on closing the racial wealth divide, so I had to create my own. Gender Lens investing was quite nascent, and there was no such thing as a Racial Equity Lens in impact investing (the GIIN launched their Racial Equity theme in 2021). Only a handful of investment funds across the country deployed integrated capital, layering equity, debt and grants together while also bringing knowledge, social and political capital to their investees. And fewer still considered the unique needs of community investors, non-wealthy folks who yearn to live in and support thriving neighborhood economies.

What a difference 12 years of collective experimentation has made!

Today, BII is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of impact investing funds focused on closing the racial wealth divide, democratizing investing activity and redistributing ownership and power. This rising effort to build a more righteous, inclusive and equitable economy is accelerating so rapidly that it has burst out of its below-the-radar incubation stage into a full-fledged movement, strong enough to attract the ire of those who fight to maintain an economically supremacist status quo. In the systems-thinking framework BII has relied on to understand its work, this can be viewed as a signal of imminent change—a signal that, as Meg Wheatley writes, our dominant system can either “reorganize using new beliefs and structures that work well in the changed environment. Or it can insist on the old ways, fail to reorganize itself and die.”

It’s impossible to know where the road we’re now on is taking us—especially in these strange days. But here’s one thing I do know: The changed environment Meg refers to is evolving more rapidly than any of us can keep up with. The kind of trailblazing that was needed 12 years ago is different than the trailblazing required of us today. To meet this moment, we must continually renew our beliefs and structures. We must continually renew the leadership of our organizations and movements. And we must continually cultivate our dissatisfaction with the way things are so we can contribute to creating what could be. 

After 12 years of serving as BII’s Founder, President and Board Chair, I am stepping off of this road. As an investor in both Fund I and Fund II, I will continue to witness, cheer on and care deeply about BII’s mission, staff, portfolio companies and fellow investors—all of whom are in the incredibly capable and caring hands of the BII team. That team, both its staff and board, are invigorating this work with fresh insights. They are brave enough to explore new questions, to transmute their dissatisfaction with the present state of things into new possibilities and courageous actions.

To learn more about their commitment to BII’s future, I invite you to read this letter from BII’s incoming Board Chair, Juan Leyton. I feel extraordinarily grateful that he and Vice Chair Lisa Owens, two brilliant movement luminaries, said yes to leading BII. It says quite a lot about how our work has evolved to be centered in grassroots organizing and movement leadership. 

As for me, I’m planning to take a page out of my own book and use this time of dissolution and failing systems to create and experiment with other ways of working and organizing. Living is a synonym for learning, Meg and I wrote: We experiment, take risks, fail, succeed, make it up as we go along, and offer compassion and forgiveness to each other. It’s time for me to embark on the next unfamiliar road where I’ll have an opportunity to discover and contribute my gifts. In the meantime, I’m continuing to teach what we learned at BII as a Professor of the Practice at Tufts University through a new Certificate for Impact and Sustainable Investing.

I have been blessed to work side-by-side with many of you at every stage of the community-based investing process. I hope you will continue to share your stories and learnings with me as your work continues to unfold. You can find me at deborah@deborahfrieze.com

With gratitude to you all,

Deborah