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Impact Story: A community of practice for emerging fund managers

Impact Stories
Elaine Rasmussen portrait
Y. Elaine Rasmussen, founder of the ConnectUP! Institute and a member of BII’s inaugural cohort of emerging fund managers.

Black girl magic is great, but it has its limits.

Being strong, smart, confident and resourceful has enabled Y. Elaine Rasmussen to make an impact through finance, philanthropy and enterprise development.

The Integrated Capital Fund she launched through the ConnectUP! Institute was just included, along with BII, in the 2023 Transformative 25 list of funds representing “the next generation of impact investing approaches.”

But that doesn’t mean she couldn’t use some support. This is hard, complex work, so, when Rasmussen was still conceiving her fund, it stung to watch a major foundation encourage and support a white woman to start a fund, but not her. The assumption, she thought, was “Oh, Elaine is fine.” Because as a Black woman, she was strong and resilient. Surely she didn’t need help.

“I think there’s a tendency to over-index Black girl magic,” she says. “We are magical, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need support, we don’t need mentorship, we don’t need capital.”

The support and mentorship, she found in BII’s Integrated Capital Fund-Building Cohort. For 18 months, starting at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Rasmussen and 26 fellow change-makers from 12 communities learned together, tackled common challenges, and encouraged one another. Rasmussen played a key role in shaping the program with BII.

“We had different investment theses, different geographies and different goals, but our core values were the same, and so was our objective: to create integrated capital funds that made a real impact,” Rasmussen says. “It was a safe group where you could push and pull on traditional finance structures to see what could be bent and what could be broken. To explore what was possible and see what it could look like, what it would need, and work through the math.”

With fundraising support from Common Future, ConnectUP! now has capital to invest, too – though she’s keenly aware that funding for Black-led enterprises, which increased during the pandemic, is drying up. “We’ve had to get really creative,” Rasmussen says, relying on government contracts, for instance, to provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs.

Asked what advice she would give to other women of color interested in starting their own impact investment funds, Rasmussen says it’s crucial to know your own purpose – and your capacities. What is your vision for success? How will the world be better because of your actions? And how hard are you willing to work for it? How assertive and tenacious can you be?

“That’s my call to action: Decide how you’ll make an impact, and act. Do different, better.”

Y. Elaine Rasmussen (standing, left) leads a discussion at a gathering of emerging fund manager cohort members in Boston in March 2023.